Theatre may be dark, but we are turning the spotlight on! NLT wants to celebrate theatre creators and change makers that we admire, that inspire us, and that we think are acting as a light in their community. Join us each month as we uplift the voices that are working to positively impact our industry and our fellow humans.
Tai Verley (she/her) is an NYC-born, Philadelphia-settled multifaceted artist. After attending Vassar College for undergraduate studies, Tai obtained her M.F.A. in Acting from The New School for Drama.
While some of her acting credits include the Arden Theatre Company, Delaware Shakespeare Festival, and Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, Tai has spent much of her pandemic directing pieces for academic institutions like Villanova and Arcadia University.
She is the Artistic Director of Revolution Shakespeare (RevShakes), a small Philly based theatre company hoping to deconstruct and adapt the Bard's work. She is also a HATCH 2021 lead artist, a program that brings female identifying and non-binary theatre artists to New Hampshire to begin development on a new piece of theatre.
Tai is also on the steering committee for the Black Theatre Alliance of Philadelphia (BTAP), a coalition committed to supporting and uplifting the Black theatre artists in the Greater Philadelphia area.
NLT: When did you first get involved with theatre, and when did you know it was going to be something you dedicated your life to?
TV: “Buried Child” by Sam Shepard at Vassar College was my first production as an actor, or it’s the first one that made an impression on me. To this day, that play brings up feelings. Despite the abominable circumstances in the play, the experience was wonderful -- all of my cast, the crew, the space was wonderful. It made me understand the extent to which the theatre community is so closely knit. Everyone truly helped each other on that production -- I am forever grateful to that group of people for sparking the theatre fire inside me. While I love theatre -- I do -- I’m not dedicated to it. I find purpose within it. I find light where there can be infinite darkness within plays, characters, situations. But I wish it fed my soul more -- I wish it paid more bills -- I wish it gave me more opportunities to be represented.
NLT: You stepped into the role of Artistic Director of Revolution Shakespeare in 2019; what have you learned about yourself since taking on that position?
TV: As my own individual/freelance acting/directing body, I’ve always considered myself to be the kind of person who is themselves no matter the consequences, no matter the direction -- and there have been consequences, and ever changing directions. But as an Artistic Director, it’s not just my ego in front of others. There’s a huge community that I want to support and lift and entertain. Remembering who I’m trying to reach and what my team wants to accomplish keeps me up at night. My team -- Abby Weissman and Daniel Kontz -- keeps me honest in so many ways, but especially in their grace and patience under fire. Every single artist RevShakes chooses to work with astounds me with their talents, their openness to the mission. When the announcement went out that I had become AD, there were a few emails with people expressing their support that RevShakes was going in a new direction -- and I keep a printed small copy of those emails pasted next to my desk. New directions are scary and full of consequence-- but the theatre community is ready, and I hold their esteem quite high.
NLT: Is there a part of yourself you see recurring in your work?
TV: I am the best and worst part of any of my work -- whether that is acting, directing or producing. Every piece I have ever worked on or will ever work on has my anger, my sorrow, my happiness, my loves, my frustrations, my sarcasm, my triggers, my mistakes, my failures. It’s just how I work. It has to be personal for me. Every audience has or will see various parts of my persona. To remove myself would be the ultimate lie.
NLT: You’re a founding member of the Black Theatre Alliance of Philadelphia. For those who don’t know, what is BTAP’s mission and what are some of your personal goals for BTAP in 2021?
TV: The stock answer? BTAP’s mission is to support and uplift the Black theatre artists in the Greater Philadelphia area while challenging and encouraging the Greater Philadelphia theatre community to be more proactive in their commitment to equity and equality. My non-stock answer, which is more from my gut? BTAP’s mission is to be a resource for Black artists in any way we can be. There is a genuine hope for Black artists to feel more camaraderie, not competition.
NLT: What kind of theatre, or art in general, are you looking forward to making as we come out of the pandemic?
TV: More joyfully smart pieces for every Black, Brown, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, Queer person on this planet-- is that possible? I’m sick and tired of trauma. I’m tired of crying. Truly, I’m tired.
NLT: Is there a moment in your life or career that you’re particularly proud of?
TV: Moving away from home (NYC to Philly) was such a huge event for me. The New Yorker in my head told my heart that I would move back -- but I haven’t. My biggest fear was becoming irrelevant or forgotten… To whom? The people I was worried about didn’t know I existed anyway! It took work -- it took time -- it took love and care to make the connections with people, companies in Philadelphia. And I am grateful to each and every one -- even the ones that make you go “hmm.”
NLT: As the Artistic Director of a classical theatre company, why do you think people continue to revisit and reimagine these familiar pieces?
TV: Let’s be real. There are two reasons, in my opinion -- Universality and Mirrored Mass Appeal. Shakespeare stole stories from other authors and other cultures and repurposed them for his own use. These stories have been told all over the world for millions of years. He just gave them a verbal significance that has lived beyond his corporeal body. (Oop -- and yea, white supremacy!) Love is universal -- of course, we all understand “Romeo & Juliet”. Wanting revenge for the death of a loved one -- duh! Hamlet. Talking to three women who know your future? -- “Macbeth” or a day at the Jamaican food store. To see our lives, wants, hopes reflected back to us -- while also not having it be specifically about our lives, wants, hopes -- is absolutely appealing! It’s why people love watching shows like America’s Got Talent or The Voice. That could be us. That could be our joy or our heartache.
NLT: Why is an organization like BTAP vital to a theatre community like Philadelphia’s?
TV: There hasn’t been an organization like BTAP in Philadelphia ever -- Often as a Black artist, I have felt alone. Not just because I am one of maybe two BIPOC actors in any given process, if it’s not an all Black play, but because I am usually auditioning with/against my fellow BIPOC artists for the same parts, so the probability that we will all work together is low. Knowing we (the Steering Committee of BTAP) could create an organization that wanted Black artists to communicate, to bridge the wealth gap through the microgrants, to foster mentorship amongst our artists feels really good. It feels like we’re cheering each other on. It feels less alone.
NLT: What is the last piece of writing you read that you had to share with a friend?
TV: The play -- “Queen Margaret” by Jeanie O’Hare
NLT: What was the last song or album you listened to that you had on repeat?
TV: SNOH AALEGRA -- all of her songs on the “UGH! Those Feels Again.” album. Period.
NLT: What’s the last television show, movie, or recorded theatre piece you watched that deeply moved you?
TV: MOONLIGHT is one of the most stunning pieces of art that I have ever seen. Every time I have seen it, I cry!