Thais Francis is an actor, dancer, singer, writer, and instrumentalist born in Trinidad and Tobago, and raised in Maryland. She is an alumna of the Tisch School of the Arts, at New York University where she studied Drama. As an actor, she has toured in theater both nationally and internationally. Her work has been seen at the Historic Warner Theater in Washington DC and Radio City Music Hall in New York City. She was honored by the Root Magazine as one of the 25 under 25 Top Innovators in America. Her academic writings have been featured at The Prindle Institute for Ethics at Depauw University, presented before the staff of the White House and awarded by the Congressional Black Caucus. She has been a featured speaker alongside Howard Zinn at NYU and is a recipient of the Lorraine Hansberry Arts, Performance, and Media NIA Award at NYU.
Her original play OUTCRY has been produced throughout the U.S since its debut in 2012 at NYU and most recently featured in American Theater Magazine. She has written, produced and starred in her first short film LATE EXPECTATIONS. She currently resides in Brooklyn New York and is working on several scripts for both theater and film as well as music
“You look like my auntie!”
“I look like your aunt?”
“I like how you does say Auntie…say it again?”
“Where you from?”
Their names are Nyesha and Ramaya- one is bedecked in her brownie outfit, the other wears her school uniform topped with three plaits and ribbons. Nyesha thinks I look like her aunt, and Ramaya has picked up on my accent. She asks me the question that I dread answering. What do I tell her? Do I go into a spiel about emigrating from Trinidad…or do I just say Maryland? My brain goes into overdrive and my “quarter life identity issues” resurface. More classmates join them, and all stare at me expectantly. Innocently invasive brown eyes filled with questions and excitement. They are reminders of the beauty of being 9 years old.
“I live in America”.
They are satisfied with my response. We then all walk over to the open field.
When I first saw the students at Workman’s Primary school, I was elated. The ribbons, uniforms, brown skin-all images of a past life tucked away in the folds of mind. However, it wasn’t hard to remember and transform with them. With Ms. Bradshaw’s class of 17 students I found myself using theater, music and dance to add more color to the kaleidoscope of their lives. We used our bodies to mime and form shapes that were parts of speech; we became a human orchestra, and created a dance to work on focus and memory. They referred to me as “ma’am”. After the class, I thought about that. “What is a ma’am and how did I become one?”
In other news, here in Barbados, I have learned how to light a stove, with a match. Like, I can strike a match and light a stove. I’ll be sure to show my granny this new skill when I visit- she’ll be impressed.
However, the main reason I am here is to work on my first feature screenplay. It’s actually weird, and frustrating, but sometimes cool, sometimes I like what I’m saying…most times I don’t. Mostly I’m excited to complete it, and then have people read it and rip it to shreds in a few weeks. I’m still figuring out what I’m saying- but I’m really into it the overarching idea, and the realness of the characters. I’m at page 78, luckily I worked on this A LOT in Trinidad and Abu Dhabi a few months ago-so I’m really happy I’m not starting from scratch. It makes this process less overwhelming.
I’ve been here for 2 weeks, and already I have a lot of stories. A lot of which are completely unrelated to art, but as an artist, the experience of life inherently affects my perspective, and the things I create.
My script. This story is really heavy (I may have to lighten up a bit). I’ve noticed a trend in the things that I write; they’re all incredibly dramatic. Probably because in real life, I’m the opposite, there is no drama here (mostly). I mean, my biggest issue is the store not carrying my bikini size (like, I can’t possibly flex on the beach in last summer’s swimsuit!) Joking. I’m way deeper than that, but yes, that’s why I enjoy telling stories that deal with real life uncomfortable issues because my personal narrative is so different. I want to use this script to help and inspire people and show they aren’t alone with their secrets. I’m well on my way to finishing, if I focus enough, I’ll be done maybe within the next week-but I don’t want to pressure myself. I’m working on that, because pressure further cements my “quarter life identity crisis”.
It’s interesting, the idea of writing a story, seeing things in your mind and then amassing a group of individuals to support it (which is a whole other process).I’ve been taking tiny steps. This is going to be an awesome movie.
When I returned to Workman’s primary school, the students rushed to me with arms wide open and choruses of “Ms. Thais!” resounded. It was AMAZING. They even remembered the dance that we made up together- they practiced! I love them so much. One day when I’m large and in charge, I’m gonna Oprah a school or two, and provide the kiddies with so much love, resources and creativity.
Dominique (who was interning here at the studio) and I walked to Chefette (Barbados’ version of KFC/Burger King/ Pizza Hut), which is my new favorite thing. I’M NOT EVEN ASHAMED to say I’ve been eating fast food (ok, a little ashamed). Anyway we cut through the field to get back to the studio. I had to limbo under the electrical wires to get through!
This week seems like it went by very quickly. I left the island for a bit, so I did some extra work prior to leaving. Finally, I have a skeleton of the screenplay. A beginning, middle and end. I thought I had to spend every second of my day, working on the script. Sometimes I did it after I left the studio – but I think that waiting, breathing and experiencing also helps the writing process. I’m getting used to the idea of not pressuring myself – glad that memo is sinking in, and
I hope it sticks when I return to the States. This upcoming week is about fine-tuning and serious focus to make it stronger. A psychiatrist in San Francisco who specializes in my subject area has agreed to be my script consultant, so I’ll be sending that over soon-ish.
This week, I introduced costumes to the students. They adapt so well, I throw things at them, and they jump right in. Isn’t that amazing? How children can jump, or run, or laugh without thinking too much about it? Adults seem to second-guess, and seek permission; when did this carefreeness stop? Why did it stop? I personally prefer to have fun most of the time, even as an adult. We played impersonation games, I wrote scenes and broke them up into groups to perform for each other, and we worked on stage presence.
“I heard you on the radio, are you here in Barbados?”
When I saw those words, I felt sad – because the answer was no. I am no longer in Barbados, I am back in America, and maybe I missed my opportunity to sit with you and thank you. Thank you for opening my eyes to a world of Caribbean literature, for introducing me to the Orishas and for being a pioneer. Who would have thought my NYU professor from 5 years ago would remember me and even find my email address? Who would’ve known he’d be listening to the radio right at the moment when I came on? He was the person who taught me how to look at words through an Afro-Caribbean point of view, thus shaping the person I am becoming. Kamau Brathwaite great writer and Barbadian, thank you. The next time I’m in Barbados you will not find out through the radio.
Had it not been for this residency, I would not have known my weaknesses. Have you ever had time to just sit and think? Sit under a tree, and read a book, or write in your journal, without any distractions? Thinking can be quite intense sometimes, but then it can be quite revelatory. You know how Stella went to Jamaica to get her groove back? It felt a little like that – thankfully I’m still young and I have not lost my groove, but I empathize with Stella. I got something in Barbados. I got the ability to fully see and carry on – even in the midst of not knowing. This is beginning to sound like a chapter from Eat Pray Love so I’ll be moving on with my point.
I have 136 pages of a screenplay. It may be good or it may be bad but I DID IT. I sat down and wrote, even when I was bored I continued, even when I wanted to go to the beach – I did it (sometimes I couldn’t resist the beach though). 136 pages later, I’m ready to continue. Writing a screenplay and seeing that into fruition on a screen seems like a never-ending process, but there is a skeleton, and writing in the studio really helped. Working with the children helped too. I figured I should share my gift. It’s fun to write for your own projects, but even better when you’re able to show kids that art is fun. Playing is fun. Dressing up, saying your name loudly, bowing when your classmates clap, imagining worlds and storytelling is fun. Life should be fun. I hope they learned as much from me as I did from them. I salute teachers. I salute Mrs. Bradshaw and Ms. Gatsby the principal of Workman’s and Annalee and the Fresh Milk team for making the space so aesthetically inviting.
All in all, it was a great experience. My quarter life identity crisis issues have somewhat abated, and now I must proceed. I’ll let you know when the movie comes out. Maybe I’ll have a screening in Barbados. Okay?