AAPEX Interview: Regina Taylor — AAPEX Interview , Regina Taylor — AAPEX

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

AAPEX Interview: Regina Taylor

Regina Taylor

Profile by Jaz Dorsey

CROWNS: The Gospel Musical, by Regina Taylor, is in rehearsal for it's Nashville premiere, Thursday, January 26th at Christ Church Cathedral as part of the Church's Sacred Space for the City series. For full details and tickets, visit

I had a chance to converse with the playwright and learn a bit more about her career and the history of CROWNS.

As a child of 5, Regina Taylor remembers sitting on the floor with her mother creating childrens' books out of construction paper. It was from her mother that Taylor gained her appreciation for the power of words, especially as a young African American girl growing up in Dallas, Texas. Words give you the ability to create your own world. Taylor's mother worked for Social Security for over 25 years, but her passion was the arts. She took her daughter to art museums, symphonies and to
the theater and instilled in Taylor a sense of creativity as a survival tool. Taylor became an avid reader, reading everything from The Bronte Sisters to James Baldwin. "There is" she says "a wonderful feeling of transport in reading. You can see the world through other people's eyes and come back feeling that you have expanded yourself."

Going to college, Taylor started out as a writer, studying journalism with the goal of writing for newspapers. She took her first acting class in college thinking it would be an easy credit and fell into a career. Her first professional acting role at AGE 19 was in the film CRISIS AT CENTRAL HIGH, in which she portrayed Minnijean Brown, a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who braved violence and armed guards to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The movie was filmed in Dallas and Little Rock and the flight to Arkansas gave Taylor her first trip on an airplane.

After graduating, Taylor moved to New York, where she lived during the 80s. NYC, she found, was the portal to the world - and there was theatre everywhere. She continued acting and supported herself with odd jobs - dog walker, house restorer and poster plasterer. She eventually found herself working at The Public Theatre under Joe Papp. Starting out as an understudy she ultimately found herself on Broadway, the first African American actress to play Juliet in a Broadway production. Over the years, Taylor has won great acclaim for her work as a Shakespearean actress.

Moving to New York also triggered her work as a playwright. One of her first plays, WATERMELON RINDS, received a production at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky. and through this festival experience she was introduced to theatres around the country.

Taylor's musical phenomenon CROWNS came about after she was contacted by Emily Mann with the McCarter Theatre, who sent her the book with an offer to write and direct a musical version. That was over 10 years ago and this year Taylor will direct the 10th anniversary production at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. For more information on this anniversary
celebration, go to www.crownsthegospelmusical.com and follow/like CROWNSthegospelmusical on Facebook. Those who have "hat stories" of their own are invited to share them via Facebook.

"CROWNS", Taylor says, "is a play about life, about looking back, looking at the present, looking at the future. CROWNS is about the individuality of the human spirit, about how we present ourselves to the world and what we pass down to the next generation."

When Taylor started working on CROWNS, she herself didn't own a decent hat, but she grew up among hat queens - if you owned 100 hats or more, you qualified for "hat queen" status. Taylor's mother didn't own 100 hats, but she did have an impressive collection and she took her daughter on a journey of her hats - each hat had it's own story, it's own history. Mother illuminated the play as Regina wrote it.

Yolanda, the pivotal character, is a young girl from NYC who is sent South to live with relatives after her brother dies in a senseless shooting. Yolanda enters the world of Southern church going ladies and their hats, and as they share their stories with her, Yolanda sees her own future.

Over the past 10 years, CROWNS has established itself as one of the most popular and successful plays in the American cannon and has received productions across the country. In fact, if you go to the CROWNS website, there is a map that shows the locations of all productions of CROWNS. Nashville isn't on that map yet, but it's about to be.

By an interesting twist of fate, Nashville 2012 will offer our city another opportunity to commune with Regina Taylor, as she has been commissioned to write a new play for the Tennessee Women's Theatre Project.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!


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