Posted April 16, 2015 by Editorial Staff in Art+Culture

[PROFILE] Spotlight: Tavia Percia (African American Shakespeare)

African American Shakespeare: Spotlight – Tavia Percia
African American Shakespeare: Spotlight – Tavia Percia

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Performance: Xtigone (February 14 – March 8, 2015)
Interviewee: Tavia Percia
Role: Izzy, Sister to Tigs
Writer: Melissa Katz
Producer: African American Shakespeare

Xitgone • Director: Rhodessa Jones • Playwright: Nambi E. Kelley • Musical Composer: Tommy Shepherd
Emerging Chicago playwright Nambi E. Kelley’s contemporary urban adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone is an impassioned response to the recent untimely deaths of children in her native city as a result of gang violence, which has risen sharply in the past several years. The production updates the conventions of ancient drama for our contemporary movement. Ensemble singing, rhythmic movement, and musical accompaniment was an essential part of Greek tragedy’s original performance in ancient Athens; similarly, music will provide an urgent musical heartbeat to this stirring depiction of the immense human cost of violence in our cities and in our families.

What was the hardest part about preparing for your role?
The hardest part was allowing myself to be emotionally involved and being able to trust the people in the space with my emotional life. Being able to emote and being trustful.

What was the easiest part?
The easiest part was probably learning the language because I love rhythms and I love poetry so learning the language was the easiest part. 

Was there any aspect of your character that you had difficulty with?
Probably the part of her who believed she’s just a black woman and no what she has no voice. I think, to a certain extent, that is true; but, I don’t know if that’s all the way true. So that was probably the most complicated part for me.

What part of your character do you identify with the most?
Being from the streets and understanding why she is in the mentality she is in; understanding how she would get there, even after losing two brothers, it’s like, well, I understand she just wants to get out of here and I identify with that just wanting to leave the ‘hood and go on about the rest of my life. Everybody has something that they want to run from.

What is the most fun you have had while playing this role so far?
The cast is so fun. Everybody is very supportive and we have a lot of fun. Especially with warm-up time; like yesterday we danced to Bruno Mars; first we watched a parody version of the music video and then we did a soul train line, it was so fun. Just bonding with the cast, we had a great time.

How do you make the character come alive?
I think what I do the most is try to take everything I feel and what I’m experiencing now as far as where I live and my struggle and just using it, even though it’s not the same exact story, it has a lot of similarities so it has a lot of the same emoting and I think that’s where my strength comes from.

Have you had any similar experiences as your character’s?
I grew up in east Oakland and I lost people a lot living in east Oakland, people get killed every day. Even during the process of the show I lost one of my cousin’s. That’s probably how I relate to her the most, I live in it, I still live in it, I am from it and I think I’ll always have a part that recognizes why she feels the way she feels. I see why she feels that way; everything she goes through, I go through.

Are there any real life inspirations you have taken for your role?
Yes, my neighbor. Last year, my neighbor lost both of her sons. One was killed on New Year’s Eve, he was thirteen, he was shot 23 times. And then, two weeks later, his big brother, who was nineteen, got shot 28 times and every day I just see her get up and start the next rally. Every Saturday she does this thing called ‘L’s up, guns down’, because her sons’ names both started with L. She always just gets up and she keeps going, she tries to keep smiling and she’s always, always, always trying to stop the violence in Oakland. She’s always in an area, no matter how scary it is, no matter how crazy that area is. She’s always out there with her signs, ‘put your guns down’, ‘honk if you’re against black-on-black violence’. She’s very strong, so that’s been one of the things that’s kept me going.

Who is the Antigone counterpart to your character?
The sister of Antigone, Ismene

Are there any similarities between your character and its Antigone counterpart?
Yeah, definitely. They both didn’t want their sisters to unearth the truth. In Antigone, she didn’t want her sister to go against Creon’s word. And Izzy thought the same thing; she didn’t want her sister to go against what the law is.

Are there any differences?
I would say that I think Izzy was a little bit more ‘then if you think you so grown, then why don’t you go do it?’ rather than, I think, Ismene more like “just please don’t do it. I don’t want anything to happen to you. Just stay here. Don’t do it.’ And Izzy was like. I think one is more like ‘I’m not going to argue with you’ and the other one’s like ‘I’m going to plead until we get this right.’ And that’s partly about the whole thing of where they’re from.

Are there any ways in which you think Xtigone has improved upon the themes, ideas, and messages of Antigone?
So many. It’s obviously more relatable for me. I think the whole concept of unburying is beautiful. I think that’s the beauty of the show because unburying the truth is the most said phrase in the show. And I think that’s the most dynamic thing that Nambi chose to do was say unearth the truth and unbury the truth rather than buying it.

What message do you take away from Xtigone?
Unearth the truth. Always, always, always keep the truth alive and keep your guns down.

What message do you hope audiences take away from the Xtigone?
That there’s power in unity and there’s power in love and you’re not powerful just because you have gun on your hip; in fact, that makes you a punk. I think that the most beautiful thing people can take away from this is that the power is in loving each other and keeping the truth alive.

What about Xtigone do you think audiences will respond to the most?
I think the most noticeable thing is the way that Nambi went about talking about putting down the guns; it was a very dynamic way to talk about it. There have been other ways that people have talked about it, but I think the way she chose to put gun violence into show was the most noticeable thing and that’s what people will take away the most.


Tavia Percia: This is Tavia Percia’s third season with the African-American Shakespeare Company. Ms. Percia was in last season’s Much Ado About Nothing as Margaret and Georgia Seacol. This season she was in The Tempest as Miranda and Cinderella as the Fairy Godmother.

- Courtesy African American Shakespeare