Diggs Wows at First Sinatra Event of the Year
Encourages students to “listen to yourself and your passions”
By Julia Joyce '19
Taking to the Louis B. Mayer Theatre stage in shiny, silver shoes and a Superman t-shirt, 2018-2019 Frank Sinatra Artist-in-Residence Taye Diggs spoke to a packed crowd about passion, performance, and learning to trust yourself. The talk, titled “Explorations of Your Passions,” kicked off his year-long residency at Santa Clara University.
Nearly bursting with nervous energy as he paced the stage, Diggs joked “I don’t do lectures!” before turning to his artistic and personal journey. Sporting a decades-long career of stage, television and film work, Diggs said his passion for performance began when he transferred to the School of Arts in Rochester, NY, in tenth grade. Diggs recalled his new school as being a place of belonging, one that allowed him to utilize dancing, acting, and singing as a means of expressing himself. "I was off to the races,” Diggs said of his eagerness to perform. “There was no way I was going to go back."
Diggs asserted that the performing arts, especially dance, came naturally to him and “didn't feel like work.” He described himself as “a conduit [that] tapped into a certain energy, and I trusted that. When I have not trusted that, that’s when things have gone awry.”
He also admitted that in his early days as a performer he wasn’t particularly mindful of his path. “People said [acting] was the way to go so I did.” It was this confidence that carried him through high school and college until he landed the role of Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III in the 1996 original production of Rent, which went on to win a Tony and Pulitzer Prize.
Diggs noted that personal struggles, including his divorce and child custody issues concerning his son, Walker, now 9, led to profound changes in his life and personal passions. He observed that in 2015, in the midst of this personal turmoil, he assumed the lead role in the Broadway hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That decision, he asserted, was his first purposeful career choice.
In a separate interview prior to his Mayer performance, Diggs elaborated on this important change, noting “The older I got...my art became less about [fame and popularity] and more about what was more fulfilling to me."
As he considered how others might find their passions, Diggs recommended this same trust of self: "Listen to yourself. Listen to yourself and your passions. Listen to that, don't be afraid, know that it could change, and be cool with that."
Q: What advice do you have for students wanting to pursue a career in theater?
"Go for it! Go for it! I don't want to be one of those cats that runs down a list of the do's and don'ts, because everybody's path is different, and I hated when people tried to tell me what to do when I was younger, I hated that."
Diggs also shared his excitement for working with students in the next months as his 2018-19 Sinatra Residency continues. If his infectious energy Sunday evening is any indication, the students are in for a treat.