JACQUELINE LAWTON: To begin, can you tell me how long have you been acting? What was the first play that you ever worked on as an actor? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today?
TAYSHA CANALES: I’ve been acting since my first year in High School, about 10 years ago. The first play we presented was an adaptation of The Orestia that we created with the help of Epic Theatre Ensemble, in NYC. That was when I first realized that I really enjoy creating art. It felt powerful to perform scenes that I helped devise. It made me really fall in love with theater.
JL: Why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
TC: I was a really shy young girl, but for some reason I was very interested in the stage. In elementary school I wanted to be a part of every dance show, every chorus, even part of the color guard because it meant getting up on that stage. I didn’t know anything about theater until I applied and was accepted into a performing arts High School. I just assumed they would teach me how to act and I could get to the movies later. After 4 years of study in H.S., I knew that theater was where I belonged.
JL: Set in Hampton, Virginia in the 1940s, THE HAMPTON YEARS examines the impact of World War II on Jewish immigrants living in the United States and their role in shaping the lives and careers of African American students in the segregated south. This play investigates the various ways in which racism and bigotry negatively impact the arts, academia and military. Where do you feel we are in terms of race relations in the U.S.?
TC: We definitely have a ways to go. Many are trying to leave race out of the equation; I think race is something that should be brought up and addressed. We should be able to talk about differences in cultures, not completely ignore them. The media is one source that does not help the problem. Too many stereotypes embedded in commercials, TV shows and Movies and either people are oblivious to it or just accept it.
I find that I have a harder time accessing plays from multicultural playwrights. Why is that? I have yet to find a play that completely speaks to my soul. I’ve been out of school for almost two years now, and I have yet to play a Hispanic role. I am Puerto Rican. I’ve played and staged-read a handful of plays where I’ve played an African American. I’d have to do an extensive search in North Philly to find an outlet where I can work on a show that reflects my own culture. FAR AWAY from Center City where the arts lives.
I wish people weren’t so afraid to talk about race. My culture defines a part of who I am. I don’t want people to ignore me.
JL: THE HAMPTON YEARS also celebrates and honors such extraordinary artists as John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Samella Lewis, Viktor Lowenfeld and Charles White for their bold and courageous ability to overcome these challenges and create beautiful, powerful and lasting works of art. Why do you feel this play is relevant to today audiences?
TC: John quotes a lecture delivered by Viktor, “Art is able to reflect the truth of society.” I think art does just that. Many people are afraid to really look at the truth that’s in front of them. We try to clean things up to make them look beautiful- conflicts in our lives that we struggle with, our appearance, or personalities, wars, politics. Today’s society is very superficial. What would happen if we were faced with our own realities, our own truths? I think this play is very relevant to today’s audiences because we all have tried to hide from ourselves at some point in our lives.
JL: Which character are you playing? What, if anything, do you have in common with this character’s passions, values, intentions or belief system?
TC: I am reading for Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a very strong woman. She remains passionate about her art and won’t let the world hold her back. I’ve gotten a lot of advice to stay away from theater. People have tried to detract me into a profession that would be more promising, guaranteed success and financial stability. Elizabeth’s demeanor reminds me of my ability to persevere. The success I’ve gained in the short time I’ve been a part of Philly’s theater community tells me I’ve made the right choice.
JL: If there is one thing you want audiences to walk away knowing or thinking about after experiencing THE HAMPTON YEARS, what would that be?
TC: I have to quote from the play again, “You must not compromise your truth.”
JL: What’s next for you as an actor? Where can we follow your work?
TC: This April I will be working with Simpatico Theatre Project on a newly adapted version of Lysistrata. I don’t have a website yet but it’s coming soon!
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!