WHY: It’s hard to believe as you view Tanya physicalize thirty-five characters onstage – free, beautiful and vulnerable with the lights shining on her – that she was ever uncomfortable in her own skin. Tanya takes us on a global journey into Singapore’s culture as we find a woman battling for her identity, self-acceptance, and self-love… while discovering that colonialism has terrorized, infested and affected beauty standards around the world.
WatchingTanya’s solo show, I was reminded of the magic and necessity of sharing world dialogues onstage. Naturally Tan is a potent testament to how having a variety of bodies – different colors and forms – grace the stage as storytelling vessels expands the scope of American theatre. Multifaceted and multicultural theatre is essentially human and reminds us all of our similarities rather than our differences.
We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists from all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. This past year has reinforced what we have been doing at LAFPI – putting women of all kinds first! It is vital that we make space and open doors wider for women from all cultural backgrounds if we are to have a bold, forward thinking American Theatre that reflects America.
Naturally Tan is told through the bold perspective of a vivacious drag queen named Tanvi; through her we follow writer/performer Tanya Thomas’ desperation to fit in as a minority in Singapore and her search for acceptance in America. Will Tanya continue to hide behind her insecurities forever or will she have the ability to embody her full self… and find her self-worth as a woman & artist?
Constance: What do you hope audience members take away after experiencing your show?
Tanya: I hope audience members not only find themselves thrilled by the entertaining nature of the show, but recognize the dichotomous reality that our differences can be both a source of pain and strength. To grow simply means amplifying what you stand for and evolving into who you were meant to be!
Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of your development/creation process?
Tanya: I spent the longest time ashamed of my story and never thought it was worthy to be told. I initially wrote the show to showcase my writing and acting abilities, hoping to find theatrical and voiceover representation that believed in my work. Once I gained the courage to conduct a reading, I realized this show is bigger than me. I am telling my story to give voice to anyone who has hidden themselves as a kindness to the world and inspire those who might not see themselves anywhere else.
Constance: What are you enjoying most as you create your show? What has been the most surprising discovery?
Tanya: I’m enjoying the collaborative process of creating a solo show. While it sounds singular in nature, the show is truly an amalgamation of kindred souls working their magic! I’m forever thankful to my director Jessica Lynn Johnson and her Soaring Solo community and Natalie Alcala of Fashion Mamas for connecting me to my creative team (illustrations by Dirty Eraser, graphic design by Serina Morris, copywriting by Eileen Rosete and photography by Cameron Jordan).
The most surprising discovery has been hearing from my livestream audience at a post-show Zoom talkback that they recognized some part of their lives reflected in my work on stage. What I thought was so specific to my experience proved to be universal in some form.
Constance: The work will be given away soon – how does that feel?
Tanya: Exhilarating and nerve-racking at the same time! This will be the first time I perform Naturally Tan in front of a live, in-person audience. My first performance was live-streamed without an audience at Solofest. I’ve waited so long for this moment so I am determined to ground myself in knowing the best things in life are on the other side of fear! I’m thrilled to share my truth and experience the collaborative magic of live theatre. It’ll be great to have that energy released worldwide as the show will be livestreamed too!
Constance: How long have you been sitting with this work? Why Fringe? Why this year?
Tanya: Naturally Tan was many years in the making. An acting coach had encouraged me to write about my cross cultural experiences 10 years ago. I wrote a page but couldn’t bear to write more. A series of healing experiences later, I’m boldly declaring my worth through my 35 characters in the show. I am proud that the show adds a distinct voice to the full range and diversity of Asian American stories. I believe the world is ready to listen deeply and move conversations forward around topics of representation, beauty standards and identity so we can heal our generational scars.
Constance: Anything else? Please share with us!
Tanya: It was important for me to tell a story of my growth as a woman of color, mother, and artist through grace and movement. My drag queen narrator, Tanvi, embodies her highest form throughout the show while restoring that balance between femininity and masculinity. I also depict feminine love in all its graceful forms through Mohiniyattam, a traditional Indian dance style from Kerala, India. It took a serendipitous encounter and a few months of dance training through zoom with world renowned Indian classical dancer, Vijayalakshmi, to get ready for a powerful scene in my show.