Stephanie T. A. Somers ("T. A. Tells") - Storyteller
T. A. is a storyteller and “Collaboration Artist,” who has been addicted to the open stage, and the blank page for nearly twenty years. T. A. writes creative non-fiction and creates visual art every chance she gets, but her first love is live storytelling, a traditional art form in which the teller’s job is to co-create the story with the audience through call-and-response, introspective questions and audience participation activities. Storytelling is what happens to theatre when you take away the distance between the writer and the audience.
Born and raised in Arkansas, T. A. studied stagecraft, acting and drawing before spending nearly eight years in the U. S. Army. Since leaving the Army, Stephanie has been exploring the intersection of education, entrepreneurship and the arts while embracing the life of a multi-potentialite.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
When I was a teenager my parents went to an art museum exactly one time. I was already hooked on visual storytelling through comic books and movies, but I understood art as being very functional and escapist. I first realized that art did something to your very spirit when I saw the artworks of Gregory Barsamian at the Arkansas Art Center. His surreal works were visual, kinesthetic and essentially told the same gripping ten-second story over and over again. I knew I wanted to use art to not only tell stories but also be able to take people deeper than their everyday world. It was a defining moment in my life.
How does your personal story/background influence your work?
I’m strongly influenced by stories where the hero decides on one unbelievable goal and won’t quit until they’ve reached it. Growing up we were extremely poor - digging in the couch for pocket change so the lights don’t get turned off poor. I went through a phase in my teens in which I lived on one HoneyBun cake per day. Overcoming your circumstances, beating the odds and finding beauty in unlikely places are themes that run through my artwork and my community involvement, which I believe have to develop together. My signature style mixes humor with serious themes. Even when your bank account hits zero and you’re not sure how to stop the bleeding, there is tremendous strength and beauty in realizing that you’re one person living on a really big glob of carbon-based stuff that looks really pretty when you look at it from the moon.
Which of your works are you most proud of?
Right now I’m most proud of a small collection of personal tales that I am developing which center around insecurities and how they impact our lives. I am hoping to bring these together into a one-woman-show and eventually something more.
What is the hardest part about being a professional artist?
Validity! Waking up every morning and telling yourself that you deserve to create. Regardless of whether others consider you a, “pro” or not, you have to MAKE yourself a professional by making the commitment to create, learn and share something every day.
What artists inspire you?
So many artists and performers inspire me! I’m not sure that many people consider comedians to be artists, but one of my long-time favorite comedic artists and fellow tall people is comedian Dane Cook. I admire is bravery, energy and willingness to spend hours crating stories that not only amuse but also inspire subtle contemplation.
Secondly, Will Smith is an artist that I respect tremendously for his work ethic and dedication to his craft. While I will not say that he is the finest actor in Hollywood’s pantheon, he stands out because of his commitment to creating a single, seamless narrative that spans across every production in which he participates. He has a message of strength to deliver to the world and he is consistent in how he presents himself.
Recently, fellow multi-potentialite Slash Coleman, author of The Bohemian Love Diaries and star of The Neon Man and Me has been highly influential. He is a writer, a visual artist, a musician, a sculptor, an actor and a poet; but what makes him fascinating is the way he takes the time to savor the smallest actions in life, like writing long form with pen and ink or sending a message snail-mail just because you can. It is so important for artists to appreciate the spiritual and the mundane.
On a side note, I’m secretly in love with storyteller Margot Leitman, whose writing inspired my storytelling style.
What advice would you give aspiring artists who come from minority or under-represented groups?
You will be discouraged. If no one tells you that you are untalented, incapable or stereotypical, you need to put your work out into more markets. People will disparage you to your face, in writing and to the faces of those who you hoped would be your supporters. Expect this. Then go on a journey with yourself in which you realize that what is said about you is opinion, judgment and background noise. You are the one whose actions determine what is actually true of you and your work. Let criticism force you to expand and push your limits until you become so truly yourself that there is no room for any dispute. Be amazing. Do not be, “Amazing artist ______ who is from minority group ________,” and please for the love of all that’s good, don’t be the most amazing artist from your hometown or the best of your friends. Be an amazing artist, hands down. There is no limit to what you can achieve in your art until you quit, settle or stop learning.