Young, Caymanian and ambitious, Brooklyn-based actress Caitlin Tyson is following her dreams in an odyssey that has taken her to Greece.
The 22-year-old is currently in rehearsals with the Theatre Company Diaspora, which is producing Greece’s first staging of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning play “Ruined” at the Epidaurus Festival in Athens. An open dress rehearsal will take place ahead of two performances of the drama on July 10 and 11.
Set in the midst of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s civil conflict, the play centers on the lives of the “bar girls” and “customers” of a bar-cum-bordello in a mining town. Tyson won the role of Josephine, one of Mama Nadi’s “girls.”
“Ruined” tackles some unpalatable issues linked to the harrowing battlegrounds of civil war and sexual violence. The play explores issues at the heart of the “forgotten war,” which has led to nearly 6 million deaths. The drama, which has several plot twists and some humor, ultimately attests to the indomitability of the human spirit.
“This is a very heavy play, [and] deals with some pretty horrific themes,” the actress said of her biggest role since leaving acting school.
“The prostitutes are all survivors of sexual violence. Mama Nadi’s is a sanctuary for these women who have been shunned and rejected by their own communities,” she said, adding that much of the material is physically and emotionally taxing.
The annual Epidaurus Festival is Greece’s largest and best known cultural event.
Tyson said Nottage, the multi-award winning playwright and screenwriter, will attend the opening night of her play at a 3,000-seat performance space in the city’s Tavros district.
Dramatic arts school
This is Tyson’s most challenging role since graduating this year from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) in Manhattan, New York. She has been asked back to attend the “by invitation only” third year of the prestigious course, and she has performed in a number of college productions.
Noteworthy alumni of the oldest acting school in the English-speaking world include Kim Cattrall of “Sex and the City” fame; Adrien Brody (“The Pianist,” “King Kong” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”); Danny DeVito (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Batman Returns” and “LA Confidential”) and Robert Redford (“The Sting,” “The Candidate” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”).
Asked how she landed a role in the production, Tyson said, “I got a call from the director (my second semester acting instructor) Dennis Hilton-Reid. He asked about my schedule and said he might have a job for me after graduation. I had seen a few productions he directed, so I was beyond excited when he offered me the job.”
Speaking from Greece earlier this week, the actress from Savannah-Newlands said rehearsals were going well, adding, “We’ve gotten so much work done in just two weeks, so I am extremely excited to see how much more we discover in the time we have left together.”
Having overcome her shyness about performing in public and yet still something of an introvert at heart, Tyson talked about what inspires her to act.
“I haven’t experienced anything quite the same as when you’re on stage, in a private moment with another actor and a full audience watching you, but nothing else matters,” she said.
“You’re making eye contact, you’re connected with each other and you know that you are present in this moment and it doesn’t matter what happens. Someone could forget their line or the lights could shut off, but we trust each other because we’re each fully there to support the other and we’re both telling a story.”
Aware that acting is a precarious profession, Tyson enjoys the challenges it presents.
“I love the complexity of it. On the outside it looks like you’re not really doing anything, but that’s only if you’re doing it well – because everything is a choice (even the way you breathe!) and that’s what makes every performance and performer so unique,” she said.
Tyson’s narrative arc
Born in Miami to Catherine and the late David Lee Tyson, the actress grew up in Cayman. Her dual nationality means she identifies with both cultures, yet even this has its contradictions.
“I think there’s something about being an outsider looking in that propels people towards the arts because you can observe and become a vessel in which art and different stories can flow through you,” she said.
Coming from a tight-knit family, she misses Cayman and gets back whenever she can,
“I’ve embraced my Caymanian heritage so much more from living abroad,” Tyson said.
“So whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or homesick, my boyfriend and I will make some stew chicken and cassava cake and live-stream Cayman radio stations.”
Tyson attended Cayman Academy SDA school, Leading Edge and John Gray high schools, and Cayman Islands Further Education Centre before studying at University College of the Cayman Islands for an associate degree in arts in literary studies. While at UCCI, she honed her acting chops, taking plenty of extracurricular work, including choir, piano, steel pan, dancing and choreography with the UCCI dancers. Throughout middle and high school, she was a member of KRI Performing Arts School.
Tyson debuted her solo acting at the Annual XPosition of the Arts organized by the New Self-Help Community Foundation. Featuring in those shows made Tyson step out of her comfort zone and eased her into portraying a role in front of an audience.
A former member of Radio Cayman’s Youth Flex radio show, she also appeared as Dynamite in Cayman Drama Society’s production of “Hairspray.”
Aside from possibly returning to college in the fall, the actress has been busy “writing and creating [my] own work.”
“What I’ve found during my training is that I enjoy being a vessel to tell really important and sometimes uncomfortable narratives,” she said.
“I love work that is engaging and entertaining but also didactic because I feel so much more rewarded when the audience leaves with new information, new ideas and new questions. I think art should challenge us.
“In my career, I’d like to play more of these strong, driven characters because I have to find that strength in myself to play it truthfully. And it’s also fun to be a little wicked and crazy and then go back to everyday life,” she added.