Never Too Late: Actor TammyRa’ Follows Her Theater DreamsSep 28, 2022 09:35AM ● By Kara Schweiss
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
When actor TammyRa’ (who uses one name professionally) was cast as the lead character Celie for the Omaha Community Playhouse’s staging of The Color Purple, she achieved a long-held goal.
“From the very first time I saw The Color Purple in Chicago, I wanted to be Celie. It was my dream show. Then came the pandemic and indefinite postponement of live theater. I thought I would never get to tell this story,” TammyRa’ said.
But she did get to tell the story—brilliantly. On August 1, she received the Playhouse’s prestigious Fonda McGuire Award for the most outstanding performance of the 2021-22 season.
“TammyRa’ is an actor who’s dedicated to storytelling. Her practice and her craft are really about uplifting the story she’s telling, and bringing a truthfulness and authenticity to all characters that she plays, really honoring their story and honoring their voice,” said Denise Chapman, who co-directed TammyRa’ in The Color Purple. She has a long association with TammyRa’ through theater productions of The Union for Contemporary Art, where Chapman serves as producing artistic director.
“I was so happy that my family was there to see me receive that award, and I hope that this isn’t the last thing I do that’s positive. I want all the little—especially brown—girls to know that it’s never too late to follow your dreams,” TammyRa’ said.
TammyRa’s personal story may be as compelling as any she depicts on stage. She showed early talent, though she mostly limited her performances to family skits. “I was never the child who was picked to do shows, or picked to do solos in church,” she said.
Starting at the University of Nebraska at Omaha as a voice major, “I had goals of wanting to be on Broadway by the time I was 25,” she recalled.
Then life happened.
“I had my first child when I was 21,” she said. “I felt like I would never be able to be a performer again.”
With a baby at home, TammyRa’ couldn’t commit long hours to rehearsals and performances on top of classroom time. She switched her major and earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources and family science, working in the field briefly. Needing more flexibility, she earned a cosmetology license and found work as a stylist. Her family grew to four children, and her performing ambitions remained on hold. But being a committed young mother was an important chapter in her life story.
“I think everything happens for a reason, and timing is important,” she explained. “I don’t have any regrets…Family is everything to me. Raising my children was my responsibility.”
Eventually, as her children became more independent, TammyRa’ made it to the stage, crediting a “wonderful support system” for helping make it possible.
She’s been “all in” ever since, appearing in productions from Gem of the Ocean at the John Beasley Theater (as Aunt Ester) and Fences at The Union for Contemporary Art, playing Rose, to a spectrum of roles at Lincoln Community Playhouse, Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre Company, Great Plains Theater Commons, and others.
She’s also done television ads including Home Instead commercials that still appear on TV now and then. She was involved in a movie project, Second Words, in 2016. She’s performed with the likes of Ted Lange, Anthony Chisholm, Omaha’s own John Beasley, Eugene Lee, and Carla Stillwell. She’s even acted with daughter Nadia Ra’Shaun Williams (featured in the Omaha Magazine spring 2020 issue), who followed her into acting.
TammyRa’ has also branched out to the production side.
“She’s been a stage manager for me, she’s stepped into mentorship roles, and she’s gotten into directing,” Chapman said. “She’s not bound to just one part of the practice, but is able and willing to let herself expand and grow within the craft of theater.”
“I feel like anyone who is a true performer, an actor on the stage, should work behind the scenes,” she said. “Everybody needs everybody. It’s not just, ‘I’m an actor and I’m going to go out there and be brilliant.’ You need everybody else to help you be brilliant.”
“TammyRa’ is a fabulous ray of light and a gift to the city,” Chapman said.
She shines bright, but TammyRa’ is no diva.
“A lot of people thought it was just a hobby for me, but I guarantee that if I can do this full time and pay all my bills—I will. It’s coming,” she said.
“I do hope to get to Broadway or on the big screen. But I always want to be humble…I don’t have my next show yet, but I am preparing for auditions; I don’t know where it’s going to lead me. But I know I want to continue telling stories.”
Visit omahaplayhouse.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Omaha magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.