#210 – Tanisha Taitt
Tanisha Taitt is a director, actor, playwright, educator, activist and accidental essayist who has worked with companies including Obsidian, Nightwood, NAC, Workman Arts, Buddies in Bad Times, and Soulpepper, and spent three seasons as a Resident Artist-Educator with Young People’s Theatre. She was Artistic Mentor for the Paprika Festival Creators’ Unit and Program Director for The Musical Stage Company’s youth training initiative One Song Glory, and since 2013 has been a Dramatic Arts mentor with the Toronto District School Board. Also a singer/songsmith for over 30 years, Tanisha is a recipient of the Canadian Music Publishers Association Songwriters Award for outstanding achievement in songwriting, and is currently writing two musical theatrical works.
For a decade, Tanisha was an artist and director with the award-winning Children’s Peace Theatre, an organization that uses the arts to teach children and youth about the creation of peace through justice. As a longtime anti-VAW activist, Tanisha spent seven years as Producer of V-Day Toronto/One Billion Rising Canada — part of the global movement to end violence against women and girls, during which time she directed 11 of its productions. Known by her peers for her fierce commitment to inclusion and racial/cultural representation in the performing arts, she is also an anti-oppression educator and facilitator who has written over 30 essays about race, power and equity both within and outside of the theatre industry.
Phil Rickaby, Tanisha Taitt
Phil Rickaby 00:03
Welcome to Episode 210 of Stageworthy, I’m your host Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. In this episode I will be talking to Tanisha Taitt, artistic director of Cahoots theatre. But first, next month, the amazing eldritch theatre is presenting the harrowing of brimstone MacCready, which features eldritch, his artistic director Eric Wolf, as brimstone MacCready as he brings to life, the story of a two bit con man in over his head against the dark spirits of the north in a tale of greed, horror and grift. You know what I love this show. And because I love this show so much I’ve teamed up with eldritch theatre to get you a sweet discount on tickets. All you have to do is use the promo code stage we’re at that stage really all one word when you buy tickets to the harrowing of brimstone McCready at eldritchtheatre.ca. If you like the podcast, I hope that you’ll leave a comment or rating on Apple podcasts, Google music or wherever you get your podcasts, your ratings and comments help new people find the show or you know what, even better if you know someone that you think will like the show, tell them about it. Some of my favourite podcasts became my favourites because someone I knew told me about them. So if you tell someone about Stageworthy let me know about it, you can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find the website at stageworthypodcast.com. And if you want to drop me a line you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby and My website is philrickaby.com. As I mentioned, my guest this week is Tanisha Taitt. Tanisha is an actor a playwright, a director and educator and activist as well as the artistic director of codes theatre. In addition, her play admissions has been included in the upcoming anthology fierce five plays for high schools. We met at the Cahoots offices to talk about directing Othello at the University of Windsor what Cahoots theatre means to her, as well as how she ended up making her life in this theatre. How, how long have you been officially artistic director of Cahoots theatre?
Tanisha Taitt 02:36
Since October 1,
Phil Rickaby 02:37
October 1. So only like a few weeks? How, how has it been? How is it coming in to a season that’s already essentially underway?
Tanisha Taitt 02:50
Well, our season started a week after I start,
Phil Rickaby 02:54
Tanisha Taitt 02:55
So that was that was good. But there was no kind of easing myself in. I started on October 1, we had a show open on the ninth. And I also had to have the lion’s share of our Canada Council grant due on the ninth
Phil Rickaby 03:14
Oh, my goodness.
Tanisha Taitt 03:15
So yeah. And also on the first day of my job. The very first day. We were interviewing for a new General Manager, because we don’t have one,
Phil Rickaby 03:26
of course. Because Kat had left just before
Tanisha Taitt 03:28
That’s right. that happens on September 13. Right. So my first week was a tornado
Phil Rickaby 03:35
I can imagine. Yeah, I can’t imagine. Is there? Is there any way that you How do you prepare yourself for going into that? Or can you?
Tanisha Taitt 03:45
You know, no? Not really, I mean, I knew that it was going to be a crazy week. It wasn’t like it was a surprise. But it wasn’t what I expected when I got the job. You know what I mean?
Phil Rickaby 04:01
What does one expect? What did you expect when
Tanisha Taitt 04:04
I got the job? I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to that I wasn’t going to have a leadership partner going in. So that was very new.
Phil Rickaby 04:11
Tanisha Taitt 04:11
And also, when I got the job, I didn’t know what the opening day of Helot was, so I thought I was going to be coming into a job with my GM. I knew the grant was due pretty soon. But that was that was it and suddenly it was like nope, we’re opening the show. And you are leading the company alone, essentially until we find somebody Luckily, you know, we have really lovely part time staff.
Phil Rickaby 04:37
Tanisha Taitt 04:37
And they’re amazing. And they’ve been thank God through here. Yeah, but yeah, it has been right into the fire. Right right into the fire.
Phil Rickaby 04:48
And you came straight from doing Othello
Tanisha Taitt 04:52
In Windsor. Yes.
Phil Rickaby 04:54
So you directed that and then you left that I came here had that show. That show had just opened when you came here,
Tanisha Taitt 05:00
Yes, I, we opened a fellow on September 27. I was there until the 29th. I came home, I had the 30th off, and then I started working.
Phil Rickaby 05:14
Wow. Wow. Yeah. Do you? Do you like working at that pace like going like immediately from one thing to another? Do you ever do you ever find it exhausting? Do you?
Tanisha Taitt 05:28
You know, it’s both at the same time. The adrenaline allows you to do it. And you’re very psyched and wired and pumped up. When you stop for a moment, you realise how completely exhausted you are. But in terms of the pace, I do, like having project after project that keeps you excited to keeps your brain moving. But what I have loved to have had a few days before starting here. But yeah,
Phil Rickaby 05:57
I mean, but the start date is the start the
Tanisha Taitt 05:59
start date was the start date. And yeah, I just I couldn’t I couldn’t believe how quickly October 1 arrived.
Phil Rickaby 06:09
Well, cuz I had I emailed almost after the announcement to see if we could if I could sit down and they were like, talk to us in the fall. So which of course makes perfect sense, because you you have all of the other things that you’re doing.
Tanisha Taitt 06:22
Yes, yeah. I was hired on the 20th of June, we didn’t announce for over a month. And so that was its own thing. You know, keeping that quiet. But I started attempt on July the second. Yeah. And that’s a very, very intensive job. And so tense ended, and then a week or so attend ended on the 14th, we announced on the 25th. And, yeah, I mean, it was just kind of kind of that thing where we announced and then very shortly after that, I was getting into kind of pre production mode for Othello, and I started on August 19, in Windsor, so I didn’t even have a month and had to jump into a very intensive six week process in Windsor that I absolutely loved. And then came back and had one day.
Phil Rickaby 07:23
Wow. Um, there’s, there’s so much to talk about there. But I do want to start really by by by or continue by asking you about what Cahoots theatre projects means to you.
Tanisha Taitt 07:38
Because to me is an I’ve described it this way before, I think if it is the little Engine That Could I think of it as this theatre company, that when you actually look at the scale of its resources probably shouldn’t still exist. Seriously, but it is. So there’s so much tenacity here and so much passion and a very deep commitment to the mandate. And I think of it as a microphone for voices that don’t get amplification. And for artists that very often don’t find their way onto, quote, mainstream stages, whatever mainstream actually means. But there are so many artists making incredible work, artists of colour and queer artists and disabled artists and Deaf artists and all of these artists that have these often because of their experiences in life, like powerful magical stories to tell, but for some reason aren’t deemed marketable, interesting, the every person, whatever, and so they don’t get programmed. And kahootz is that place that is not only saying, Okay, come to us, you know, some kind of a consolation prize, but that says actively, you’re what we want. Yeah, you’re the stories that we actually are excited by.
Phil Rickaby 09:04
Do you remember what your first interaction with Cahoots was?
Tanisha Taitt 09:10
My first interaction with Cahoots? That’s a great question. I wonder if it might have been seeing paper series possibly. I think it was as an audience member. I remember being very interested in the leadership of Cahoots because I had heard a lot about Nina This is when I first became aware of Cahoots was what Nina was the the AD. And she was someone that I wanted to meet, but I was kind of intimidated by her and didn’t know her. And I was like, Oh, I’m just gonna call Nina Lee Aquino. And then I became more interested in cahoots when Marjorie took over because Marjorie and I have known each other for about 35 years in elementary school together.
Phil Rickaby 09:53
Tanisha Taitt 09:53
And high school together.
Phil Rickaby 09:54
Wow. Yeah, that’s great.
Tanisha Taitt 09:56
Yeah, so I’ve known Marjorie since I think she was eight and I was nine. And then I was like, Okay, this is just really, really interesting to me. And the work that they were doing and seeing one day you would see, you know, Caribbean artists, and then you’d see Asian artists, then you’d see Latino artists and just taking the world and taking the the microcosm of the world that is Toronto and putting it on stage was super exciting to me. And I didn’t really see a lot of other companies doing that. Now more so because now the artistic directors have really diversified. Yeah, but at the time, like 12 years ago, it just know, it wasn’t happening.
Phil Rickaby 10:37
No, no. I mean, it could still happen more.
Tanisha Taitt 10:41
Absolutely. It could still happen more.
Phil Rickaby 10:43
I know, you know, I follow you on Facebook, and I see things that your posts, I know that you’ve you’ve had some conversations with the Stratford, for example, and other Artistic Directors and and it’s an ongoing conversation, but I I sense that there might be a little bit of frustration with the speed at which those larger theatres
Tanisha Taitt 11:02
You think? You think a little bit?
Phil Rickaby 11:04
just a vague sense.
Tanisha Taitt 11:05
Abs – I mean, yes, I think I’m getting to the point now. And it’s funny because we each, you know, go at our own pace and figure things out at our own pace. And I think at this point, my desire to beg the gatekeepers to let us in is waiting. You know, I’m not I’m not interested in that anymore. What I am interested in is in artists who deserve opportunities, getting those opportunities, and I don’t want to have to beg an artistic director or a director to operate with some sense of moral compunction, or global consciousness. I want that person to have that innately and to want diverse rooms, because it’s exciting to have diversity. So I think what I’m appealing to now is just asking people to realise diversity is – diversity isn’t this thing that we’re reaching for diversity is like, walk outside?
Phil Rickaby 11:59
Tanisha Taitt 12:01
So diversity is, so now it’s a matter of even inclusion to me is not interesting, because inclusion just means that I put you in a room with me, right doesn’t mean that I give you any power in the room. So inclusion representation, they’re all nice words. But I’m talking about participation. integration, integration, to me, is super important, where people of all types are integrated into the way a company functions into the way its mandate operates into the way it programmes. That’s that’s what’s exciting to me. And I will continue to call on people to aim for that, because I want artists to work. And I want artists to be able to showcase the talents that they have. But I don’t I no longer see it in this kind of not not not, please let us in saying it’s more like, open your eyes, open your eyes and do what you should be doing in 2019. Because it’s stupid to not be doing it.
Phil Rickaby 13:02
I agree. I mean, obviously, I mean, if this is this is the one when we walk outside the doors here. Yeah, we are going to see diversity on the street. And that should be what we see on our stages, they should reflect reality. Yeah. And in a lot of the larger theatres, we don’t see that.
Tanisha Taitt 13:16
Yeah. And I think you have to, you know, you have to have common sense. I don’t expect a theatre in Timmins or Theatre in Red Deer to reflect the same thing that I expect to Theatre in Toronto to rep to reflect. This is one of the most diverse cities on the planet, there is no excuse. There’s no excuse. The only reason is a lack of will and a lack of interest.
Phil Rickaby 13:39
Sure. absolutely, yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of theatres that will say, well, we couldn’t find any actors of colour.
Tanisha Taitt 13:43
That’s hard that’s not a.
Phil Rickaby 13:44
That’s not such a that is such bullshit.
Tanisha Taitt 13:46
Phil Rickaby 13:46
Tanisha Taitt 13:47
Phil Rickaby 13:47
if you wanted if you want an actor of colour, you could find an actor of colour.
Tanisha Taitt 13:51
I mean, yes. Right. It’s ridiculous. I mean, I remember a couple years back, walking along Front Street and walking alongside the front of Canadian stage and seeing they had their posters up for all the shows and their season. And it was just white face after white face after white face and the one face of colour was from their, like, international series. And I just, I just laughed, I just laughed, because it was this ridiculous notion that people of colour were only interesting, when you could parachute them in an exotic size them as being South African, or Japanese.
Phil Rickaby 14:30
Tanisha Taitt 14:30
But that the incredible artists of colour in Toronto weren’t worthy.
Phil Rickaby 14:37
I mean, that’s, I mean, Canadian Stage has justifiably been taken to task for that, but they have been slow to move
Tanisha Taitt 14:42
Yeah, they’ve been slow to move and honestly, absolutely thrilled that Brendan is there. Yeah, it’s it’s a very new energy and a new set of eyes. But that company is being looked through. And I’m super grateful to that for that. But I mean, that was just a few years back, and they’re not the only ones by any stretch. No, there are many companies that are just that to me should be embarrassed. But there isn’t even the awareness to be embarrassed.
Phil Rickaby 15:06
Tanisha Taitt 15:07
Phil Rickaby 15:08
Yeah. You do a lot in, in education of actors. You do you just, you know, we’ve talked about the University of Windsor, you you work I know that you teach at George Brown?
Tanisha Taitt 15:18
Phil Rickaby 15:18
theatre school and a number of other places. I don’t want to I mean, the the, do you see changes in the classes in terms of people of colour? Or are the classes still, when I was in school at Theatre School at George Brown, I think there were no people of colour in my class. I think there was one in the year behind me.
Tanisha Taitt 15:44
In the graduating class of 2019, there were none. There were not in the first year class this year, is probably the most diverse first year class they’ve had. I think that I think there are 29 students in first year. And I think that 10 of them are non white.
Phil Rickaby 16:08
Tanisha Taitt 16:09
So I mean, that’s definitely, you know, a move. But it’s an annoying conversation to have to have to look at every single year and be like, what does it look like this year? What does it look like this year? Is it more this year? Is it less this year? I mean, how long? Do we have to kind of even keep these steps? Its just silly. And I think a lot of schools and I really love that there is a very proactive attitude being taken at George Brown, and I’m very committed to that school and the theatre school coordinator there Sue Miner is incredible. And she’s really committed to change. But not enough schools are at all. And their idea of change is simply let’s bring in a diverse student body. And I think that they’ve got it backwards, I think they’ve got it totally backwards. I think that you have to diversify your faculty first. Absolutely, there is no reason for kids of colour to want to go to a school that has always that has all white teachers, there’s no reason for the parents of those kids to want to send their kids to a school that has all white teachers, you have to be able to come to you know, the orientation night and see, oh, my kid’s gonna be taught by people that look like them are different types of people and get the education of different types of people. And for the most part, Theatre School is not that at all. So I love the fact that George Brown has been very much about bringing in teachers of colour, guest directors of colour. That to me is huge. And that that will capture the interest of potential students.
Phil Rickaby 17:54
When you were going to the University of Windsor, I remember, you made a post on Facebook about about arriving and the lone black actor in that class was so happy to see you as a teacher of colour. And that must happen that must like that must unfortunately happened quite a bit in a lot of schools.
Tanisha Taitt 18:16
Well, I haven’t taught a lot of theatre schools I’ve taught I’ve taught in different settings. But in terms of theatre schools, it’s just Windsor and George Brown. But I can certainly say that the connection that the kids of colour feel to me is palpable and real. Sure, very much so at George Brown. And, and yeah, Jamar’s response when I arrived at Windsor was just, it was raw, and immediate. And he had been waiting for four years to have someone at the front of the room who looked like him. Four years is a long time. It’s a long time. It’s a long time,
Phil Rickaby 18:56
Especially going in like learning about what the industry is like to only see white faces for that long.
Tanisha Taitt 19:03
Yeah. Yeah. And and then people wonder why so many kids of colour drop out of theatre school. I wonder why they don’t all drop out of theatre school. Because if you are in a school, where week after week, month after month, year after year, you are not seeing any evidence that there’s actually a place for you, right? nor are you being given any curriculum that reflects you. Why Why would you feel Why would you feel good there? No. It doesn’t matter how nice to you your white friends are you feel very, very much like the other and based on who has been hired as teachers. And what has been chosen as syllabus. You’re like, I don’t exist.
Phil Rickaby 19:46
Tanisha Taitt 19:47
So why am I here?
Phil Rickaby 19:48
Yeah, no, that’s absolutely yeah. That’s I mean, of course. I you know, I moved through the world and that, that that that that It’s a privilege. But I doubt I can understand exactly what that what I can imagine what it would be like to be in a room for four years in classes and never see somebody who looks like me and not feel like and feel like that reflects the industry that I’m hoping to go into, huh? Yeah. I’m approaching a fellow. Which I’m hearing Yes. I mean, that is that I think that’s one of the I think, you know, that’s a play that is problematic. It’s a play that has a history of, of white people saying they want to play that role. And and even even still, today, some people will, will will will put on blackface so they can play that role and things like that. And, and we,
Tanisha Taitt 20:58
The new thing is white women playing it. white woman what we’ve been playing Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s interesting.
Phil Rickaby 21:05
I just don’t even I don’t even see how.
Tanisha Taitt 21:09
Yeah, yeah, so Othello, it is, it is problematic. I love the play. It’s one of only two Shakespeare’s that I love. Actually, I’m not a Shakespeare person.
Phil Rickaby 21:20
Tanisha Taitt 21:21
So that’s something. And when I was asked to do it, I was probably as stunned as I have ever been in my life. To do anything, right? I’m like, was this email sent to the right person? It starts with Hi, Tanisha. But I totally understand. And my initial impulse was no, no, no, I’m not gonna do our fellow I’m gonna, that is a disaster waiting to happen. I have never directed Shakespeare, I am a contemporary director. And then I thought about it, I thought about the fact that a friend of mine had very, very strongly. He first told Windsor about the work that I was doing. And they had heard of me, but they didn’t know detail. And she had spoken to them about my work at George Brown. And they had kind of done a little bit of, you know, research on me. And they thought this could be really interesting. Like, this could be really interesting. And when you know, they decided to do Othello my friend Paula Wing, who I’m gonna give a shout out to – Hi, Paula – said, if you’re gonna do Othello at Windsor with Jamar, it has to be Tanisha. Hmm. And I was like, Jesus, Paula, what. So I said, Yes. And immediately went into panic mode. Immediately, because I had given them my word, we had arranged a schedule, they had altered the rehearsal schedule to fit me so that I could come home on weekends, because otherwise I was going to be in Windsor for six straight weeks. So they had really made it work for me. And I was like, I have to do this. And then I thought, well, I guess I should read the play again. So I wrote the play a couple of times. And then I read, like all of the kind of, you know, access to the more accessible language versions of the play. And then I went back and read it again. And it was, I remembered, you know why I had really liked the play I had likes to play because to me, it is the story of the other, which is a story that I can always find my way into. And being so much older than when I first read it in high school, and then read it again in a few years later, reading it now. I was able to find all sorts of things that were super interesting. And it’s the story of this, you know, this black man who has ascended to the role of general in a society where the fact that he is ascended, there is crazy in itself. And he knows very, very well, that the only reason why he is revered and loved is because of the power that he holds. But he knows that were he to lose that, that there is no innate respect for who he is as a person, like he goes back to being just a more and just nothing. And so that desire to to hold on to that power and to hold on to the respect that that power gives him is is real, and he knows that what the things that he has gained the love of Desdemona and and the respective you know Casio now though, these are all things that he has Because they look up to the position that he’s gotten himself to. And so when things start to happen, that make him doubt the loyalty of these people, everything becomes then a wait for the other shoe to drop. When are these people who I actually believed, had gotten to the point of respecting me going to turn. And when that happens, I lose everything. And you find out very early in the play that he was once a slave, right. And so it’s that that step away from being back there, that is always a breath away for him. And that feeling, to me is so modern.
Phil Rickaby 25:52
Tanisha Taitt 25:54
It’s so it’s so 2019. I understand that feeling that black people, particularly black males have, have, no matter what I send to it a second, I’m nothing in a second or nothing. And that was really, really fascinating to me. And I also wanted to do what I don’t think is done enough with a fellow and that is to look at the women. Because there are three women in the play who, you know, one of them has a lead role, one of the other one has like a kind of secondary lead role. And then one is just kind of like the horse in the background. Yeah. And I wanted to flip that. So my production, the very first people that you see on stage are Bianca and Amelia, followed by Desdemona, and that sense of who they are within this and the power that they hold within it was really important to me. I added a dialogue less scene that is just Bianca and we just get to see her living her life. She’s walking down the street, and she just keeps being approached to accosted by by men. And we kind of see her extricate herself from that and then just go home and just kind of be there. You know, getting out of her all the accoutrements and then at the end of it all kind of taking out of her bosom her money for the day. And it’s a it’s a really beautiful moment and I and I wanted to really play up the humanity of the women. I also wanted to play up the very real love between a fellow Desdemona which is sometimes lost. Yeah, they are. After we see that there are three women we see a fellow immediately, fellow a Desdemona slow dance on stage, that’s like their first moment. It’s beautiful. And they like they make out and it’s just the fact that there is this passionate, like, undercurrent of real connection between them is ever present in the in the play. And so when he starts to doubt her and when she starts to feel unloved by him, you feel it way deep down that this is unravelling, and it’s so sad. It’s so sad. And especially since you know that the whole thing is being misunderstood on both sides. It’s so yeah, it’s, it’s brutal.
Phil Rickaby 28:28
For somebody who doesn’t really like Shakespeare, that’s a lot of that’s a lot of
Tanisha Taitt 28:33
Yeah, I mean, I think I think in order to do it, I had to do it. As Frank Sinatra was my way I did. And there’s, there’s one other scene close to the end that that I added in between the very last scene of the play and the ultimate scene. So we called at 5.1 and a half, and it’s a scene where Othello is shackled. And he’s just kind of roaming through Venice feeling very, very lost and very alone. And he falls to his knees, and then very slowly, all of the Venetians just kind of come out from the corners and surround him and just stare at the gorgeous lighting of our lighting designer Kristen watt. You just see this black man surrounded by these very white faces and they’re just staring at him. And Desdemona merges anything’s Okay, she’s coming to be with me, and then she joins them. And it’s so it’s, it’s just a moment where every time we ran it, like, my blood just ran cold. And I don’t really I don’t ever really believe in adding text to plays. But in this particular scene, I said, I just want everybody on stage before you leave, to just utter a slur.
Phil Rickaby 29:55
Tanisha Taitt 29:57
I just want I just want to hear all of The things that they are thinking while they’re smiling at a fellow. And so it all of them utter slurs, I went back and forth in my head about the N word or not took it out at the last moment. Only because I didn’t want there to end up being any controversy that hurt the school. Right? So I took it out at the last moment. But early on in the play when a fellow tells the story about being sold into slavery, I kept having that thought in my head. So after they all say their slurs. Desdemona doesn’t say when she’s just kind of on the bed staring at him. But as they all say, their slurs of exit Iago was the last person to speak. And he just, like slams the stage and just says Sold and walks out. And, and and Othello;s just they’re chained.
Phil Rickaby 30:54
Tanisha Taitt 30:55
And it’s, uh, every time we ran it, like the cast would just be like, like, it’s a it’s a really harrowing moment. beautiful moment, devastating moment. And, and it goes right into that final seat and with with Desdemona and a fellow when he loses it, and kills her. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 31:19
We spoke several years ago. Yeah, um, around the time that you were directing the seat next to the king. Yes. Which has had quite a few revivals since then.
Tanisha Taitt 31:31
It’s been cool. I mean, yeah, you interviewed us before fringe. We had a remount at the theatre centre, in which we added about 10 minutes. And that was great. And then and then a different production of it was done in Buffalo, a completely different production, which was kind of hard for me, but I’m like, okay, Steven, you go. It’s really great. And then we took it to Kitchener in June, right. And that was fantastic. We didn’t know what was gonna happen in Waterloo, because we know it’s a very conservative audience and like, how are they going to take this gay interracial thing? It was full every night. They loved it. They loved it. And the company that presented us greenlight arts Oh my god, what incredible, beautiful people. It was. It was such a great, great time.
Phil Rickaby 32:28
I mean, that show, going into fringe it was the won the new play contest. I think that you did not know him before.
Tanisha Taitt 32:37
No, no, yeah. No, I was on the jury of the new play contest. And I fell in love with the play didn’t know Steven from Adam. And after the play won, I couldn’t get out of that in my head. And I contacted Lucy at the fringe. And I said, Can I have that winner’s address? Email address? Because I’ve obsessed with his play? Yeah. And that’s how we met.
Phil Rickaby 32:58
Nice. Yeah. I mean, it was it. I think trying to every fringe is like a bit of a blur. So like, I don’t remember how it was received. You remember how the fringe fringe? Yeah.
Tanisha Taitt 33:12
We we sold out every show. We were patrons pick. We got five Ns from Now. And I remember the moment that opening finish. And I thought that went really well. And we came out and we were standing on the sidewalk of Passe Murraile. And there was a very palpable buzz in the air. And it felt really good. And suddenly I got a ping on my phone. And I looked down and it was Twitter. And it was Glenn Sumi. And he hadn’t rated it yet. But he just said get to the seat next to the king. It’s extraordinary.
Phil Rickaby 33:48
Tanisha Taitt 33:49
And that was like three minutes after the show ended.
Phil Rickaby 33:51
Tanisha Taitt 33:52
And I was like, Oh my God. And then we got and then we got the five ends the next day. And after that it was just it was amazing. It was amazing. It was such heartfelt responses. People writing us letters and notes. And it was Yeah, it was really incredibly beautiful. The most the most well received anything I’ve ever been a part of has been for sure.
Phil Rickaby 34:19
Yeah. And it’s continued to have a life after
Tanisha Taitt 34:21
and it’s continued to have a life and it got published, which I’m super excited about. Stephen and I are on the same, the same publishing label, which is really cool. Scirocco. And I just I’m so happy to see how well it’s doing. At one point it was like really high on the playlist on Amazon. Like for a while. Yeah, for play sales. Yeah. Like he’s he’s doing really he’s doing great. And it’s a beautiful show. I think that ultimately, we would all love to take it to the States. I don’t know if that will happen. But it’s it’s a lovely piece of work. It’s part of my syllabus and George Brown.
Phil Rickaby 34:59
Tanisha Taitt 34:59
Phil Rickaby 35:00
Tanisha Taitt 35:00
It was really cool to see some first year is do a scene from my life.
Phil Rickaby 35:03
Oh, yeah, yeah. And you gave it to them? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Um, as a as a playwright, are you? Are there themes that you’re drawn to that are different from the themes that you are drawn to as a director? Or do they tend to be the same sorts of things?
Tanisha Taitt 35:20
Oh, that’s a good question. Um, I think that they’re fairly similar. I love stories about outsiders. I love stories about people having to employ tremendous amounts of courage to overcome something. In general, I’ve just, I’m drawn to people that are brave. And I’m drawn to people that are honest. And so when when that’s in stories are people people who are who are struggling to be brave enough as I tend to go in those directions? But yeah, I don’t know. When I when I write. I try not to be quite as depressing. Think that lots of playwrights go through there? They’re very ultra eggs deep period. Sure. Um, and I mean, you know, I write whatever I feel I don’t make myself do anything one way or another. But I think that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that you can actually, you know, celebrate joy. Yeah. And that’s a nice thing.
Phil Rickaby 36:41
I mean, I think for some people, for some of us, you know, when we’re when we’re a lot younger, we think that Oh, I’m going to be a pirate. I have to be serious, a serious playwright. And so we delve into all the acts that were probably feeling at that time.
Tanisha Taitt 36:54
Yeah, it’s like that. But there’s also this bizarre belief that joy, Is it serious?
Phil Rickaby 36:59
Tanisha Taitt 37:00
Yeah. You know, yeah. And I think that to truly be happier to truly be in a place of joy, or contentment or euphoria. Like that is, that is some serious feeling. But we don’t necessarily see it that we see it as more frivolous. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 37:19
Tanisha. What’s your theatre origin story? What is it? What is it that brought you into this strange profession light into this office? All of this, but what brought you here?
Tanisha Taitt 37:33
Oh, my goodness. Okay, so, theatre was not what I wanted to do. When I was younger. Music was my love music was my passion. I wanted to be a singer, songwriter. Or perhaps if I couldn’t make it as a singer, songwriter, a record producer, okay. Alright, a&r person, like that’s what I wanted to do. And so after going to Ryerson, where I studied radio and TV, I went to the Harris Institute for the arts, and I studied music industry, business and production, audio production. And that was what I wanted to do. And I was writing I’ve been I, my song catalogue is probably somewhere around 1100. Wow, I’ve been Yeah, I’ve been writing since I was 13. And my, my teens and 20s were insanely prolific. Like, I was writing a song a day, it’s at 1.4 months. Wow. And sometimes, sometimes multiple songs a day. And so I was like, that’s what I’m gonna do clearly. And I’ve been singing since I was very, very weak, like three years old. But I had a bizarre experience with a record company, where an a&r person told me that he loved my stuff, but I sounded too white, and he didn’t know what to do with me. So that was interesting.
Phil Rickaby 38:56
What do ou even do with that?
Tanisha Taitt 38:59
So I wrote a song about him called tale of the a&r man, which I think is a legitimate, legitimate thing to do. And, and I wrote that song and, and after a while, after years of kind of, you know, doing the demo thing and all that, and realising it wasn’t happening. I had to start to really rethink my life. I had to really rethink my life and I was still devoted to doing it, but it wasn’t happening and I was doing other jobs to survive. I was working in box offices, I was ushering all of those things. And one day, I was going through now magazine, and I saw an ad for an audition for the Vagina Monologues, okay. And I was like, Oh, and I knew the play very well, because I had been an usher for it. Okay, when it first come to Toronto, so I stood at the back of the theatre and seen it probably 60 times. Yeah. And I was like, I know this play, I can do this play. And so the audition was, I think, either later that night, or the next morning, if there was no time, really, to book an audition. So I just went where it was, and I crashed the audition. And they said, We’re sorry, we don’t have any spots. And I started crying. And I’m like, but I can’t. It was so sad, right? And they were like, Okay, this chick is crying. We’ll Okay, we’ll find you a spot. So they found me a spot. And I audition in front of a panel of about six people. And at the end of the audition, there was just silence. And I’m like, I don’t know what that means. And they ended up giving me the closing piece of the show. And telling me that that was stunning. And I was like, Oh, okay. And so I was cast in the show. And suddenly, I was in a cast and I was in a cast with Judas Thompson was in the cast, but I didn’t know who she was. She was just to meet Judy from the cast, right. Um, Rachel McAdams was in the cast. She was really lovely. I learned hanging out with her for a day that I’d never want to be a star because it’s like being in a fishbowl. We went to Tim Hortons and all people that will stare at her for an hour.
Phil Rickaby 41:38
Oh, my goodness. Oh.
Tanisha Taitt 41:41
So that was weird. But that was the beginning. And doing that show was great. Yeah, it was absolutely great. And then, after doing it, the producer of the show was gonna step down. And I said one day and just I’ll produce it. But then no one else made the same joke. And so I became the producer. And once I became the producer, I didn’t really know what producers did. But I knew that the one thing that they did for sure that I knew was that they hired the director. So I became the producer properly hired myself and directed the show every year for the next six years, produced and directed it for the next six years, because it was an annual event. It was
Phil Rickaby 42:31
Tanisha Taitt 42:31
V-day Toronto was this annual fundraiser to raise money to end violence against women, and we would give the money to local shelters and women’s organisations. And so I my theatre life and my activist life became started simultaneously. And I became very deeply connected to working in that realm. I had also been a crisis hotline counsellor for the Toronto rape crisis centre before. So it was something that felt very natural to me. And I was just I just let that from 2007 until 2013. And then I read it and then I led a national campaign. And kind of, you know, after 2014, I stepped away from that a little bit. And at that point, I was really in love with theatre, I had devoted myself to theatre. I had begun working professionally I had become an apprentice with with obsidian in 2010 that was my professional break, Philip took me on as an apprentice. And after that, doors started opening because I started to assist to direct and work with other companies. And that was how I started between 2010 and 2014. I worked a lot with different companies worked with musical stage, led their youth initiative programme called one song glory did lots of drama and theatre leadership work with the tdsb was a resident artist educator with wipey T. And before I knew it, I had this resume of working with a lot of companies. Yeah, so that was kind of that was kind of where it went and I think probably around 16 or so. After six solid years, I looked back at my resume and I was like, Okay, this is getting like super serious. And so I think at that point, I started to think wow, at one point a position of leadership might be cool. Yeah, but I still thought it was gonna be like 10 years from now. So being in this office is mildly absurd
Phil Rickaby 44:40
that that first time is producer when you know, as a joke you set out produce it
Tanisha Taitt 44:46
Phil Rickaby 44:46
And then you’re actually doing it.
Tanisha Taitt 44:47
Phil Rickaby 44:49
Did you have to learn entirely is a trial by fire. Was there anybody who sort of like guided you through producing or was notes like, I guess stuff, I will figure it out. As I go,
Tanisha Taitt 44:58
Nope, the producer actually. He had promised that she was going to give me like a little handbook manual. And I was excited about that. And then she didn’t give it to me because she was mad that I had decided to direct. She didn’t think I should direct. She didn’t think I had experience. She’s like, you’re gonna destroy the show. And she never gave me the handbook. So I directed and produced on instinct.
Phil Rickaby 45:22
would you advise that for people?
Tanisha Taitt 45:27
Well, it was funny, because keep in mind that when I started at with the monologues, I didn’t have a theatre background, I had a music men and audio production background. So after doing it the first time, and it was beautiful, and I felt this like wave come over me if I love acting. I thought I should probably study something. But at that point, I’m like, I’m an adult, I can’t go back to school full time, like I’m way past that I have a job. And so I went searching for theatre education. And I found at Seneca College, the one diploma programme in the country that was continuing ed, really. And I was able to go to Theatre School in the evening and work during the day. And that was like, if that hadn’t happened, I would not be here because that actually gave me some some theatre chops. That allowed me to put that on a resume to get the obsidian apprenticeship. You know, other than just doing having done after this theatre, I actually had some, some education. And so that was huge. And I and I, and I started to learn, you know, skills and technique as an actor, not just doing what I did, which was letting my emotions lead me, which is how I pretty much do.
Phil Rickaby 46:47
Before we finish,
Tanisha Taitt 46:48
Phil Rickaby 46:49
I want to ask about so you’ve come in to a season that was not built by you.
Tanisha Taitt 46:57
Phil Rickaby 46:59
So your your your your next season will be one that is all yours right now. I mean, everything is sort of your baby, but it’s not like you sort of adopted this baby. And
Tanisha Taitt 47:10
Phil Rickaby 47:10
Next Season will be the one that you becomes Tanisha Taitt’s
Tanisha Taitt 47:14
my Actually, it’s interesting. I actually have a currently adopted baby in next season. Okay. Yeah, because there was a show that was meant to be in this season, that logistically with the venue didn’t end up working. And so it’s been pushed back. So the beginning of my next season is actually the last show that Marjorie programmed, and then I start, so it’s a little strange. But I’m super excited in terms of what I’m going to be doing production wise and not just production wise, I have so many just initiatives and programmes and cool community things that I want to do that I’ve already kind of started. And so to me, because kahootz doesn’t have this giant production budget. A big part of this job to me is what else can I do that makes kahootz have a real heartbeat in the business between the shows. And so that’s, that’s very much what I’m thinking about right now. potential.
Phil Rickaby 48:08
Thank you so much.
Tanisha Taitt 48:09