Empowering youth through performing arts is a passion for actress

Empowering youth through performing arts is a passion for actress

January 22, 2017

Terribly shy and introverted, Tahirah Stanley’s life dramatically changed after she enrolled in a drama class.

Realising that fear was holding her daughter back, mom took the lead to help break her out of her shell.

The move has paid handsome dividends.

In 2013, Stanley was the first recipient of the prestigious $33,000 Eleonora Duse scholarship, awarded annually to an international student to study at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute (LSTFI) in New York City. 

The winning candidate is selected based on their artistic achievements, community leadership and interest in Strasberg’s work.

Considered the mother of modern theatre, Duse – the first woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine in July 1923 – influenced Strasberg who was as Austrian-born American actor, director and theatre practitioner.

Stanley learned about the two-year conservatory program scholarship through a friend who also applied. 

“I learnt quite a while ago that nothing was going to be handed to me,” said the New York-based actor/activist who enjoys the outdoors and is an avid canoer. “I am always looking for opportunities to uplift myself and be the best I can be.”

The LSTFI is the culmination of Strasberg’s work, and his students represent the five decades he spent training actors from the Group Theatre in 1931 through the Actors Studio and the LSTFI until 1981 and beyond.

Alumni include James Baldwin who authored ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’, Marilyn Monroe and Barbara Streisand, the only recording artist or group to achieve number one albums in six consecutive decades.

Unable to contain her excitement, Stanley said she was excited and honoured to be in a place graced with a rich array of artistic expertise.

“When you look at the amazing people who have graduated from this school and the many talented people that I was around, I knew there was no other better space to be in,” she said. “I received the best acting training possible to develop my craft.”

The scholarship also opened doors for Stanley to act in TV shows, short and feature films and music videos. 

Last year, she played the lead role of Irina Prozorova in ‘Three Sisters’, a play written in 1900 by Russian author/playwright Anton Chekhov. Directed by Victor Cervantes, the Brooklyn Repertory Theatre presented an interpretation of the classic.

Stanley is also getting opportunities to audition for Broadway productions, such as ‘The Book of Mormon’, a religious satire musical that pokes fun at the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was recently cast in ‘Diana & Navy & the Golden Tooth’, a new musical by Phoebe Nir and Tomás Doncker, directed by Charles J. Ouda, that tells the story of two extraordinary sisters fighting to survive in a post-apocalyptic southern Bayou.

“This is an amazing musical and I am so proud to be playing Diana,” she pointed out. “It is pretty fantastic and a huge honour.”

The product of an African-American father and a mother who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago, Stanley worked hard to get the best education possible, graduating from some of the best art schools in Canada while excelling in both the arts and academics. 

Aware of the need to lift as you climb, she started Theatre for Peace six years ago to empower youth in her Victoria Village community through the performing arts. During the 12-week program, participants develop songs, monologues, scenes, poems and movement shaped by their experiences as young adults. The program culminates with the graduates creating a production that’s shared with the larger community.

“Theatre has been instrumental in my life and I wanted to share that with others,” said Stanley who has been recognized for her community service with a YMCA Youth Peace Medallion, the Global Changemaker and Working Women Community Centre Spirit Awards. “Even if the youth don’t want to be actors, theatre will provide them with the skills necessary to share their ideas and move throughout the world confidently.”

Young people in other parts of the world have also benefitted from Stanley’s kindness and generosity.

As a member of Free the Children, which is a charity that empowers communities to lift themselves out of poverty, Stanley has travelled to Ecuador and India to help build schools. She also spent three weeks in Ghana, mentoring young people and assisting with the building of a school urinal.

Pat Gloudon, a retired Scotiabank director, helped raise funds for Stanley to embark on the charitable projects. 

“Tahirah is just a genuine, loving and kind person,” she said. “She’s such a pleasure to be around, a wonderful human being and someone you would not think twice about giving a helping hand.”

Stanley, who along with three of her brothers participated in the annual Youth Development Program & Cotillion Ball, said the support of her mother and Gloudon have been pivotal in her growth as a person and artist.

“My mom has always been there for me and Pat’s support financially and as a mentor have been priceless,” she added.

While New York has been her base since 2013, Stanley said Canada will always be home.

“At least for now, I want to be where the opportunities are,” she noted. “I try to come back home as often as I can to see family and friends.”

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