By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Two of Randi Tahara’s passions are politics and performing, and she often practices both on the same day.
Since December 2008, she has served as senior deputy of board operations for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, handling all aspects of preparing him for the weekly Board of Supervisors meetings. She has also served as arts deputy and liaison to the Asian Pacific Islander community.
She previously worked for 12 years in a similar capacity for Ridley-Thomas’ predecessor, Supervisor Yvonne Burke.
“I wanted to work in a capacity that affected positive change for L.A. County residents,” Tahara said of her career choice.
An actor since 2002, she has also done almost 100 plays, short and feature films, and TV shows, and currently plays Ariel in “The Tempest,” a story of shipwrecked survivors on an enchanted island, which runs through June 20 at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company. Her next play, also by Shakespeare, will be “Richard III” at the Eclectic Company Theatre in Valley Village.
Ridley-Thomas fully supports her acting career, she said. “When we are at public events and he introduces me, he always adds that in addition to being one of his senior deputies, that I am an actor.”
A graduate of CSU Long Beach with a degree in political science, she initially planned to go to law school, “but I saw so many stressed, unhappy lawyers that I decided it was not for me.”
In addition to her day and night jobs, she volunteers as an LAPD reserve officer and is assigned to the Commission Investigations Division.
Tahara earned a natori rank in both Japanese classical dance and nagauta shamisen, but no longer performs either.
In 2005, she was part of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation program, sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which sends notable Japanese Americans from various parts of the U.S. to Japan to meet with political and business leaders. She is also a member of the Los Angeles-Nagoya Sister City Affiliation (LANSCA).
Her other interests include gardening, cooking and reading. “When I walk into my local library branch, the librarians behind the checkout desk see me and begin to pull my books that have been placed on hold,” she said.
Tahara has done plays ranging from Sophocles and Chekhov to Neil Simon and new works. Her favorite roles include Truvy in “Steel Magnolias” (Dolly Parton’s character in the movie), Olive (the female equivalent of Oscar Madison) in the female version of “The Odd Couple,” multiple parts in “The Laramie Project,” and a geisha in “Teahouse of the August Moon.”
Her films include the award-winning student short “The Shopping Cart and the Brujo,” which is available on YouTube; “The Blue Hour,” in which she had a scene with Clarence Williams III of “Mod Squad” fame; and “Akira’s Hip-Hop Shop,” which has been screened nationally and shown on BET.
“I am generally a reserved, shy person, and acting has helped me to come out of my shell and be more expressive and honest with my emotions and feelings,” Tahara said.
What is it about Shakespeare’s works that appeals to her? “The language is so rich … and it is always exciting to hear references to his language and plays in modern media and literature. I enjoy studying the text and context of Shakespeare plays.”
She prefers the stage to the screen. “I love the concept of a bunch of strangers coming together, working collectively and wholeheartedly towards a common goal. I’ve met so many interesting people. It also brings a diverse group of people together as colleagues, equals.”
Asked if her ethnicity is ever an issue, Tahara said, “I am usually the only Japanese American/Asian in the cast. I’ve had some parts rewritten for me to accommodate my ethnicity, and it is great that I am cast regardless of my ethnicity. At first, I was hesitant at auditioning for non-Asian-specified parts, but then I figured, ‘Heck, that’s not my decision; it’s the director/casting director’s decision,’ so I just go for it.”
In terms of performing when roles become available while maintaining a day job, Tahara is in the same boat as most actors. “Actors who are in the hospitality or service industry have a tough time as they have to choose between working at their day job and getting in hours, or rehearsing/performing. I have a steady job, and while I have to work nights and weekends at my county job, I can usually juggle my schedule to meet all obligations, and I go into the office on weekends to make up time or to complete my work.
“But I do get tired sometimes. When I am rehearsing for a play, I average five hours of sleep a night. My body craves for at least eight.”
Helen Borgers, who has been artistic director of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company since 1997, had high praise for Tahara: “I have directed Randi in ‘King Lear,’ in which she played Lear’s Fool, in ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ in which she played Cleopatra’s loyal maid, Charmian, and currently in ‘The Tempest,’ in which she is playing the fairy, Ariel.
“There is an ageless quality about Randi, which enables me to cast her in a variety of roles, from youthful and playful, to seasoned and acerbic, earthy or ethereal, and she is always sincere and believable. But not only is she a gifted performer, she is also a joy to work with, which is not always the case with actors! She’s always on time, knows her lines, and is incredibly patient with other cast members who are not so well prepared.
“But more important than all these other assets is that Randi sees and supports the ‘bigger picture.’ She does not join an ensemble merely to expand her resume, self-promote, and then move on to a better offer. She is a true company member, a creative partner. Randi is a voluntary financial supporter of the company (we don’t have ‘dues’), giving anonymously or in honor of someone else. Using her network of friends and associates, she has helped us find other actors to fill roles.
“And she has fearlessly refereed backstage disputes which, but for Randi’s gentle interference, would have escalated to violence!
“To find someone who is so talented and supportive is a rare gift! I find myself choosing future plays with Randi in mind because she is so great to work with, and I know she can handle any role.”
Directed by Borgers, “The Tempest” also features Cort Huckabone as the King of Naples, Ari Agbabian as Sebastian, Andy Kallok as Prospero, Jesse Seann Atkinson as Antonio, Alex Pait as Ferdinand, Juan Parada as Gonzalo, Frank Nuno as Adrian, Brandon Alexander Cutts as Caliban, Gerardo Macias as Trinculo, Ken Knight as Stephano, Jessica Winward as Miranda, Rachel Tully as Iris, Amy Paloma Welch as Ceres, and Dayna McKiernan as Juno.
The venue is the Richard Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach. Tickets are $20 general, $10 for students. Remaining showtimes are Saturday, June 6, 13 and 20, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 7 and 14, at 2 p.m.; Friday, June 12 and 19, at 8 p.m. For more information, call (562) 997-1494 or visit www.lbshakespeare.org.