Thursday, December 15, 2011

Spotlight On...Zakiya Young

Name: Zakiya Young

Hometown: Downingtown, PA

Education: B.A. Communication, University of Pittsburgh

Select Credits: The Little Mermaid (Mersister, Lunt-Fontanne); It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman (Lois Lane, Dallas Theater Center); Little Miss Sunshine (Miss California, La Jolla Playhouse); Greenwood (Stacey, NYMF); Winner Take All (Scarlett, Fringe NYC); Carousel (Carrie, Depot Theater)

Why theater?: Good question :-) I was actually on my way to becoming a doctor.  That had been my dream ever since I was a kid. In high school - I was a cheerleader, in several choirs, a peer mediator, in the band and student council.  My high school - which had a phenomenal musical theater department -  did West Side Story and I played Anita.  That was when I fell in love with theater. I absolutely loved being onstage, but I wasn't ready to fully commit.  I went pre-med at Pitt, hoping to get the experience there that would make me a good candidate for their fantastic medical program.  The 8 AM Calculus classes and 4 hour Chem labs made the thought of spending the next 10 years or so training to be an M.D. much less appealing.  I lasted about 2 semesters before realizing I didn't have a passion for it.  I changed my major to Communication, continued taking private voice lessons, minored in Theater and spent my summers singing at Paramount's King's Island.  I was hooked - and I couldn't see myself doing anything else.

Tell us about Stick Fly: Stick Fly is a story about what happens when people stop being polite, and start being real. Just kidding. Kind of.  Without giving too much of the plot away, a family travels to their house on Martha's Vineyard for vacation, the two brothers bring their significant others to meet the family for the first time and all kinds of secrets are revealed during this trip. As a result, the family is forever changed.   What is so groundbreaking about this play is that it is about a highly educated, wealthy black family.  I really connected with the story because I've never seen something that reflected my life experience on the Broadway stage until now.  Yes, well-read black families that debate politics, social issues, the economy, etc around the dinner table do exist.  With the exception of the all black cast of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, we rarely see plays that portray the black elite, or even the black middle class on Broadway.  And the fact that it's written by a black female playwright? Even better.  And it's so honest. So honest - and funny.  It's a story that everyone can relate to - and you don't have to be black to enjoy the show.  You'll definitely leave the theater thinking about and discussing the show.  I've been incredibly happy to see diverse audiences at our performances. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen such mixed audiences - both in age and ethnicity - at a Broadway show. I love it!

What is it like to be understudying two different roles?: It's very challenging - and I'm honored to have been given this incredible responsibility.  I don't think I've ever worked so hard in my life.  The two roles are so incredibly different. Since I've never understudied before, I had to come up with a method for keeping everything organized - especially because doing a full run through during understudy rehearsal will be impossible.  The app Rehearsal 2 on my iPhone has been an absolute lifesaver! I've been able to record the other actors' lines scene by scene for both of the roles I understudy. So if I'm focusing on Taylor, I can rehearse her lines and hear the other lines in the scene as well and go through her whole show.  The next day I can focus on Cheryl and have the same experience. Every actor should have it. And no, I'm not a spokesperson for it :-)  I'm also learning about being disciplined. I thought I was already disciplined but quickly learned that I had a lot more work to do! When you're in a play with 6 characters onstage, it's up to you to use your time wisely during the show - it's not just about hanging out.  Whether it's sitting in the audience, running lines alone, running lines with the other understudies, reviewing your blocking or listening to the rhythm or the show, or even working out backstage, there's always work that can be done to help ensure that you're ready to go on at a moment's notice.

How is it different being an understudy as opposed to originating a role?:
It's very interesting - especially since I've originated the last few roles in the shows I've done and this is my first experience as an understudy/standby.  It's humbling but also a great honor at the same time.   Tracie Thoms and Condola Rashad are not only incredible actresses, but they're also warm, open and friendly.  I could not ask for better women to work with and each night I'm impressed by what they bring to the stage. The fact that our creative team trusts me to cover both of these phenomenal and challenging roles is kind of amazing to me - and I'm thrilled to do it.  I honestly never thought I would understudy because I always wanted to be the one in the spotlight.  But when I read the script and saw who was already working on it, I put my pride to the side and focused on the amazing learning experience I'd have if I booked the job.  Being an understudy is helping me remember that it's not always about me.
As I began working on the roles, I learned that the goal isn't to copy what Tracie and Condola do, but to bring myself to the character.  So as I'm finding Taylor and Cheryl, I have to make sure that I'm telling the story with honesty - but within the existing emotional framework of the show.  Both the creative team and stage management have been amazing with making themselves available to answer any questions and concerns we have about the show.  During previews we had an understudy rehearsal in the dressing room I share with the other female understudy Gretchen, who understudies Rosie Benton, and Lydia, our playwright, came and sat in on it.  It was awesome to be able to pick her brain about the play.
Also, this is the first play I've done as a professional actor.  All of my other credits have been musicals or commercials so it's a completely different and exciting experience.  Do I miss musical theater? Absolutely. But it's so great to explore the world of straight plays and really tune into myself as an actor - and not an actor/singer/who moves. I'm happy to have the opportunity to learn and grow as an actor while I wait for my opportunity to perform - also knowing full well that I might never have the chance to go on but that's ok.  Will I be disappointed? Sure. But it's part of the job. The disappointment will quickly fade in light of how much I'm growing- both professionally and personally, the friends I'm making, the experiences I'm having and all that I'm learning.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as artists?: I absolutely love sitting in a theater and being transformed. Emotionally honest theater speaks to me.  I also love thought-provoking,  brave and bold theater - art that thinks outside the box.  Theater that tells a story - that isn't just all flash and spectacle.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good flashy show as much as the next person, but it's even better when there is a great story at the heart of it being told by people committed to telling that story with emotional transparency.
I'm inspired by people who have overcome incredible odds - those who have turned their pain into something beautiful.
And I'm inspired by my relationship with Jesus...because I can honestly say I wouldn't be able to create without Him being in my life :-) 

 Any roles you’re dying to play?: In musicals - Sarah in Ragtime, Deena in Dreamgirls and Aida.  I may be the only black actress left in NYC that has never played any of these roles and it seems like a rite of passage that I have yet to complete. ;-)
And in plays: anything by August Wilson, Pearl Cleage, and Kate in Good People.
On television - I'd love to play one of Mr. Schuester's love interests on "Glee". He'd be down with the brown. I'm sure of it.  Also someone fabulous and stylish on "Revenge" and "Gossip Girl". Oh - also anything on "Psych". And I'm not just saying that because I'm now working with Dule - I've been a big fan of the show for a while now.
And at some point, I'd love to play our fabulous first lady, Michelle Obama on film or tv.

What’s your favorite showtune?: "Wheels of a Dream".  I get goosebumps everytime I listen to the original cast recording.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
It's funny - I truly believe in putting things out there. You never know what can happen :-) True story - about two or three weeks before I auditioned for and booked Stick Fly, I was introduced to Dule Hill at the "Blacks on Broadway" photo in Times Square. I was so excited to meet him because I admire his work. I took a photo with him, tweeted about it and said to my friend Daniel who was with me - I just really want to work with him one day. I had no way of knowing that day would come so soon! From my lips to God's ears! So - in no particular order: Viola Davis, Audra McDonald, Ruby Dee, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad, Cicely Tyson, Regina King, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Denzel Washington, James Earl Jones, Will Smith, James MacAvoy, Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman, Don Cheadle and Lawrence Fishburne.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Hmmm...I'm thinking Gabrielle Union or Aisha Tyler would play me and it would be called either "No I don't speak Ebonics, I'm from the Suburbs" or "The Brickhouse"

What show have you recommended to your friends?:
Stick Fly

What’s up next?: Right now, I'm just concentrating on getting both roles performance ready.  This cast is so incredibly talented.  If I do get the chance to go on, I want to maintain the level of excellence the performing cast has set.  I'm grateful for the opportunities that have come my way - and whatever is next for me - only God knows. I'm in good hands :-)

For more on Zakiya, visit

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