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Checking in with Tyler Trerise

The actor on Intiman's 'Stick Fly,' colorism and comedy.
Q&A | May 24, 2016 | By Carradin Michel

Seattle-based actor Tyler Trerise plays a central role in Stick Fly, an award-winning play by Lydia Diamond that's part of the Intiman's 2016 festival dedicated to great American plays written by Black women. The production is a dramedy dealing with issues of race, class and the assorted dirty laundry families tend to collect. It’s playing at Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center from May 26 through June 19. [Check out our past Five Friday Questions with Trerise and our interview about the festival with Intiman artistic director Andrew Russell.]

So you’re an actor, a comedian, as well as a hip-hop artist. Which one is harder to do?
Hip-hop is more of a hobby for me—I’ll make a beat occasionally or freestyle with friends—but I’ll say acting is harder than standup comedy. There are challenges with acting that I don’t see with comedy. In stand up, if a new joke isn’t working, you can always fall back on older material that gets you guaranteed laughs and now the audience is back on board.  With acting, you always have someone yelling at you that you’re not doing it right during rehearsals. Also, you have to interact with actors and crew that you don’t necessarily get along with all the time. Plus, there is less "license" when you’re performing in established plays. Every ‘um,’ ’uh,’ ‘and’—every punctuation has to be performed to the tee because the cast is relying on you for the cues they need to say their lines. So you can’t really go off the cuff or improvise like you can with comedy.

Angela Bassett should’ve been cast as Storm in the X-Men movies, not Halle Berry. Can we agree on this?
Ah, dark-skinned versus light-skinned! Colorism in Hollywood…

Hey, that was never said!
Yeah, but that’s what that is!

There are just certain people who think Angela Basset would’ve made a better Storm, is all…
She’s the better actor, that’s for sure. Don’t print that, though!

Just in case you get that love scene with Halle?! 
Exactly! [Laughs]

So you feel colorism is still prevalent then?
Oh, most definitely! I’ve experienced it myself. I have a lighter complexion so there have been times where I’ve been cast as the "good" black person in a production whereas the darker skinned actors got the more minor parts.

At the same time, I’ve also experienced the reverse as well. We just finished a production at the Seattle Rep called brownsville song. There were two male parts I auditioned for: the kid who got shot and his best friend who was the "bad influence" that led him to getting shot. Well, I was actually cast as the "bad" best friend. The darker actor got cast as the lead, the "good" kid who gets shot. So, even though I didn’t get the lead part, it was a nice surprise as far as a casting decision. Usually, it’s the other way around, right? Where the lighter-skinned actors are always the "good one" and the darker skinned actors are the "evil" influence.

True. Although with the recent critical success of films like Dope and Dear White People, we’ve seen lead black characters cast in non-typical roles as of late. In both films, the lead characters are dark skinned but also happen to be awkward, nerdy types who are the introverted outliers among their peer group. This goes against the archetype we tend to see of male black leads who get typecast as angry alpha men always on the verge of doing something ‘out of control’.  Do you feel society is more open now to seeing other narratives that exist within the Black American cultural spectrum?
Absolutely. And it’s about time too! People are ready to see other stories from us. Especially black people. I feel like that’s the next crucial piece; more stories involving black people that are not exclusively about being “black in America.” There are so many other things besides race that we have a lot of insight on and there needs to be more of a spotlight placed on that.

What’s your favorite scene in Stick Fly?
There’s this scene where I’m arguing with my fiancé. It’s a key scene in the play. We hit a pocket in rehearsals recently where we really freed up the scene. There just so much baggage coming out in this argument! I think people will like it.

Do you like it here in Seattle as an actor?
Yes. There is just so much potential here as far as doing productions that are new, great and get done very professionally. It’s not New York so if you have talent, you don’t get swallowed up here as easily as you do there. You throw a rock in New York, you’re going to hit a talented stage actor.

I think our only setback here—other than poor promotion, at times—is that we are too nice to each other as far as critiques. No one wants to step up and say “this is not good and here’s why.” We are too passive here. But what we have to realize as an arts community is that we need criticism. It keeps us sharp and the art only gets better when a higher bar is set. With that said, there is still a lot of great art being made here. 

Teaser photo by Alex Garland.