Stage ignites actor’s drive

Actress finds emotional outlet through stage performances, tutoring

By Xavier Johnson, Scene Editor

The greatest strength an actor can have is the ability to empathize with the character they portray.

Acting is not simply saying the memorized lines but becoming the character and truly connecting to how a character would feel and react in certain situations.

Contra Costa College student Brittany Turner, 22, is a Richmond native who can harness this necessary empathy to drive her acting, other artistic pursuits and her newfound desire to teach and inspire.

Turner earned the role of Lady in Blue in the 2015 drama department’s production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf.”

She said this role was a challenging because it took her through a lot of intense emotions.

“The moment you run out on stage you are no longer yourself — you embark on that journey,” Turner said. She said she learned a valuable lesson about acting while working on the play from adjunct drama professor and director Terrance Ivory.

Ivory said to achieve their roles students need to become the characters they play. However, it is important to “leave it all on the stage.” He said actors should not let the emotions felt by the character’s seep into daily lives.

Turner grew up in the church, attending Market Street Seventh-day Adventist Church in Oakland. She said she was a part of several programs as a child that helped Oakland’s homeless population.

“I participated in this program where we distributed food we packed to the homeless and families in need.” As a part of the church when she was 14, she went on a mission trip to Jamaica.

“The opportunity to experience another culture and help others made me come out of my shell at home,” Turner said.

Turner enrolled at CCC in 2013 as a drama major.

She had her first play at the college as Helena in the drama department’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream.” After “For Colored Girls” she stayed involved with the drama classes by taking courses as well as helping CCC drama major Sean Teal.

Turner said she decided to tutor Teal and help him develop his acting through. Specifically, Teal needed help writing character analysis for the monologues performed in class. Turner said since she began helping Teal she is determined to eventually teach drama at a college level.

“I like helping people become enthusiastic about learning and watching them grow,” she said. “I want to give people room to succeed on their own.”

Teal said Turner’s best strength in her teaching is her ability to be patient with him. “I sometimes have trouble putting my words together but she sticks through it with me.”

Teal said, “I could go and get any other tutor but I connect with her more than any other. We’re a dynamic duo.”

Acting is not the only artistic outlet for Turner. She also writes and performs poetry. She said performing her poetry at open mic nights is empowering because it is a more personal experience.

“I’m able to contribute my own original art to the art around the world.”

Turner said poetry helps her express her emotions through rough times and gain confidence. She said that she struggled to develop confidence as a teenager.

“I’m sure almost every black woman’s story is finding that confidence,” she said, “I didn’t like to wear my hair natural and I tried to fit in.”

She said she needed to gain that confidence in herself if she wanted to truly help others. “When I’m on TV I plan to rock my hair natural.” The poetry touches on a variety of topics like self-love, healing and world peace.

She said titles of her poems include “My Body, My Temple” and “This is the Black Woman.”

Turner’s most recent performance was during the fall of 2016 as one of three guest actors for “Project Panther” a performance by Dimensions Dance Theater in Oakland.

Turner played the only woman among the actors and represented the role of women in the Black Panther Party.

One of the aspirations for Turner is to use her acting to inspire young black girls. Turner said she feel like there aren’t enough black women as superheroes.

“I want to be that powerful dark-skinned superhero woman,” Turner said. “The Avengers are bad ass. They are powerful and dynamic. I want to be that kind of superhero and show black women in that light.”

She said she wants to dig back into past comic book characters to highlight forgotten black superheroes, or create her own.

Turner said black women in America are often thought to be weak or dependent.

“I want to show that we can do different things.”