PORTRAIT PHOTO BY TINA GARCEAU | STAGE PHOTOS (RIGHT) PROVIDED BY AUSTINART.ORG
If one is wise, devout dedication to lifelong learning will never wane, but what about the period when someone is an actual student and desires lessons from select sources rather than a sweeping conglomerate of influences? Adolescence can confound even the most composed individuals and stands as the unifier among the characters in “Local Girls,” a South Philly personnel-heavy world premiere whose contributions include East Passyunk Crossing inhabitant Tabitha Allen.
“It’s smart, fresh, imaginative, and creative, which are qualities people have come to expect from this company,” the resident of the 700 block of Morris Street said of the production by Azuka Theatre. “It’s an exciting look at the depth of ambition and of that voice inside that makes us curious to know what’s beyond our confines.”
Through Sunday, the 27-year-old and fellow South Philadelphians Anna Zaida Szapiro, Mary Tuomanen, and Sam Henderson, along with Jahzeer Terrell, are performing lauded playwright Emma Goidel’s piece in the Proscenium Theatre at The Drake. Azuka associate artistic director Allison Heishman, yet another South Philly dweller, is helming the action, which finds Allen’s portrayal of Shanice merging with the teenager’s contemporaries to seek solutions to their doldrums through music.
“She’s a typical high schooler just trying to figure her life out,” the actress said of the bassist for Thigh Trap, the metal band that Tuomanen’s Riley leads. “I think she’s hilarious. She takes herself and the band so seriously because they want out of Georgia to see what else there is to life.”
Through the Zombie Fuel Energy Drink Wreak Ruckus Battle of the Bands, the youths acquire their shot at distinction, but will the opportunity provide a captivating coda for all of their efforts? Can any successes or breakthroughs as a teen foster lasting senses of how one will face the world? Such inquiries propel the plot and offer Allen opportunities to see how she has evolved from her adolescent days and investigate what could continue to compel her as a Philadelphia presence.
“I’d say there’s a lot of us in all these characters,” the hire stated, noting the need to ensure that idealism and pragmatism play nicely. “It’s been great for me to return to a time period that I’m not too distanced from because I enjoy looking at how we process circumstances when it seems we don’t have many outlets for our energy and angst and what we derive from our conclusions.”
Allen finds herself especially delighted to make such observations through Azuka, for whom she appeared in 2013’s “Failure: A Love Story” as Jenny June, for Heishman and producing artistic director Kevin Glaccum, whom she praised as “warm and welcoming” and eager to nourish one’s growth, and through a work by Goidel, a member of Orbiter 3, the Philadelphia playwriting consortium that enlists many South Philadelphians, including Henderson and Tuomanen. With three days left until she caps her second Azuka endeavor, she looks forward to finding herself at another casting call, deeming the entity “a huge player in Philadelphia’s theatrical future.”
“It’s a joy working with such committed people,” Allen said. “I’m seeing that’s the norm in this city. So many people care so much.”
Building her stage-based confidence with each turn, the Keystone State native counts as a doubly blessed individual, as she commenced piano lessons in the first grade. Maturing in Mifflinburg, she developed an affinity for theater, too, yet did not feel satisfied with early efforts.
“I liked interacting with peers and being a part of a group, but I wasn’t really good,” Allen said, laughing. “I needed to learn so much about how to read a play, but that wasn’t immediately what I set my mind to doing.”
Matriculating at West Chester University, she studied music education yet when junior year commenced, her desire to discipline herself to test her theatrical cops increased, and Philadelphia audiences have proven the beneficiaries since her graduation.
“I really missed theater, especially the performance aspect,” Allen revealed. “When I started to give serious thought to it as a profession, I knew I needed to catch up. Coming to Philadelphia, I realized how ill-equipped I was, but I wasn’t going to give up. I was prepared to see what I could learn from applying myself and being a sponge.”
Not intending to endow the City of Brotherly Love with much affection, thinking she would eventually move to New York, she has begun to strike chords with local and area entities, including 1812 Productions, whose “This Is The Week That Is!” she dubbed “the best thing for me careerwise,” Applied Mechanics, BRAT, the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, and People’s Light. Acknowledging that a certain vibe exists within local theatrical pursuits, she is hoping to continue to present herself as a tenaciously committed practitioner, much like, with life imitating art, Shanice.
“It is neat to track our growth and reflect on how we are maturing,” Allen said. “I think Philadelphia is a particularly interesting place for all of that to occur, especially since my line of work encourages people to see how they have changed, what thoughts just don’t work anymore, and which moments in our lives are really the ones that should help to define us. In other words, we are all works in progress, and it’s great to have goals to make all that a smoother experience. ‘Local Girls,’ along with many other aspects, has that feel.”
Along with anticipating broadening her professional identity, Allen yearns for personal growth, too, and will experience a huge boon to that in July when she marries fellow thespian Daniel Fredrick. Here’s hoping their bond rivals, even surpasses, that of the characters in “Local Girls.”
“They’re looking for ‘big-time glory in a small-time town,’” she said, quoting Azuka promotional material. “Well, I’m in a big-time town, and I’m ready to keep seeing what’s in store.” ■
Call 215-563-1100, or visit azukatheatre.org.
Contact Editor Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.