Maya J. Christian and Ashani Smith both deeply appreciate theater and have an even deeper appreciation for their representation in the industry.
Having grown up in Charlotte, both returned home recently for the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ run of “Jagged Little Pill,” a two-time Grammy Award-winning musical based on Alanis Morissette’s music and the Diablo Cody novel of the same name.
“Jagged Little Pill” is a coming-of-age story about Mary Jane Healy, a seemingly perfect suburban housewife wrestling with opioid addiction after being in a car accident. Mary-Jane has an adopted daughter, Frankie — a Black girl — with whom she struggles to connect.
The musical also follows other themes like sexual assault, sexuality, and marriage.
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Smith works as a stage manager on the show, while Christian acts as a “swing” in the musical, an ensemble member who also fills in for other cast members if they cannot perform.
While both love the theater, they understand the importance of representation on and off the stage.
Despite attending a relatively diverse high school, Smith said her experience with theater tended to have few people that looked like her.
She wants to use her career to inspire others. She formerly worked as a stage performer and is now a stage manager.
Smith said connected to the character Frankie’s story as she understands what it’s like to be in a predominantly white space in her current role, a profession that is only 7.1% Black.
“I know there is a 14, 15, 16-year-old sitting out there either wanting to be a performer, a technician, or a stage manager that may be watching [Jagged Little Pill] this week,” said Smith.
She wants Black and Brown aspiring stage managers and technicians to know that it is “very possible” to achieve their dreams.
Christian attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem and Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University.
When she began her career, she said she also began to receive messages from aspiring Black and Brown performers online, asking for her insight or requesting support from her.
That’s when the importance of representation “really hit” her.
Christian realized that it was through outreach and talking to aspiring performers that a difference could be made. Her message to them?
“Don’t let them tell you you can’t.”
Smith and Christian have each heard “no” many times in their theater careers, but they want aspiring performers to not let initial rejection stop them.
Smith, who often performed before transitioning to stage management, said hearing no as a high school performer was difficult at first.
When Smith was not cast in Northwest’s spring musical during her senior year, she said it was the “worst thing” to ever happen to her.
“I was devastated,” she said.
However, Smith was cast in a “life-changing” role in “Ragtime,” a major musical that showed on Broadway at one time. Had she been cast in her school’s spring musical, she would not have been able to participate in “Ragtime” due to the time conflict.
“Instead of dwelling in the rejection, I’m like, this isn’t for me because I’m on my way to what is for me,” said Smith.
Like Smith, Christian has experienced rejection in her career. Even now, she said she is constantly being told no.
“You have to get used to it,” she said.
Smith’s advice to those who wish to work in theater is to “send the email.”
“You have to shoot your shot,” said Smith. Smith said she sent an email to her “dream” stage manager Cody Renard Richard — who’s worked on Broadway hits like “The Lion King” and “Hamilton” — and is now his assistant.
Both women are living some of their theatre dreams and plan to continue working to make the rest come true.
Location: 30 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202
Dates: Dec. 2 – Dec. 4
This play contains sequences of flashing lights.