Alum spotlight: Tia James (BFA ’04)

collage of photos

Tia James BFA in Performance 04

Tia’s headshot circa 2004 and today

A primary reason that Tia chose VCU was the proximity to her hometown of Williamsburg.  “I lucked out because I didn’t really understand how great the school’s Arts program was. I found a group of friends who were so supportive. We basically became a family. That kind of friendship and generosity really catapulted me into the person I am now.”

Tia James and Aaron Holland competing and winning The Irene Ryans at KCACTF, 2003

Thinking back to her time, “Marvin Sims really loved on me and took me under his wing.” One of the shows she did under his direction was The Trial of One Short-sighted Black Woman Versus Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae. They traveled to the Kennedy Center where she received the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship for Best Actor. Her scene partner Aaron Holland (BFA ‘04) also won Best Partner.

Tia has always been passionate about activism. Here she is pictured with fellow alumni during a protest on VCU’s Campus in 2003.

After graduation, Tia took the Theatre IV route for three years. When a tour of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad took her to New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, she went into New York to see The Color Purple, “I want to do that, but I can’t do that right now, I need to go to school.” That sparked Tia to get her MFA in Acting from NYU.

Tia pictured in the white dress, performs in a production of Strindberg Strindberg while attaining her MFA from NYU Graduate Acting 2008

Right out of grad school, Tia was invited to be part of Shakespeare in Park. She was in the ensemble and understudied in two shows, but never got to go on for them, “They were holding on to those roles…going on sick!” The second show was The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino, which transferred to Broadway. “He was very kind, and we all went bowling. He was very focused.”

Tia stands backstage with fellow Actors during her Broadway debut of Merchant of Venice

Tia continued to work in regional theatres, as well as taking guest roles in Nurse Jackie and Treme with Steve Bushemi directing. Tia explains, “That’s where I got my hands-on understanding of the difference. With film, you showed up doing your thing and then you’re on, as opposed to theatre with rehearsals and an ensemble.”

Tia performs alongside graduate students in Native Son during her second year of teaching at UNC Chapel Hill Professional Actor Training Program, Playmakers Repertory Company, 2019

In 2014, NYU started their Diversity Mentorship Program and Tia was in the pilot program, where she worked extensively with Scott Miller. “That’s what sparked my trajectory of teaching and I continued to work with Scott until I left.” In 2018, Tia joined the faculty of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she still teaches. She’s also continues to act with Playmakers Rep (the professional company in residence at UNC). Next season, she’s playing Hamlet.

Here Tia is pictured leading a Vocal Masterclass to the 2020/21 Irene Ryan Candidates and Partner’s at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Tia exclaims, “One of the things I love about teaching, is that it’s a lab. It’s exploration and to watch a student go on to do that exploration is beautiful. I adore the students here. Teaching them, then going right into rehearsal with them is exciting to watch.”

Faith is Tia’s beloved dog whom she adopted in 2013. Originally from New York, Faith has enjoyed following Tia’s artistic endeavors wherever they have led. 

Header image (clockwise from top left): Tia is a talent of many hobbies, however one of her most favorite pastimes, is playing her guitars; 11.) Tia stars in Julius Ceasar as Marc Antony at Playmaker’s Repertory Company, 2020; Tia performs in “#NYC” at UglyRhino in 2011; Tia is gathered with fellow VCU faculty and alumni in New York, at a VCU reunion gathering; Tiaand fellow alumni in a production “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” directed by Aaron Holland at VCU in 2003

Compiled by Liz Hopper (professor emeritus) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the March 2022 Theatre Alumni newsletter