By Tammy Reese
Happy Black History Month! At NYWIFT we are celebrating the Black creators and artists in our membership, while honoring Black culture & cinema throughout history.
Today’s spotlight is on our member Brianna Seagraves.
Brianna Seagraves is an actress, writer, and award-winning producer. Brianna starred in the crime drama pilot 48 Blocks as Shauna in 2019. The pilot episode won Best Crime Drama at NYWIFT Online Shorts Festival this year. She has also starred in the BRIC TV urban series SoleKing (2017). She wrote and starred in her first comedy web series Domesticated (2015). Following that, she turned to writing and producing drama with her first short film, All Things Considered. The film received the grand prize award from African American Women in Cinema (AAWIC) in 2020. Brianna’s directorial debut was in 2008 with George C. Wolfe’s play The Colored Museum premiering at the Billie Holiday Theater in Brooklyn, NY. Currently, Brianna is the West Coast co-host of the variety talk show Late Night in Harlem and has a podcast in development.
Some of her television credits include The Neighborhood, Orange Is the New Black, and Law & Order. Her theater credits include The Dinner Party, A-Train, Neil Simon’s Rumors, and Grease. Brianna is a graduate of Temple University and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Brianna is originally from Silver Spring, MD, and splits her time between Los Angeles and New York.
Who are some of your favorite Black Actresses of all time?
Angela Bassett, Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, Diahann Carroll, to name a few.
In what ways have they inspired you as an actress?
Watching Angela and Viola, I know that technique and patience are so important. The study of acting, the art of a scene performance. Having talent is a part of it but to know how to hone all of that power and express it through a character is a serious skill. And neither of them were instant successes, they had to be patient and persistent in getting the roles we now know them for. With Whoopi, it was her command for comedy and how she was a major force next to her white male counterparts. She was smart, quick-witted, and – my favorite part – brown-skinned, and she had perfect timing. I see so much skill when I see Annalise Keating, Tina Turner, Marion Gilbert, or Oda Mae Brown. I see the preparedness in those performances which make them lasting ones for us.
Tell me about the experience having your directorial debut at the Billie Holiday Theater.
At the time I knew it was a great thing and a big deal, but I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until later. Being wrapped up in everything with the show I wasn’t realizing I was accomplishing something that a lot of people don’t get to do or check off their list. The fact that I was putting up a play by a Black playwright at a historic Black theater was monumental. I sometimes think about writing a play of my own so I can live the experience again and drink it in even more.
What are some memorable moments during Law & Order and Orange Is the New Black?
My most memorable moments for Law & Order would be one it was my first gig when I moved to NYC and it was also how I was able to join SAG. With OITB, during takes the cast was so friendly and fun, it was like watching girls in college hang out together with bursting into song or laughter and then making sure each of them was good for the scene.
What inspired you to join NYWIFT?
I wanted to start writing and expand in other directions in the business, and as I was working on my first project a friend of mine said I should look into NYWIFT because they would be a great source and support. When you don’t know where to start that can be music to your ears!
What are you currently working on?
Aside from sanity in this pandemic? [Laughs] I’m pushing myself to finish two scripts that I’ve been working on for the last year and a half because I have another project pushing itself into my mind and I want to get started on that ASAP.
What advice would you have for aspiring Black actresses?
“No” is a word that you need to be very comfortable with. Hearing it, reading it, accepting it, and also knowing that those “no’s” are not directed to you as a person but at that moment in time for that thing you auditioned for. This business is rough and sometimes the only word you may hear is no, but always be your own “yes.” If you feel like things are becoming too much it’s also okay to take a break, do something else and come back to it. The industry will be here and sometimes stepping back and then looking forward with fresh eyes will show you a new open door you didn’t see before.
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