This Part is for Her

Wednesday, October 21

Weeks ago, I went back to the city I was sad in for two years. I was terrified to set foot on that red Cedar soil, especially knowing I would be seeing people who knew me back then. But, much to my na├»ve surprise, although the city was the same (minus a few new fast food conglomerates) the people had changed. They had grown as I had even though I expected much less for them. How terribly cruel of me to write these people off as two dimensional when I knew them when I was only living myself in one shade of misty gray.

I missed so much while I was being so sad. Years later, the same stage is serving new girls who will cry like me, lose their virginity like me, regret like me, fall in love like me and that is beautiful. As I drove through the canyon roads that kept me alive when no one was there or I had pushed them out, I stopped and sat by a lake full of ducks and mirrored trees.

I let the rain sprinkle glitter in my hair and thought how terribly sad it was that I was so hollow in such a beautiful place. How sad that the soft and caring breeze that always sneaks through these evergreens felt only like it was pushing me down. The lovely town drove me away with its own hands. My brain and the chemicals that live there turned the red rocks to flame until I ran back home to my blue mountains to cool my scorched hands. But how lovely to have been back and finally see the beauty there. How lovely to go back as me, embracing the sad little girl and holding her hand as we both wind through those leafy, canyon cliffs.

My photo

Be Prolific Series: Latoya Rhodes

Thursday, October 1

You know it's going to be a good interview when you ask the woman you are interviewing if they prefer actor or actress and their immediate response is, "Fuck yeah, I'm an actress. I am a woman and I am an actress." I've known about Latoya for years as she went through the same high school theater program as I did years before me. I've always considered the experience life changing and I've always wanted to talk with her about her experiences as a working actress.

I was not disappointed. She is so down to earth, and absolutely the definition of the word cool. I loved and was so inspired by her passion for not only acting but for helping the world with her craft, her drive to change lives by sharing art. I cannot wait for you all to read this one.

*All photos in this post used with permission from Latoya Rhodes.


When did you know you wanted to be an actress?

It didn't come until later, actually. I was always fascinated by film but I was more intrigued by music since it was my first love. Forrest Gump was the movie that did it, that made me want to act. The end spot where he finds out about the boy but he's not able to get the entire word "smart" out. I was so moved by the simplicity and just how simple that moment was. The entire movie is gorgeous but that moment made me go, "I want to do that." How does he make me feel something with such subtle emotions? In the ninth grade I took the risk to try it and I literally fell in love. If people knew me back in the day, some people would never guess I'd be an actor.

What was the first play you were ever in?

I was in a ton of different scenes in school and things. The actual official production was "The Best Christmas Present Ever." I played the old woman who was a complete bitch.

Do you have a favorite performance you have been apart of?

Oh, god. I feel like I've learned a lot from every single one of them, the good and the bad. Or even the one that was the most difficult in the flow or finding the character, I've learned from every single one of them. I like to think of myself as the type of artist who stays open to everything and not closed off so I stay open to every aspect, which is hard. I've had to adjust my thought process to be that way. There's too many... this is hard!

I always go back to 2010, such a pivotal year of transformation for me. I did "Hair" the musical. I was one of the tribe members. That show was literally kind of like I was the lotus flower in the mud waiting to come out and blossom. I kind of came to life. And that's where my career started and started opening up in Salt Lake City. It was the first show I've done with my older sister, which was also a very special experience.

Aida
Are you Based in Salt Lake?

I am based in SLC. I have done work in Cedar City, Utah before and Ogden. I also did the New York Musical Theater Festival in New York and that was a very fun and education experience that I look back on to help me move forward with new projects. That set me up for a lot of the work I have done with Plan B Theater Company here in SLC.

Did you study acting?

I did. I went into theater at Southern Utah University and emphasized in acting performance/ directing, which eventually came to be because I didn't want to take a stage management class. I didn't want to waste my time at something because I knew I wouldn't be good at it. I asked to take directing since it would be good for me as an actor.

I also got a scholarship to study with Steppenwolf Theater through an arts program in Fresno. At KCACTF, they were giving out scholarships. I wasn't even originally picked to go to the original audition or callback. One of the girls just asked me to come with her and I went because I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to play because nobody would be watching me. But then they gave me the scholarship and I didn't even know I was in consideration, I was literally playing. It was to this intensive program and I am so honored to have even been a part of it.

Why do you find theater important?

I think it's important because... specifically now as we are becoming more and more detached from what it is to connect, theater still provides that. That experience, where everyone comes into a theater and experiences a story. The story is the same even if the story is different. I love that people can ask themselves and the people they came with about what they saw and it instantly connects them. It reminds people of humanity because of how hard the world is becoming and how closed off people are becoming; it can remind people of humanity and connection. Your experience on Earth can be so different than someone else's but storytelling connects that. I have this feeling that storytelling and theater can be a source of potentially changing the world and even if it affects one person, it will span out to their children and then an entire generation can cause a positive change in the world. It's very very important.

For those kids who felt lost, being lost and not having anyone, I have felt that. Theater provided a family where I could be what and who I wanted. I could be awkward and weird and quiet if I wanted to. We honored the weirdness and celebrated it. Your awkwardness on stage creates possibilities and, dare I say, magic.

Jesus Christ Superstar
Are you working as an actress full time?

It's hard to classify full tome for an actor. I hope this doesn't sound pompous. I would consider myself one because I've consistently had work back to back with literally no time between projects. It's awesome and amazing and I'm so grateful for it. Especially this last year, I was able to pay all of my bills just off of my acting work. That was huge for me to see how I can do that and other people can do that. And also a huge 'fuck you' to the world because you can't tell me I can't pay my bills off of being an artist. And now I'm working at the book store so I can take some time off to appreciate what I'm doing. The majority of my bigger income comes from my acting gigs.

I don't know. I had this beautiful discussion with a friend of mine where I was like, you know, the poem that hits me hard is "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. That famous line "I took the road less traveled by" hits me because I literally have and it has made all the difference. If I had to come back and live my life again, I'd take the road less traveled because it's allowed me to see and continue to see the world from a different perspective. So yes, I would say that I am.

You've done a lot of work with Plan B Theater Company here in Salt Lake doing shows for children. What draws you to those sorts of productions?

The one last year was about bullying and it was amazing. That experience spanned from something in 2010 or 2011 where a kid was bullied so much for being gay that he committed suicide when he was really young. The arts community was furious because we are like fuck that shit, that's not ok. So we put together scenes and dances and songs to raise money for the foundation here where they educate people about bullying. So a play was created where we took these stories where kids from Salt Lake county could submit their stories about bullying and created a show based on those stories. Tyson Baker was the other actor, who is my best friend.

Children are perceived as not being smart and that they can't comprehend things. They are extremely smart and if you address them properly they will understand things. I treat them like little adults. I was bullied relentlessly because I had different hair and my skin was different. I remember getting punched in the stomach and I didn't get why kids hated me so much that they wanted to hurt me. When that role came up, I was so there. It's stuff like that where it's so important, going back to why theater is important to the masses, because it's great to educate children with. The script was honest, how could it not be honest coming from children telling you their stories, you know?

There were kids in class that had melted down when they talked about the show. Instead of kids being assholes they wrapped their arms around that kid. Even if it's that one moment and that is all, that's huge. It provides a space for kids to not feel alone.


In Ruff with Plan B Theater Company
What do you think is the hardest thing facing women in the theater world and the real world?

There's two. One. There's not enough women playwrights being produced. That seems to come up often. Not enough roles for females to play either. Not just the sex bomb or the comic relief, but there are not enough real women who have something to say and shows all sides of what it is to be a woman. I think having more women playwrights would help with that. I think even having a knowledge of what is being produced is important. On a grand scale, there is something missing and that's why I'm slowing down. The work that is being produced isn't vulnerable and honest. It's hard to find those shows. I don't mind the fluffy shit but we have so much power to do something significant rather than submitting ourselves to being tools of earning money. We don't need to talk about the theatrics. Instead of talking about getting something from the story, you remember the flying person and that irritates me very much.

Because I am a black actress, I get upset about what is being shown of what it is to be a black woman. It's just the stereotypes: the angry black woman, or the ghetto woman, it just never shows the different colors of what it is to be a woman. If anyone wanted to write a story about me, which would be weird, I wouldn't know how to classify myself but I like that. I don't want to be a category of what's being shown on TV. There is so much we haven't tapped into because we are afraid. And theater should be afraid. It needs to be grungy and raw and rebel and find ways to describe the different facets of people. I'm stuck in a world where I don't know where to go from here because what I pick and taking charge of my own career is important but it can also be difficult. It's not because I feel like I'm better than anybody else but because I think there is so much more.

What is the hardest thing you've ever had to do in our acting career?

There's two that come up. "Miss Evers' Boys." It was the very first lead role in a play outside of college that I've had to do. Literally I was only offstage twice for one scene that prepped for the entrance of a character and intermission. That's it. It was a hard show and a heavy piece of theater. I read the play and got sick to my stomach and thought there was no way I could do it. But I was like, "Wait. If you are getting sick to your stomach and having this reaction there is a reason you need to be doing this." Memorizing was hard as hell and trying to find different ways to present the character. The woman, Eunice, everybody hates her. Can I blame them? No, because what she did was horrendous but playing a character like that, I wanted to play her so people could understand where she was coming from. My responsibility is to never judge the characters I'm playing.

It was really boosting for my confidence that I was able to hold a show together. I thought, ok, here we go. I could fail horribly and everything I worked for would be gone. But we worked our asses off. It was a blast but it was fucking hard.

"Miss Evers' Boys"
Then there's "A/Version of Events." IT was the first year after I split with my husband. THe story was a heavy heavy piece of material about a couple losing their child and moving forward together after that. It was hard. There were certain moments in the show because they resonated so strongly with me. I'm usually so good at leaving emotion on stage when I walk off of it. After that show, I was driving around because I had to release all of that emotion.

Oh! And of course, "The Color Purple" because god damn it. Trying to show all of those different layers of Celie from the age of 14 to 40, and scream belting... oh god. All three of those shows have made me a stronger actor for sure. All of them had a big potential of being a major failure. That level of stakes is probably why, well it is why it's made me a better actor. The stakes are so high for being a success or being completely shitty.

What is your creative process for tackling a role?

I use to prep hard core and it made me worse. That what you are taught to do: research, have a journal. And it just got me so stuck in my head so I wouldn't connect or understand because I was trying to get so nit picky. When I realized at Steppenwolf about how it's good to have information yet let it go because it's really not that important, it changed me. It all comes down to the script. What other people say, what words you say, what clues you get to shape your character. Having that and connection with the other actors, it's so important. You can't plan what happens to you, you just have to respond honestly. It took me a long time to realize that what you plan won't work. The most important thing of all is really listening and everything else will fall into place. If you stay true to the script and your partner, you are golden.

A/Version of Events
What other actors inspire you?

I admire Viola Davis so much. I think her work is important, especially her famous silent vulnerability which is col because nobody else can do that. Angela Bassett goes balls to the walls. Sometimes she is too big for the screen but, shit, she's Angela Bassett. Michelle Williams is so good at what she does and her subtleties. And Kate Winslet. I adore Kate Winslet.

But then there are male actors who attack it so hard. Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Leo Dicaprio. Johnny Depp's earlier work. Ryan Gosling's work is important. I think his best work is coming, now especially after being a dad. I hope he will continue really kicking ass. Oh! Meryl Streep. I should always say Meryl Streep because she's Meryl Streep. Meryl, I love you!

How do you find inspiration when you feel incredibly stuck?

Getting out into nature and being by myself. Having my journal with me and writing things out. I'm the kind of actor that gets stuck in my head often and I hate that. Who doesn't start tearing themselves down and then you can't be inspired because you are diminishing yourself? When I get in that place I get into nature, sit down, meditate, and start writing this shit out. It clears out the clutter so you can start picking up inspiration. Music always inspires me too. To develop my character in "A/Version of Events" I listened to a lot of "American Beauty" because it brought me to a place that I needed to be in for that show. Nature and music and writing are the things I always go back to.

Romeo and Juliet Star Crossed Death Match!!!
What is your advice to your actors and artists?

Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do something. You can. You are powerful and if you feel like you are meant to be an artist, you are. No matter what anyone tells you. If you have that in your gut, hold onto that because it means something. I could tell you all the tips but what it comes down to is if you are going to do it or not. People will try and stop you. Never let anyone tell you being an artist isn't a career or you won't do anything significant with art because that is complete bullshit. I know so many people who have and are doing significant things with their art.

ALSO: that being a woman in the arts is really important. And that artists change the world and we can be a part of that.

What are your upcoming performances?

Oh god, yes! Right now I'm in "Romeo and Juliet Star Crossed Death Match!" We are doing Romeo and Juliet in a bar and I'm playing Tybalt and it's going to be the last week of September and the First of October. You get to drink with us. There will also be some awesome gender bendingness.

I will also be in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" with Pioneer Theater again this year as Columbia. It's a fun way to pass the time!

(Had to include this because DAVIS HIGH THEATER SISTERS) :)
*****

Ten billion thank you stars to Latoya for taking the time to sit down and talk with me. Lately, I have had so little time to write and time for art that I've wondered if I am even any good anymore. If pursuing a career like this was worth it. She's exactly right, though. Art is important and alive and it is the life for me and so many of you. Go out and create, lovelies! 

Here are links to where you can buy tickets to both R&J and Rocky Horror!