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Lorraine Hansberry once wrote a play called To Be Gifted, Young and Black.

She might have been talking about Tiana Kaye Johnson, who, years later, would perform in that same work.

At 27, and not long out of Prairie View and Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts,

Tiana is one of the brightest new lights in the Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company at Dallas Theater Center.

She did Hair in October and now is looking ahead to the holidays when she will play Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs.

Dilber in A Christmas Carol, directed by Lee Trull, also featured in this piece. In the spring she’ll turn to Coretta Scott King and a secretary in The Great Society.

Tiana Kaye Johnson is versatile and she is committed to the sober, though sometimes delirious, assessment of America currently underway at Kevin Moriarty’s DTC.

At Hair, Tania asked herself repeatedly, “What are they hearing in the audience?

Are they there to enjoy songs they remember?” Or are they looking for more, as she is?

“Pressing times make it so urgent,” she told me, that she “dive deeper into civil rights history,” and hope her audience will follow.

“My parents start with civil rights and work back to slavery,” she said; “they start with hope.”

Tiana was born at Parkland (her mother always points that out, she said) and grew up in Oak Cliff. She first “saw the north side of town” when she went to William B. Travis Middle School.

“I discovered Chipotle and Jamba Juice— things of the north.” She wanted to go to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, but her father said no.

She should go to the Town View Law Magnet and prepare herself for that far better-paying profession.

So she did. But the life of a lawyer was not for her. Dance was.

And in time it led her to the theater. But actor, Tiana explained, “is not the first of my identities,

though it is encompassed in it. I’m black. I’m a woman. I’m an artist. I’m an activist.”

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