Fatima Washington has the qualities a performer needs to succeed: an astounding singing voice, an ability to connect with an audience, a great sense of humor and a dogged tenacity to achieve her goals.
As a child, she says, her two greatest passions were music and roughhousing with her two older brothers.
“I am still completely in love with music, but I’ve decreased the amount of roughhousing,” she jokes.
Her love of music was fostered through long family car trips, when music played the entire time.
“We would take turns singing parts on old Motown classics and Patti LaBelle,” she says. “It was evident early on that my brothers were not the singers in the family.” Instead, they served as her backup dancers and choreographers.
“There are audio tapes of this process that we use as blackmail for one another,” she adds.
Although she has been performing music professionally for years, she only began acting in 2014.
“It was something I was always too scared to do,” she says. “I had no problem singing in front of anyone, but as soon as I was asked to talk, I would clam up.”
Three years ago, the opportunity to audition in Chicago for the role of the Bride of Frankenstein at Disney Japan fell into her lap.
“I was the most relaxed I had ever been at an audition,” she says. “My mother was sweating bullets, and I was so chill. She was worried I wasn’t invested enough to get the role.”
Nevertheless, her relaxed attitude and inherent talent helped get her into the top five. “I was super excited, but I got the call two weeks later that I did not get cast,” she says, “Their concern was that I had no theater experience at that time.”
Despite her frustration, she concluded that her time would come. When she read about an available role for a singer in the Arena Dinner Theatre production of the musical Violet, she “jumped in head first” to the audition and won the role of the landlady, Lula.
“During our first read through, I realized I had lines, and I almost freaked out,” she says. “I told myself that I can’t be the weak link in the show – especially because I only had about five lines in the play.”
She worked hard to overcome her fear and inexperience, earning an Arena Dinner Theatre Award in the process.
“I learned so much from the more seasoned actors on that show,” she says. “It was probably the best first-time theater experience I could have hoped for.”
She decided to keep auditioning, earning a role opposite Ennis Brown in The Mountaintop, a two-person play about the last day of Martin Luther King Jr. She played a mysterious hotel maid named Camae.
“It was one of the most enlightening and enjoyable experiences ever,” she says, “and I grew a lot without the crutch of using my singing voice.”
The role of Camae was a complex one, and Washington was concerned that her stage nerves might get in the way of the audience’s understanding of key points and emotional climaxes of the story.
“Ennis has so much theater experience, so I had to keep up,” she says. “I am grateful that my director, Brad Beauchamp, was very supportive and believed I could bring what was needed for that role.”
She has continued to act onstage and has also recently broken into independent film work, citing the influence of such performers as Dorothy Dandridge, Diahann Carroll, Pearl Bailey, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Viola Davis and Kerry Washington.
“There is a certain grace to the characters they play and the way they represent themselves off-stage and off-screen,” she says. “There are still so many others helping mold the type of actress I want to be.”
She admits that she wasn’t much of a theater-goer prior to her own stage debut. However, now that she is gaining more experience and making new contacts, she has enjoyed attending more shows.
“I think I have an even greater appreciation for the work that goes into a show now,” she says. “Theater can transport you to a time and a world created by those on the stage and behind the scenes.”
The talented singer is also a songwriter, pianist and arranger, in addition to learning guitar. She wrote all the songs on her first album, A Part of Me, in 2011, and she is currently writing the songs for her second.
“My first project was a mix of styles,” she says. “I intend for the next one to be more directly R&B, but it’s still developing and I’m learning not to limit my writing.”
She says she approaches acting much like she approaches singing.
“I learn the lyrics, find some meaning that matches the character or myself and find the best ways to make the audience feel the same way in that moment,” she says.
Washington is currently appearing in her seventh theatrical production, Ain’t Misbehavin’ at First Presbyterian Theater. This musical revue, featuring the songs of Fats Waller, allows the performers to essentially play themselves, albeit in the time frame of the 1940s during the Harlem Renaissance. Washington is singing the role that was made famous by Nell Carter in the 1970s when the revue was originally put together.
“The biggest challenge for me has been putting myself into that era,” she says. “I have done some research and watched a few productions of the show to wrap my head around it all. I think I have a good handle on it now.”
She has enjoyed the close connection of the performers on this production. “Everyone in the cast was familiar with one another prior to working together on this show, so it’s been like going to work with your family,” she says. “We support one another and push each other to be better.”
She says the show’s director, Thom Hofrichter, “has been amazingly patient and gives just enough guidance to allow us to put some extra ‘oomph’ into the roles. It’s pretty liberating to have that in your director. I don’t feel boxed in at all.”
Washington says the production brings the audience in and engages them.
“It has all the elements of a juke joint, and the audience feels a part of the show,” she says, “All of us are natural performers, which is evident in the way we interact with empty seats during rehearsals. I can only imagine how the show will transcend once we have full seats.”
Going forward, Washington plans to keep exploring genres as she continues to discover her strengths and potential contributions to the theater.
“I want to push the limits and play roles that are not typically given to African American actresses,” she says. “With that in mind, I am mindful of what genre and role I audition for. But at this point I have played a landlady, an angel, a teacher, a flirtatious singer and Gary Coleman. I think I’m covering the diversity portion fairly well.”
By day, Washington works for Genesis Outreach, a not-for-profit organization that assists homeless individuals and families as well as women working through recovery and family reunification. She is also busy rebranding herself as an independent solo artist and writing her second album. “I’m a pretty busy woman,” she says, “but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
She feels gratitude for the community of actors in the Fort Wayne area for their support and advice as she continues to grow as an actor.
“I think that says a lot about who they are and what goes on in our arts community.”
by Jen Poiry-Prough
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Josh Johnson — Comedy at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads & Spirits, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., $10, (260) 456-7005
Vince Gill — Country at Embassy Theatre, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., $39.50-$79.50, 424-5665
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Community Orchestra — Mussorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Open Mic Night — Variety at Checkerz Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 489-0286
Scratch N Sniff 2.0 w/1/4 Kit Kurt — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8 p.m., no cover, 432-8966
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Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Three Rivers Karaoke w/Rob — at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
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41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3 , Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709