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From Off Broadway to Marvel Superhero: Teyonah Parris on Her Journey to ‘WandaVision’

Teyonah Parris WandaVision
Chuck Zlotnick

Teyonah Parris waited seven years between theater gigs — but she wishes she hadn’t. “That is too long!” the “WandaVision” actor declared on the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety’s theater podcast. “That muscle has to be used more regularly. … I forgot what it can physically and mentally do to my instrument, and to me as the human being who has to use my body as a vessel to tell [a] story.”

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

Her stage return in 2018 was made even more challenging by the project she took on. After years of gaining notice in screen work including “Mad Men” and “Dear White People,” she got back onstage playing the demanding role of Kaneisha in the Off Broadway premiere of “Slave Play.” “It was a whole learning process just to be back on a stage, and then couple that with the emotional intensity of Kaneisha’s individual story and that of the entire play — I really set myself up!” Parris laughed.

For her, it was the day-to-day details, including the commute to downtown Manhattan in the winter, that felt so different from the bubble of film and TV work “You forget how the elements affect your throat and your voice and your mind and now my nose is running! … It was really those very technical things of: How do I stay grounded when I don’t have full access to my instrument? My voice is gone. I am sick. If I take an Advil, it would affect the performance. But that’s what theater is. There is no f—king cut! You have to figure it out in real time!”

During that Off Broadway run, “Slave Play” gained the attention and acclaim that would eventually propel it to Broadway and earn it 12 Tony nominations. Parris, however, didn’t move with the show, because by the time the Broadway run was set, she’d already committed to other roles — including the superhero Monica Rambeau, an often-overlooked comics trailblazer making her MCU debut in “WandaVision” before returning in “Captain Marvel 2.” (Parris’ friend and Juilliard classmate, Joaquina Kalukango, stepped into the role of Kaneisha, and scored a Tony nom for her performance.)

For Parris, her Marvel work represents the achievement of a professional goal she set for herself after the first “Iron Man” film came out. “‘I want to be a Marvel superhero’ — I have said that for years,” she recalled. She got to know the character of Monica Rambeau when fans on Twitter identified her as a good fit for the role.

On the new episode of Stagecraft, Parris revealed the unique demands of “WandaVision” and its mix of Marvel superheroics and classic-sitcom homage, describing the “superhero bootcamp” that prepared the cast to shift their acting style as each episode moved into a new decade.

“In the ’50s, okay, you have a live audience, so that’s a whole other character you add,” Parris explained. “When you move into the ’70s, you add a laugh track, so you say a thing and then you kind of have to take some space to let the laugh track do its thing. Just physically how the performance changes as the decades change was really fun to play with.”

To hear to the full conversation, listen at the link above, or download and subscribe to Stagecraft on podcast platforms including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and the Broadway Podcast NetworkNew episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.