AAPEX Interview: Tamilla Woodard & The Internationalists — Tamilla Woodard , The Internationalists — AAPEX

Friday, August 12, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Tamilla Woodard & The Internationalists

Tamilla Woodard
Interview by Jaz Dorsey

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and a really outstanding yahoo group called NoPassport, I stumbled upon a fascinating organization called THE INTERNATIONALISTS, co-founded by NYC based visionary Tamilla Woodard. I asked Tamilla to tell us something about herself and the mission of THE INTERNATIONALISTS and this is what she has to say:

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?

I went to a great elementary school -- an Episcopal private school in the middle of the third ward of Houston Texas. It was an anomaly. There we did a winter play-- basically a Christmas pageant and a spring musical. I was ALWAYS in the shows. I looked forward to winter from the time summer was over and to spring as soon as Valentines cards had been scribbled and stuffed into those tiny envelopes. I could not wait to start my play practice. I always coveted the lead pretty girl role. But alas, I was really tall, really ungraceful with giant glasses and a pressed pony tail sticking out from the side of my head. Dorothy would go to the lighter skinned girl with long silky hair. I was to be the Tin Man. But no matter. It was a play and I was in it! I sang and danced my heart out every time. Once I fell off the stage--about 5 feet to the ground. Stunned but still alive, I keep singing and moving. I got a standing ovation that night. I'll never forget it. That is the day I credit as setting my path. Either it was some sort of resulting and still undiagnosed brain damage or the sheer thrill of the adulation! All that to say, school was my introduction to theatre. From there I found my way to a special arts high school, community drama lessons in the summers, the very rare trips to see live theatre. My family wasn't into going to see plays but they were happy to support my growing passion. Especially because, well, there were far worse things I could be doing with my time, especially in my neighborhood.

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.

The theatre seemed always to be the road for me. As soon as I learned it could actually be a life, I found every way I could to make myself ready for the profession. High School for the Performing and Visual Arts then Carnegie Mellon University, then the road trip to NYC to really do this thing. At that time I think conservatories were really training actors for regional theatre. I was always a "good student". What I have since learned is that a good student makes for a terrible artist. As an actor I found myself feeling like a servant to other peoples' art- the playwright's play, the directors concept etc...

I had a real hunger to break my training, to find a way to a more free and authentic expression of myself as an artist and to a more satisfying experience in the theatre in general. So I went to Grad school. LOL! Seems contradictory, sure, but I chose Yale School of Drama because I thought the structure and program offered me a way to rebirth myself as an artist. Its hard long hours but its not boot camp. You are sort of sent to the store of theatre and you spend three years shopping, testing, trying on things. I always say about grad school that I needed to make a cocoon for myself -- away from critique-- so I could grow my butterfly wings and fly. It was one of the best choices I made in my career. It helped me forge a different path, a more fulfilling journey. I started to seriously direct there. I became the first actor to be the artistic director of the cabaret. I learned to run a theatre, to inspire other artists, to hold a vision and to share my love with an audience. And something that has been a hallmark of my career post grad school is the practice of collaboration. I learned to work in parallel with other artists, without hierarchy. That was the most satisfying experience. Its how I work now. Everyone who is in the room is there because they have something critical to
the realization of our work together. Everyone has equal talent and value. Different talents for sure but equally of value.

From there my approach to creating for the theatre was just that-- as a creator- a generator-- a collaborator-not a servant. I have enormous fears, huge doubts daily. But I keep moving, keep working, keep failing, keep succeeding, keep dreaming-- some ideas are brilliant (like the one I'm engaged in right now!) and some are...not so good. I read alot. I take from other art forms - I love the museum. I can think there. I love dance - though I don't see enough - because I want my work to be physical, dynamic, emotional, subconscious, apprehensive. I love the way I feel watching dance. I don't think. I feel.

Tell us about the founding and mission of THE INTERNATIONALISTS.

At the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, I was surrounded by more international artists than I had ever come in contact with, from everywhere, and folks views and practices were DIFFERENT! I wanted to learn why, how. I wanted more exposure to other ways of thinking about the theatre. I saw such exciting results. I had amazing conversations. I wanted to trade work, ideas and experiences. The Internationalists was born out of that desire.

As it happened, two separate groups - me and Doug Howe - were quietly talking to folks about forming a network of international artists. One day word reached both groups. A meeting was set, everyone who wanted to showed up and we went from there. We put on the table -- or in that case the grass of Central Park - what we were all interested in this network being, doing, and then we set about making a cohesive mission. Its a cooperative in the truest sense. Sometimes it take a long time to get decisions made because everyone has a voice, but the partnerships, observation opportunities and collaborations that have been possible BECAUSE of the cooperative are magnificent and fulfilling. Its been the continuation of my education and growth as an artist. We are a smaller group than we started with. The core group of artists now is the group that has the time, energy and desire for The Internationalists to grow and succeed. This present group is really dedicated. We argue and love each other from one moment to the next just like the larger dysfunctional family that is the theatre.

What took you to Queretaro, Mexico?

I went to Queretaro Mexico in July to launch Hotel Project with Internationalists Ana Margineanu and in partnership with Alfonso Caracamo and Mariana Hartasanchez, two amazing Mexican theatre artists and their independent companies.The Hotel Project is essentiallly a way to make intensive international exchange among theatre makers anyway in the world. I asked Ana to accompany me on a exploratory trip to Mexico City some months before to build some partnerships and investigate the theatre scene. I also really wanted her to meet the extraordinary artists I'd become acquainted with over the last 4 years as a result of my involvement with the Lark's US/Mexico Exchange.

On that visit, Mariana invited us to come to Queretaro to try out this crazy idea Ana had brought to the company months ago and which we couldn't find resources for in the states. Mariana made her company of artists and producers - in fact her whole theatrical community - available to us. Ana and I were able to work out the details of the execution of the piece and hone the concept with Alfonso and Mariana. Without the generosity and spirit of both Seres Comunes and Mariana's company Sabindijas de Palacio, we would not have been able to do this. This was the essence of collaboration and exchange. Now that it's launched we have an invitation to come back to Mexico to create a Hotel Project again in at least 3 other cities. We are also looking for a hotel here in NYC (if anybody has any leads!) and of course want to bring it to other cities nationally and internationally. There's a great short video and some photos of the project in Queretaro on the Internationalists website at http://theinternationalists.org/hotelproject.html or on my website at www.tamilla.com.
To learn more about The Internationalists, please click the post's title.

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