When Tatiana Nya Ford wrote “Lyra and the Ferocious Beast,” which ran at The Voxel Theater this summer, it was a way of blending several different parts of herself.
The play starred actor, teacher, and spoken word superstar Mecca “Meccamorphosis” Verdell as Lyra, an intergalactic scientist who does whatever she can to keep her beloved pet Yucca (the “ferocious beast”) safe. Along the way, she must also grapple with the series of decisions that got her into this predicament in the first place.
Ford, a licensed therapist, weaves lessons about whimsy, redemption, and grief into this story. The tale doesn’t wrap up neatly, but instead concludes the way things end in real life: sometimes you move forward, acknowledge what was lost, and learn from it what you can. Ford’s training as a therapist and her talent as a playwright resulted in a play where characters embodied the full spectrum of human emotions, including more challenging ones — like grief — with authenticity.
“Lyra” is Ford’s first produced full-length play. It was directed by Tessara Morgan, and features Caitlin Weaver as Lyra’s trusted robot companion Hattie, along with puppeteers Francesco Leandri and Alex Mungo, Isaiah Mason Harvey, David Brasington, and J. Purnell Hargroves.
On September 24, Ford and I spoke about the experience of bringing the play into reality and her feelings about the show.
S. Ireti: How do you feel in those moments, when you see somebody become this thing that you’ve written? How does that writing process differ from actually seeing it?
Tatiana Ford: Huge shout out to all the actors and also Tessa, the director. It feels amazing. It is one of my favorite things. It really feels like, not to be dramatic, but a motivation for the moments when living is hard and … existing becomes exhausting and we question our motivations.
It’s always nice because I’ve been writing since I was a kid. And so to think of the little me who was unable to finish stories because I was so excited about writing the next one now being able to witness a fully written piece that is fully worked on by so many different people and given all this love and affection, it is so… I feel so lucky and it’s nice to be reminded of that.
To write is to share parts of yourself that you have spent so long trying to understand and accept and present to the world. What other parts of you do you try to carry or imbue in the things that you’re working on now or in the past?
Ford: So I believe my first time writing stories, I must have been nine or ten. And they weren’t plays, they were little novels, because I would be reading kids books, fantasy books. And it always spoke to me to have my own fantasy telling of either some kid who was like me or some kid who was not like me and just imagining what that was like.
I think my first story that I wrote was about this group of friends who discover they have powers and they’re trying to not only save the world… but also trying to save their loved ones, save themselves, find some comfort.
I think more than anything as I write, I try to be as vulnerable as possible. I try to be very particular about the words I choose not only in my art but also on a daily basis. And I really just say that to speak on the… power I think that words have.
The accidental poetry of language is beautiful. And in my storytelling, I want to touch upon all of the beauties and horrors and delights and surprises and everything that comes from life that I’ve known it as I’ve known it, as I’ve lived it, as I’ve seen it.
Do you dabble in other mediums? What does it mean to you to be an artist?
Ford: I tell people, I’m an artist because I am. And sometimes my medium is oil paints on a canvas, and sometimes my medium is my piano. Sometimes my medium is my body. Sometimes my medium is all kinds of stuff. I like sculpting. As I mentioned, I do a lot with puppets. I have so many puppets just all around my home. I love dancing. I love singing. Every way that I can express myself creatively is my favorite.
Not to blow up your spot, but as a therapist, what perspective does that bring to your work, creating, etc.?
Ford: I think when we are constantly preaching the importance of mental health and social health and interpersonal health, intrapersonal health, all these kinds of stuff, it’s hard to not touch upon it in what we create — at least that’s the case for me.
We know that there are ways that we can be better, and that does give us comfort, and it doesn’t always give us comfort because we don’t always have it. But I think with writing the way that I do, touching upon the realness of what it is to experience life, I don’t know, it makes it all a little easier.
That’s very much why I got into expressive arts therapy. It’s because verbal communication is our main form of communication as humans in today’s world. But it is not the only way to communicate.
I know that a lot of people, specifically our clients and really any client in therapy, can have trouble talking about a thing, hearing them admit a thing, saying a thing to this stranger who they might have known for a day or two sessions before this, or whatever the case is. And with art, it’s easier to touch upon the same topics, the same learning blocks, without needing to have the specificity of what is going on in order for that to be achieved.
Even if I, as a therapist, might not be able to understand this painting we did together and this art activity, you, as a client, might have a deeper understanding because you see something in there that maybe you can’t verbally say to me right now, but are still able to connect to and feel and whatever else.