While you may not know her name, you definitely know her face and work. Tamara Tunie is a consummate performer, finding her home on both stage, the silver screen, and television. Tomorrow night she begins a set of performances at Feinstein’s 54 Below in a one-woman cabaret show entitled Legends from the ‘Burgh. (October 21 and 22 and again on November 11 and 15). As a Pittsburgh native, it is Tunie’s tribute to great artists from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Broadway Black had the opportunity to interview her about her accomplishments and future endeavors.
Broadway Black (BB): Your career has been multi-faceted in that you sing and you act in both TV and film and on stage. At this point in your career, do you have a preference?
Tamara Tunie (TT): It’s always the theatre and live performance. There’s nothing better than having that interaction with a live audience. With a play or musical, there is a feeling that the audience is going along with you and there is an immediate connection to the audience. You don’t have to wait six weeks after shooting wraps.
BB: Because you have worked steadily for over 20 years in various media, how do you make the transition from film to stage or TV?
TT: It’s always been a nice balance of theater, film, television, and singing, so I easily flow one into the other. I never leave one medium long enough to feel like I’m rusty or need to catch up. I’m always open to opportunities to flex my muscles in all of the arenas so that no muscles atrophy.
BB: You’ve worked with some acting icons, including Al Pacino, Samuel L. Jackson, and Denzel Washington. What can you tell us about their process and what it’s like working with them?
TT: Sam I’ve known for a couple of decades, before Sam was Sam. So getting together was like working with a friend. Kasi Lemmons directed “The Caveman’s Valentine” that I did with Sam and we also knew each other so that was like a reunion.
I performed with Denzel in Julius Caesar on Broadway so it was easy to segue into the film, “Flight.” He’s very serious about his work and very professional.
Pacino is an actor’s actor. He loves to try different things with each take. That keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t get stale. It makes you listen and stay engaged and makes you available. We’re all actors and trying to tell this story as an ensemble. It’s great!
BB: Tell us about your upcoming performances and your tribute to “the Burgh.”
TT: I performed this show to a sell-out audience at 54 Below a year ago. While they typically ask for a different performance, 54 Below asked for the same show, which was flattering. For those who came a year ago and saw the show, I’ve decided to interchange a couple of new songs to keep it fresh for the audience and for me. The show is a tribute to the extraordinary talent of entertainers who came from Pittsburgh. It ranges from the Father of American Folk Music: Stephen Foster, to George Benson, Phyllis Hyman, Little Jimmy Scott, and Henry Mancini. The show is entertaining and educational and edifying.
BB: You won a Tony Award in 2007 for the production of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening and a Drama Desk Award. Spring Awakening is back with a mostly deaf or hearing impaired cast and Broadway Black interviewed Treshelle Edmond, the only Black actor in the production. Have you seen it? What do you think about the changes that have made to the play in that sense?
TT: I haven’t seen it yet but I think it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful for them to come to Broadway. I’m thrilled and proud of the producers who brought it back.
BB: Because of your love of Pittsburgh, do you have any plans to be involved with all 10 of August Wilson’s plays being brought to HBO by Denzel Washington?
TT: I wasn’t aware of this but I would be happy to be involved!
BB: You are a prolific producer, having been involved with hit productions including Magic/Bird, August Wilson’s Radio Golf, and Spring Awakening. What challenges do you face as a female producer of color, if any?
TT: I was very happy to producer August Wilson‘s Radio Golf because it was his last play on Broadway. It was a mission of mine to bring it that last play. All of his plays resonated with me. But in general, I face the same challenges that everyone else does. It is not gender- or race-related, but based on resources. It’s about having a community who is willing to step up and put money on the table. It’s about raising the money. I encourage those of means to support the arts and support Broadway. Step up if you can.
BB: Speaking of stepping up, please tell us about your charitable works including Figure Skating in Harlem, and God’s Love We Deliver.
TT: I’m a founding board member of Figure Skating in Harlem. That program is geared toward building life skills and educational opportunities for girls in the community. We continue to grow and get national attention and produce beautiful young women who are going on to higher education and can present themselves well in life, so that’s thrilling.
God’s Love We Deliver provides nutritional, individualized meals for those who are sick. We provide meals for the sick, kids’ meals, and for the caretakers as well. It is a necessary organization that has provided millions of meals to NYC residents in all boroughs. We also have a brand new facility at 5th and Spring St bursting with need. The most vital part is the volunteers who help prepare and deliver the meals.
BB: What’s next on the horizon for you?
TT: I will be taking the Cabaret Show to other cities. Check my website for updates. I’m also in my 16th season of “Law & Order: SVU.” I’m playing the same role but always encountering something new and different. The twists remain interesting to me so I can make it interesting for the audience.
BB: What advice would you have for young actresses of color?
TT: My answer is for every person regardless of race: study your craft. Be prepared. Audition for yourself and don’t be concerned about what they might want, because you don’t know. Show your best self and your best work. Persistence. Perservance. Preparation.
Legends from the ‘Burgh plays at Feinstein’s/54 Below on October 21 and 22 and again on November 11 and 15. For more info, click HERE.