Go west, young woman
One gets the feeling that for Teresa Dowell-Vest, race is never not an issue. It's integral to her work as a playwright, director, and actress, and even to her former day job as program director of the African American Heritage Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
And now, it's sending her across the continent to pitch Black Face, a TV show about a black theater company set in a small southern town.
Charlottesville native Dowell-Vest is a fixture in the local theater community. Live Arts commissioned her to write Vinegar Hill in 1999. She bared her body and soul as the lead in Venus, also a Live Arts production. And she directed Rita Dove's The Darker Face of the Earth.
But Dowell-Vest is not quite ready to settle into the comforts of community theater. Not yet, anyway.
Her track record of staying away from Charlottesville isn't very good. "I've left town three times and haven't gone anywhere," she acknowledges.
The first time Dowell-Vest moved to Los Angeles, she was in the student union at Cal State Long Beach when the OJ Simpson verdict came down.
"It was like being at Wilmington, North Carolina, at a lunchroom sit-in. The blacks and Latinos were on one side, the white folks on the other. It was a clear divide like the Red Sea. There were gasps on [the white] side; roars and cheers on the other side."
Dowell-Vest looks forward to the day when race isn't an issue. She rubs the brown skin on her arm and asks, "When can it not work against me so that it doesn't evoke fear... doesn't evoke hatred... doesn't evoke pain?"
To that end is Black Face. "It's an attempt at understanding through storytelling," she explains.
Black Face "reflects in some way my experience here in Charlottesville as an African American," she says. "It's about race and how we live it," but it's also about homosexuality, parenthood, and poverty.
Dowell-Vest has no illusions about her chances of selling a television series. But she can live with the idea of failure better than the knowledge that she never tried.
And if all goes well, in five years she envisions this: "Shooting a television show in Charlottesville called Black Face, raising babies, and raising hell."
What brought you here? This is my hometown.
What's worst about living here? It's not any closer to L.A.
Favorite hangout? Espresso Royale on the Corner [unfortunately this popular hang-out closed Saturday, April 12 editor]
Most overrated virtue? They're all pretty underrated, but if I had to choose one, discipline, all too often abused and a device of control.
What would people be surprised to know about you? As public as my life seems to be, I like quiet time at home alone.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Though most identify this as a trait of my zodiac sign, Gemini, I would change the ease with which my mind changes.
What accomplishment are you proudest of? Three-way tie: writing Hot Sauce & Honey; directing Rita Dove's The Darker Face of the Earth; acting in Venus.
What do people find most annoying about you? How frequently I change my mind.
Whom do you admire? Robert C. Vaughan, III
Favorite book? The Autobiography of Malcolm X
What subject causes you to rant? The repercussions of American slavery. We're still livin' that shit!
What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The possibity that "the check will be paid"... finally. [Reference MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech]
What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? That we are still livin' that shit!
What do you drive? Myself crazy with all the ideas, voices, and stories floating in my head.
What's in your car CD player right now? Bitter - Meshell N'degeocello
What's your next journey? Back to the West Coast to take a shot at a film and television career as a writer and producer. Failing would not bother me as much as living with the knowledge that I didn't try. A successful end result would be nice (I ain't no fool!), but I look forward to the journey... the process.
What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? When I was 10, my great grandmother Magnolia and my aunt Nellie told me and my siblings not to go down by the spring. We did and got attacked by yellow jackets... killah beez!
What do you regret? Not telling my dad that my bachelor's degree was in theater instead of accounting until graduation day at JMU. He's very supportive of my career, but he still hangs on to that moment when I told him he was walking in the wrong direction on graduation day. The degree change didn't mean much to him... it was keeping that kind of information about my life from him that hurt him. Telling him I was gay was easier.
Favorite comfort food? Fried chicken wings from with hot sauce and honey from Fontaine Amoco.
What's always in your refrigerator? Too much empty space.
Must-see TV? Good Times and Charmed
Favorite cartoon? Superfriends
Describe a perfect day. Rehearsing scenes from August Wilson plays outside in 80-degree weather with friends and a picnic of fried chicken, baked beans, potato salad, and lemonade.
Walter Mitty fantasy? My perfect day, but on Broadway.
Who'd play you in the movie? If not me... who?
Most embarrassing moment? Sitting on a bus, unaware that every button on my dress is undone– just riding along showing all my business.
Best advice you ever got? "Write it all down... you never know who might read it or need it." From my grandmother, Thelma Lee Vest.
Favorite bumper sticker? "My child is not an honor roll student at so and so school, and I am still proud!"