As an SMU undergraduate, Regina Taylor ’81 was a writer planning a career in journalism. She never imagined that an acting class she took as an elective would change everything. She “fell in love with acting,” and it wasn’t long before casting directors were impressed by her talent. While collecting a trove of acting accolades – a Golden Globe, a Peabody Award and three Emmy nominations – she never stopped putting pen to paper.
As a playwright and director, Taylor “likes to play with form and style.” Her new play, Bread, was recently awarded an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Its world premiere run will be April 13–May 16 at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, Texas. Set in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, the “compelling family drama of hopes, fears, thwarted dreams and dark secrets is set against a turbulent backdrop of racial tension and social upheaval.”
In some of her other plays, the daring dramatist transports Anton Chekhov out of pre-revolutionary Russia and into the black American experience. In Magnolia she reimagines The Cherry Orchard in 1963 Atlanta as the civil rights movement gains momentum. Last spring she spent two days with Meadows School of the Arts students and actors from the Dallas theater community in workshops and open rehearsals for a public reading of the play at Meadows.
“This was a wonderful opportunity to take them through my process,” she says, “and to work with some very promising students and experience and explore their reactions to the characters.”
She says it was exhilarating to be back where she developed “a great bag of tricks” and acquired “a solid foundation that prepared me to go out into the world.”
While an SMU student, she was cast in Crisis at Central High, a television movie about the 1957 integration of Little Rock, Arkansas, schools. She played one of the nine black students who broke the color barrier. Five years later, in 1986, she made history as the first black actress to play Shakespeare’s Juliet on Broadway. Her Romeo was former SMU scene partner René Moreno ’81.
At the moment, theater work takes center stage in her career. The Dallas native continues a longtime association with the Goodman Theater as a member of its prestigious Artistic Collective and is a playwright-in-residence at the Signature Theatre in New York City. This is an interesting time for artists, she says.
“The arts can be an igniter, an educator. They provide an opening for very necessary conversations about complicated issues like race and gender. They also help us draw connections between our experiences that build bridges between communities.”