Whether getting teary eyed as toddlers enjoy their first theatre experience or planning dinner with Proust (“so dreamy!”), playwright/director Tia Shearer Bassett shares some unique perspectives in this week's Take Ten. Catch her production of Arts on the Horizon's Space Bop at the Atlas Intersections Festival, March 5-12.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
My dad took me and a good pal to see a touring company do The Mikado at our local performing arts center when I was 13 or 14. I already knew the music because I found my dad's record of it some time before, and I was OBSESSED. All that fun wordplay! The show was, of course, a THRILL. I did not yet think of doing theatre for a living, but I left that play knowing I loved live performance.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
When I was in second grade, every class played a different kind of elf in our school Christmas play. My class was the baker elves, and my family still remembers my one line: "Besides, the cookies taste like cardboard!" I was SO PROUD to hear them all emulate that line for months after, any time someone said "besides" or mentioned cookies.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
Ohhhh, Man of La Mancha. I've always loved books, and I wrote a research paper in college about what theatre can teach us about hope. So a musical inspired by a great book? About a man inspired by books? To do foolish but hope-filled things? I actually think it was written for me.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
I was a travelling saleswoman for a single day! It was FASCINATING to watch this guy I was shadowing all day move through the world with this unshakeable conviction that he could manipulate just about anyone into buying his cheaply-made wares (and the thing was...he could!), but he kept me pounding the pavement even when it began to pour and neither of us had an umbrella. He was invigorated by it. I was pondering escape.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
A trickster pal backstage accidentally gave me the signal to enter too early after intermission of a children's show. The kids were still getting seated, and there I was, in my kitty cat outfit, eagerly having scrambled almost to centerstage. I literally just looked around and then slunk back with my tail between my legs. I may have even let out an abashed meow-giggle.
6) What are you enjoying most about working on Space-Bop?
I know "everything" would be kind of a cop-out answer, so instead I will say...it's a tie between the absolute collaboration that happens at Arts on the Horizon (all ideas welcome!), and knowing that I am helping to give something to young families. As a mom to a toddler, I know exactly how frustrating it can be to look for places and events that are truly baby- and toddler-friendly...and I also know how deeply beautiful are the moments you get to just watch your new little one marvel over something.
I took my boy to see the show recently, and that first moment when the entire audience of little ones turned full attention to the stage area gave me goosebumps and made me tear up. A young child's focus is powerfully felt. It's almost like babies "focus harder" than the rest of us do. The air felt charged with magic and possibility.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Proust! Because he found words for all these tiny little blinks of moments that happen within and around us all the time. So dreamy.
8) What is your dream role/job?
I used to have a list of answers to this. But I've been at this professionally for over 10 years now, and while I hope to continue practicing and growing for many more decades, that is long enough to change my take on things.
My answer now is this: I work to make every role and theatrical job a dream job. And I am almost always successful in this. So while I am working, I am hugely happy to be right there.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
I would love to go back to the beginnings of "baby theatre!" I want to see that first show that happened overseas (likely Italy or the UK) when somebody thought, "you know who needs theatre, too, I bet? BABIES!" Amazing.
10) What advice would you give to an 8 year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
Both of them: Learn about ANYTHING that excites you! Not just theatre! Your work (and life) will be so much richer for it.
Grad student specifically: Decide what "success" means to you personally. And then, be open to re-deciding as you go. I was told early on that this is not a career path conducive to mental health. We need to find empowerment where we can. There is no shame - rather, there is only infectious joy - in being your own cheerleader and champion.
TIA SHEARER BASSETT (Playwright and Director) is a proud company member of Arts on the Horizon, having collaborated with her husband, Matt (and even their baby son!), on the development of two Arts on the Horizon shows that have seen four separate productions! It is safe to say she loves this work. Tia has performed locally for the likes of The Night Fairy, Bunnicula, Wind in the Willows, Helen Hayes Award-winner Anime Momotaro (Imagination Stage) and Mockingbird, Trixie in two national tours of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical (The Kennedy Center TYA) and served as Audience Designer for Flying V, crafting interactive experiences for grownups not unlike those Arts on the Horizon gives the littles. She holds a B.A. from NYU and teaches at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. When she was a kid, she was constantly trying to catch stars.