This month, actor Imani Mitchell will join SOSS to read an excerpt from Natashia Deón’s new novel The Perishing. Our casting director Jessica Laskey talked to Mitchell about how she came to acting, the difference between live theater and film and what other projects she’s working on.
Jessica: Imani, you’re from Sacramento but you’ve worked all over Northern California. How did you first get into acting?
Imani: As a kid, I did a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and caught the acting bug, but I didn’t return back to it seriously until college. I went to Sacramento City College and got my degree in Theatre Arts with an emphasis on acting. After that, I knew I wanted to become a professional actor, so I tried to figure out how to get into it. I acted at different community theaters and eventually started working with professional theaters including Celebration Arts, Capital Stage and B Street Theatre.
Jessica: What do you love about theater?
Imani: Theater is one of a kind. The energy the actor and the audience get during live performance is unmatched. With theater, you only get one shot. It’s a linear track with a play—you start from the beginning and you go to end and that’s the performance. Things can go wrong, things can go right and you can discover new things about your character as you’re going. That’s what makes it so beautiful—it’s always evolving and changing. As an audience member, I’ve always loved watching real people living and breathing right in front of me.
Jessica: You also write, direct, act in, and produce films with your company, I AM Studios. What inspired you to transition into film?
Imani: As an actor, I’d hit a wall. I was trying to do professional work but I was getting tired of the hustle of it, to be honest. The industry is not always fair or predictable. It’s not like going to medical school where you go to school for a certain amount of time and you’re pretty sure you’re going to go into the medical field afterward. I got tired of auditioning for small roles and playing extras. I thought, I know I have talent, is this really all that’s available? So then I thought, let me start creating roles I’d love the opportunity to play as an actor. I wrote the film Whirlpool and thought, this is where it’s at, this is where I’m supposed to be. I feel like learning to act has made me a better director to actors. It’s been a great journey being on this side.
Jessica: You also have a podcast, The Imani Mitchell Show. Tell us about that.
Imani: I found that I had different perspectives and thoughts as a creative, and as a human being, and I wanted an outlet to express the ups and downs of creation, of being a working artist. The podcast was originally supposed to be a blend of talking about film and acting and reviewing different shows, but as of late, the past few episodes have been about how art has played a healing role in my life. Hopefully people can relate to it.
Jessica: In addition to stage, film and the podcast, you’ve also had some experience working in virtual performance since the pandemic. What do you find different about that kind of work?
Imani: Zoom performance is its own machine. It’s a different medium and can’t even be categorized as theater or film. Not all actors are comfortable with it. It requires them to be privy to—and comfortable with—the technical element, whether that’s needing to be muted for a transition or have outfits ready for a change. Ultimately Zoom is good, though, because it kept many of us afloat and gave people something during the pandemic when we were longing for some kind of creative expression. But I think all of us are very excited to be back in person.
Jessica: As a genre-bender yourself, how did you enjoy Natashia Deón’s The Perishing, in which the main character finds herself inhabiting different time periods and personas?
Imani: I was very impressed! There aren’t a lot of female writers in the sci-fi/speculative fiction space. The idea that this Black woman (the protagonist, Lou) is immortal is so interesting and so imaginative as well. Being creative and being a Black woman myself, and always trying to find ways to create unique stories, I was very excited to read the book—it’s very aligned with my interests. It’s an honor to be able to read and bring life to something so out of this world.