Mental Health is a topic that touches each and every one of us in some way or another. Whether is be directly with us, or someone close to us, it’s something that we deal with quite often. It’s something that has touched me with family and myself, even recently, which is why I’m so excited to connect with actress and director Tinashe Kajese-Bolden. We’ve seen her in so many projects throughout her amazing career, but her current work in Colman Domingo’s play “DOT” is taking the stage world by storm. We talk about about the project and her role, as well as some of her other amazing work and coming projects...
U.G. Digital: This is truly an amazing opportunity to connect with you for this project. Thank you so much for your time. It has to be an amazing opportunity for you to work with Colman Domingo. Talk about the excitement for you?
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: Years ago, when I was an actor here in New York City, I had seen Colman in a show by Robert O’Hara, and was just blown away by his truth and rawness as a performer, and I knew it translated into his work as a writer. I’ve been a huge fan, so with the opportunity to do one of his plays, I was excited because of the way I know that he writes, and his ability to get to the truth. The subject matter was really exciting as well. We had a chance to work with him a little in Atlanta, but in New York he was really involved in rehearsal. He brings his own personal experiences to the story which is so much fun. Some of the questions we had, he could give true life examples of why the conversations were happening.
U.G. Digital: How personal is the story for you?
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: The role I play is that of a daughter and sister, which I’m both. There’s something about tapping into the dynamic you have with your mother, and the role of being a caregiver to someone who is already fierecely independent and taught you how to be independent, and is at a crossroad in her life. Seeing her go back and forth between the realms of being lucid and the mother you recognize, and then her being rendered child-like. I’m blessed that both of my parents are in good health, but my grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s, and I remember at the beginning of the rehearsal process, he lost his battle two days before the show opened. It was so important for me to tell this story from the perspective of the caregiver. What’s beautiful about Colman’s writing is this is not just a sappy story about everyone sitting around crying. You get past the crying and realize you have to live, make food, clean up, and get on with it. He writes Shelly, which is my role; the older sister. At one point she is quite abrasive and frustrated. You meet her at the beginning of a long day, and in the thick of having to be very patient with her mother, and at her wit’s end because she has no help.
U.G. Digital: How was it therapeutic in dealing with your grandfather? Considering your grandfather passed as the show was ready to begin, you never had a true opportunity to give because of work.
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: I think when you have the opportunity to work with a playwright as nuanced and specific as Colman is, you’re able to channel the feelings you have. There’s something about being able tto “capture lightening in a bottle”. You have all of these feelings that sometimes you’re not able to express on your own. When I’m able to put it through the voice of this character, it’s very rewarding as an individual to put my thoughts and focus into work. Therapeutic, yes, because of not having to expose everything I was going through on the stage, but you have that rawness and sense of loss. On the other side, what was rewarding was the act of love, and the act of fighting for this moment. Fighting to enjoy the people you are with that you still have around. That was the message. The healing was in the time that we spend together, and being reminded of, and thankful for the good times. Being able to forgive yourself when you weren’t at your best because the disease was so frustrating, and pushed you to not behave your best on that one day. What’s great about playing the role is there are opportunities to get that forgiveness.
U.G. Digital: So many people deal, not just with Alzheimer’s, but mental health in general. What feedback have you gotten from your audiences?
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: I’ve been so moved by the caregivers who come forward, who felt like their stories were being told. They are the unsung heroes who are focused on the patient. So when visitors and family come from out of town, they come to visit the patients and spend time with them. But if the caregiver, who has been cooking and cleaning for the patient, and sacrificing so much of their own joy, does not get that sense of attention that they need and desire it’s not so good .. I’ve been moved by the conversations after the show. They linger and wait for us to come out, and just want a hug, and want to say thank you. They vow to bring people to the show who may not otherwise believe them. The amount of people who have come three, four times, and bring others so they can have conversations, it’s been unbelievable.
U.G. Digital: What brings you back to the stage? You’ve done much stage, but also television, and really powerful projects like Greenleaf, The Bobby Brown Story, and more. I love a good play, so much that I drove from Cleveland to Dallas to see a play last year.
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: Whaaat! Now that’s commitment. I love it. You can answer it then. It’s that immediacy. It’s the original way we told stories. You think way back when everyone gathered around the camp fire and eased in to tell a story. It’s so much like that. The lights are the fire. We are equalized in the theater, especially now when our country is so divided politically. There’s something in the power of theater that you will sit next to someone you don’t know or have anything in common with, but the power of that immediacy, it allows you to lean forward and be pulled out of your comfort level to understand the stories of other people. There’s a distance between us that allows us to sit back and be entertained. Television and film are so powerful, but that stage and theater have a power to change and educate people. When you shuffle out of the auditorium, conversations stir up that you may not have had before. So, for me that is exciting. I want to be part of making this world a better place. It’s a small contribution that is so rewarding.
U.G. Digital: You’ve done amazing work. What other projects are you working on right now?
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: Right now I’m doing a lot of directing which has been really exciting for me. Moving behind the scenes a little bit, and helping to tell stories through the lens of a woman of color. The next project is a new play by Karen Zacarias. She’s a Latina playwright and her project is called Native Gardens, and it’s at Virginia Stage Company. I’m also prepping to do some shows at The Alliance in Atlanta. In the next 6 months, I’m focusing on theater, but TV is always there. You shoot things and then forget about it (laughing). I do have an episode of The Inspector that is coming up on CBS.
U.G. Digital: It’s amazing. Congratulations on your success. How much longer is the play running?
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: We run at the Billie Holiday Theater until November 18th. Tickets are available on their website, and it’s a great show because of Colman Domingo, and Kenny Leon. Anytime you come there’s a star citing, and it’s exciting to see people come out and support the theater.
U.G. Digital: Where can everyone find you online?
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: They can go to instagram. I’m usually the one who focuses on the art, and if you see me, you see me (laughing). I’m trying to get better about that.
U.G. Digital: Again, thank you so much. It’s awesome to speak about this and more. I look forward to reconnecting soon.
Tinashe Kajese-Bolden: Awesome. Thank you.