When Golden Globe Award-winning actress and playwright Regina Taylor leads a discussion about the impact of the arts at The Arts Community Alliance's (TACA) Grant Awards Celebration and 50th Anniversary Launch Party on January 9, she will be addressing her hometown, a place she treasures.
"I’m very proud to be from Dallas, Texas. I think a place is what names you and you have to hold on to what first names you," Taylor said.
Best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television show, I’ll Fly Away, Taylor credits her upbringing for her early interests in the arts.
"That interest and love for the arts comes from my mother. She took me to everything and it was very important in my development," Taylor said.
When Taylor began attending Southern Methodist University, pursuing a career in the arts was not her initial goal. Journalism was her stated career interest, but a counselor suggested she take a theater class.
"I discovered a way to own my voice out loud in a way I never had," Taylor said.
When Peter Fonda visited SMU, she followed him down a hall, in hopes of meeting him. His people noticed her, asked if she was an actor, and suggested she audition for a CBS television movie, Crisis at Central High. She got the role and decided to switch her focus from journalism to acting.
When she moved to New York, she struggled like most actors. While she was at SMU, she met a casting director at the Public Theater and that connection helped open doors for her. She started out with understudy and walk-on roles and rose through the ranks at the Public Theater.
Her 1986 Broadway debut was historic: she was the first African-American woman to play Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in a production produced by Joseph Papp and directed by Estelle Parsons.
In addition to I’ll Fly Away, her television credits include DIG, Masterpiece Theatre’s Cora Unashamed, The Education of Max Bickford and Feds.
In 1999, she played Anita Hill in Showtime’s Strange Justice, earning her a Peabody Award and Gracie Award. Her film credits include Courage Under Fire, Clockers, Losing Isaiah and Lean on Me.
Taylor has also developed a significant career as a playwright, crafting Oo-Bla-Dee, Drowning Crow, The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove, A Night in Tunisia, Escape from Paradise, Watermelon Rinds, Magnolia, and The Trinity River Plays.
She wrote and directed Crowns for a co-production of McCarter Theatre and Second Stage Theatre in 2002. The musical won four Helen Hayes Awards, including an award for Taylor for Best Direction and Best Regional Musical.
In 2006, it was the most performed musical in the country. She loves working in many roles in many different mediums. Whatever medium best serves the story she is trying to tell is the one she will pursue.
Although she has strong professional ties in Chicago as an Artistic Associate at The Goodman Theatre and in New York as a Residency Five Playwright at The Signature Company, she maintains her late mother’s Dallas home.
Each summer as she tends the garden her mother planted before she died, she sinks her toes into the dirt and admires Texas’ big sky. Dallas’ artistic growth impresses her.
"I think it’s very vital. It’s continuing to grow and reach many communities. I think it’s an exciting place and it feeds me. It’s a place where I want to contribute as an artist," Taylor said.
The Dallas Theater Center produced two of her shows: she directed Crowns in 2005 and Trinity River Plays made their Dallas debut in 2010. Watching Dallas artists bloom and the community support that growth is exciting for her.
"In terms of creating new pieces and supporting artists who come out of the ground, Dallas is very vibrant. TACA supports that vibrancy by finding new ways to explore what Dallas artists offer," Taylor said. From her upbringing in Dallas to her professional work in film, television and theatre, the arts have shaped Taylor’s life.
"Creating is very empowering. It gives me strength, fortitude and grace. That is my purpose and I try to impart that to the next generation," Taylor said.
TACA Grant Awards Celebration and 50th Anniversary Launch Party is January 9 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Regina Taylor will moderate a panel including David Cooper, Principal Horn at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Nycole Ray, artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre: Encore! and Kimi Nikaidoh, the artistic director of Bruce Wood Dance Company.
The Grant Award Celebration will be followed by TACA’s 50th Anniversary Launch Party.
Kimberly Richard is a North Texan with a passion for the arts. She’s worked with Theatre Three, Inc. and interned for the English National Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. She graduated from Austin College and currently lives in Garland with her very pampered cocker spaniel, Tessa.