It is a bright, bustling day on Atlanta’s Spelman College campus. Scholarly women make their way around, heading to their next destination with graceful urgency. With less grace and more subtle urgency, I find my way to the John D. Rockefeller Fine Arts Building and the theater it holds inside. Within the walls of the theater, my job shadow with Atlanta actress Terry Henry commenced.
As a love child of the theater, I hardly felt out of place. Terry was quite welcoming and simply embodied her craft. As I watched her rehearse for her upcoming performance in “Preacher’s Kid: Resurrection,” opening at the Fox Theatre this Thursday and starring the likes of Shirley Caesar, Keke Wyatt, Bebe Winans and Angie Stone, it was quite refreshing to witness how the beautiful chaos that is rehearsal space was not limited to high school theater but also reaches its grip into professional dramatic art.
My school’s spring musical, “Memphis,” which closed just last week, was not without its typical theater problems, such as opening night when half of the set still wasn’t painted, leads who were still frantically trying to memorize their lines, and working headsets were nowhere to be found. But, as always, the show came together magically, as it does every time, and that is the main reassuring factor that was running through my brain as I was sitting at my job shadow.
The show was set to open in exactly one week, yet half the cast was absent, a band had yet to be hired and they were still blocking scenes. It was quite the familiar scenario, and it was at that moment, based on my own experiences, I knew the show was going to turn out beautifully. During the cast’s 10-minute break, I was able to ask Terry a few questions:
Q: What do teenage performing artists need to know about your craft?
A: Going through a thousand no’s for one yes, trying to figure out how to pay your bills, you know? Struggling, going through the rejection factor, all that will keep you in [this business] because you still believe that this is what you are built for, born for, made for. You’ve got to do this as opposed to I just want to do this. If it’s something you just want to do, I’d say invest in computer technology or nursing school and get a steady stream of income, because if this is something you just want to do, you know, the struggle is not going to be worth it. The time invested is not going to be worth it. The life is not going to be worth it, because this is blood, sweat and tears. I can work these other jobs and I can get a check, but I must do this — and the suffering factor that comes to those of us in the arts is worth it. Just make sure this is what you gotta do and have a way to take care of yourself.
Q: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
A: Digging deep to see what I’m capable of. I’m always being pushed farther and deeper, and it opens up new doors within me. Because sometimes as people and as artists, we set limitations for ourselves. I love the camaraderie. I like that there’s always another opportunity. After each job, you make a new connection that leads you to something else. Because I’m not staying in Atlanta, I’m going to Broadway. And the connections might start here.
Q: What are your biggest challenges as a performing artist, and how do you overcome them?
A: Money. How do I overcome it? Grinding. A lot of people go to teaching and public speaking engagements. I’m still called back to Charlotte and Canada to do certain speaking engagements. I do Uber and Lyft. I teach private lessons. In addition to chasing my career, I’ve always been chasing the dollar to pay my bills, put back in my career and take care of my daughter. It’s tough, but I prefer this over living in a corporate cubicle of congestion because the people in those 9 to 5 jobs are miserable. I’d rather live my life in bliss and hustle for money than have that steady paycheck and be miserable.
You can go see the finished production of “Preachers Kid Resurrection” at the Fox Theatre this Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (Sunday’s performance will also be available on Pay-Per-View.) For more info: foxtheatre.org.
Thalia, a senior at DeKalb School of the Arts, is counting down the nanoseconds until graduation.