A performing arts education may build a good foundation for a career in the limelight, but the act of learning never stops. From singing in church to manipulating a puppet on Avenue Q, Zonya Love believes every experience is an opportunity to learn and share with others. Currently appearing in Beetlejuice on Broadway, Love was one of the performers at the Academy’s inaugural gala in February.
“I do think outreach is important, especially when you can make opportunities available to those who may not have access,” she said.
As a child born in the South, Love had no plans to be a performer. She enjoyed singing in church where she took part in shows at Easter and Christmas, but it wasn’t until she joined an after-school program that she started to think about her future. The program designed shows about bullying and violence aimed to help younger children.
“Growing up in the South we were going to be teachers, lawyers or preachers, there was no other vision,” she said.
After speaking to a leader at a local music workshop, she toyed with the idea of becoming a vocal coach. What she didn’t know was that she would have had to have been able to sight read for that, so as she couldn’t, she came up with another plan.
“In the end I majored in theatre to come out of my shyness and thought I could learn to sight read at the same time,” she said.
In graduate school Love says she felt “othered.”
“I was not the status quo, not the person who they were considering at auditions,” she said.
When she was finally offered the part of Celie in the original Broadway production of The Color Purple, she began the process of self-love.
“Playing Celie was a very personal journey for me,” she said. “I’m from the South. Looking at the climate in our nation I remember experiencing racism. I didn’t have the confidence I would have liked. Celie is the perfect example of someone who needs to love themselves. It was one of the major takeaways for me.”
As a member of the first national tour of Avenue Q, Love learned a more practical skill – how to handle a puppet.
“They auditioned people with no puppetry experience and then sent me to puppet camp so I learned on the job,” she said.
Love says she chooses roles based on what they can teach her.
“I’m always learning. I desire work where I can learn a new skill. I don’t like doing a job that doesn’t challenge me,” she said. “Now I’m in Beetlejuice. I play different characters. It’s part of the joy of being an artist.”
Love says there’s no one role she aspires to play.
“My goal is to do good work and reach my full potential,” she said. “I don’t think my perfect role has been created yet. The creator in me wants to be part of that.”