A chat with a woman of big dreams and even bigger talent
By Kiara Downey
When you live in New York City, happening upon entertainers who put every ounce of energy into a bevy of big dreams can seem like an almost daily event. But once in a while you meet someone whose drive merges with success. De’Adre Aziza is a local lady who seems to be making just such a union.
With infinite ambitions, she’s a singer, a dramaturg, and an actress who may be a new name to many, but she’s no stranger to the stage or to a television studio. Currently inhabiting the role of “Bunny” in Dominque Morisseau’s new play Detroit ‘67, she is simultaneously completing work on her first solo album. She is a local girl who fell in love with performing as a teenager and many of her formative experiences explain her wide-reaching interests.
“Just call me an artist. I like art. Period,” says Aziza. “In addition to working in front of audiences, I’ve been a script advisor, I’ve worked backstage on technical crews, and I have been an acting coach.” In fact, that stint as a coach says much about her creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Seeing a need and an opportunity, she approached Spike Lee when he began directing Mike Tyson’s one-man show Undisputed Truth and offered to work as the infamous boxer-turned-actor’s teacher. This gig required her to draw upon skills she herself acquired as a student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “I actually applied to an NYU program for high school students when I was still attending the Harlem School of the Arts. I was one of only thirty-two kids accepted into that year’s group.”
While practicing her craft at NYU, Aziza remembers seeing plays that opened her mind to the diverse, and often perplexing possibilities of live theatre. “Without knowing who he was, I saw two plays directed by George C. Wolfe that blew me away. I watched his productions of Jelly’s Last Jam and Angels in America, and I thought ‘who is this man?!”
Conversely, she observed some less inspirational creations; “I remember seeing a really bugged out production of Faust one time. It was vile! A man actually pooped on stage.” But she fondly recalls a formative production that left a lasting impression that wasn’t so traumatizing. The first play that really moved her was August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson with Charles Dutton and S. Epatha Merkerson. “I was only nine, but I still have a picture in my mind of them on that stage.”
With that as a grounding image, Aziza blossomed into a daring performer (“I’m really shy – until I let the goofy beast loose”) who knows how to walk between two worlds. As a singer, she feels undaunted: “Singers can walk around with blue hair,” she says, but as a working actress she feels she needs to look “kind of conservative.” Drifting in and out of each reality, she has successfully combined the two. In 2008 Aziza received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her work in the comedy-rock-drama musical Passing Strange.
Aziza intends to release her first solo soul album by 2014. Seed funds for this endeavor began as a Kickstarter campaign and all recording sessions have to take place in between auditions and theatrical rehearsals. It’s hard to know what this lady likes best – it could be the characters she creates or the songs she sings – she speaks of all with equal joy. “I love the woman I get to play in Detroit ’67,” she exclaims. “I can go deep with her, she’s a free spirit.” The actress also appreciates the play’s weightier topics, “In this play Dominque shows how your life can change in a day.”
De’Adre begins her performances in Detroit ’67 at the Public Theatre this week and she will travel with the ensemble when they transfer to the Classical Theatre of Harlem on March 23rd. According to Aziza, who is from New Jersey, but has “very strong Harlem roots,” the fact that the play has two different openings in Manhattan will “bring the downtown crowds uptown or it will make it possible for people to stay uptown and see it there.” Whichever way you go, it’s likely you won’t be able to miss Miss Aziza. She’s ready for just about anything.
See you at the theatre.
Detroit ’67 runs at the Public Theatre through March 17th and it will be performed at The Classical Theatre of Harlem from March 23rd-April 28th.
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