As stages begin to reopen around the globe, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with Bryonha Marie Parham, who has been seen on Broadway in Prince of Broadway, The Book of Mormon, After Midnight, The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess, and Ragtime as well as the national tour of Falsettos. Her other New York theatrical credits include Promenade at City Center, Candide at Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic stagings of Show Boat and Sweeney Todd, and Ragtime at Lincoln Center. The actor was also part of the cast of the world premiere of the new musical Dave at Arena Stage, and she was seen in the TV broadcast of The SpongeBob Musical: Live On Stage!.
What is your typical day like now?
I wake up. I have coffee. I take an allergy pill with breakfast. Then I work out, take care of business things, answer emails, call people back, set boundaries, and do a 15-minute vocal warm up in the early afternoon. Now that our show is open, I can go to appointments in the afternoon. I head to the theatre to arrive an hour before to spend laughing time with Ben and Alex. Then we do 80 minutes of comedy with the best team ever!
How did this role come about?
You know, who knows really? One day a script was sent to me through my manager. I read it. Then I had a Zoom call with Ben Fankhauser and Alex Wyse, and I fell in love with them and signed on immediately. I asked how they knew of me, and they assured me that all their good friends had recommended me for the role and that they were big fans of my work!
Is there any part of the role or the musical that seems particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past 18 months?
Ha! Funny you should speak of “relevance.” That’s the name of my fragrance we’re creating a jingle for in the show! Absolutely. My journey is all about a pop star of a certain age that isn’t appealing to the youth anymore and is desperate to be trending again. Regina is completely obsessed with celebrity but actually longs for something much bigger, which she learns during the course of the show. I, like any other performer, feared that I might not work again during the pandemic. I dreamed up different lives where I was a nurse or a community gardener. I tried to picture myself doing other things just in case theatre never came back. Let’s be real: We work in a business obsessed with youth, and I’m not getting any younger. Regina’s fears are real!
Can you describe the feeling of being with a group of artists on the first day of rehearsal?
It was just so beautiful. It was like I could breathe again. For the last 18 months, I have questioned my purpose and career choice, and all of a sudden, I was sure again. Sure of my talent. Sure of my place, and purpose. We all felt this way. We felt essential again!
How do you feel about returning to live performances?
I love having an audience again. I can only sing at a computer screen for so long before my soul starts to die a little. Theatre requires one absolutely necessary component, the audience. We have to transfer that energy together—especially in a comedy! It finally feels like the last piece of the puzzle has been added.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to a theatre?
Hmm. I respect everyone and their degree of risk. I can assure you every precaution is being taken to guarantee safety. Everyone in the building is vaxxed, and everyone wears a mask. Our show is 80 minutes. You can only control you, so for extra security, I’d test before and after I go, just in case. There are sites all around Union Square, and they are free and quick. The safety precautions are all there and so is the information!
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Great question. Let us all remember that we made pledges, we read books, we went out of our way to educate ourselves about other people’s struggles. It was a time when we were trapped in our houses consuming a lot of violence and pain on repeat. At times, I feel that people have forgotten. The struggle didn’t go away. Please think before you speak to BIPOC artists. And, also remember how few of us there actually are in this particular theatre industry. We are usually carrying the weight of entire people on us, honestly. I am reminded of who I am, the power that I hold every night. I have all this dialogue about being privileged and rich, and yes, it’s all ridiculous and hilarious, but the extra irony is that I am a Black woman saying these lines—which only deepens the experience as an audience member. Maybe it’s funnier. Maybe it’s sad. Whatever it may be, it’s a lens only I can cast through. BIPOC experience is rich and ripe. Treasure it. Harvest it.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Reach out. During the worst of the pandemic, I had phone dates with all my single friends weekly to make sure they were okay. To make sure they were heard and had an outlet for all the stress. This city is already so hard, and to be trapped inside without all the vibrant energy and people, makes it that much harder! I found that I liked being needed. I wanted to help—and I think most people do, too, but we have to ask for what we need. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Trust the village.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
Theatrical craft is always going to win. It will take time and patience, but in the end, it will always have more value than youth or social media followers. I doubted that before the pandemic, but my ability to work throughout it, and be given opportunities I had never dreamed of, finally allowed me to trust the work of the last 11 years in this city, and the relationships and resources I’ve built.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
As a Black woman, I’m donating to funds that directly impact my life and those that come after. For me, that is Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, and When We All Vote.