Embracing the differences in oneself as well as others is explored in the award-winning, one-woman seriocomic play “Naturally Tan,” opening May 14 at the ARTSpace Black Box Theater in Simi Valley.
The Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi production, running three consecutive Saturday evenings, is written and performed by Tanya Thomas and directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson.
It explores the complexities of racial identity and colorism facing the Asian diaspora and the consequences wrought by beauty standards, as told through the voices of 35 unique, multicultural characters and narrated from the perspective of a drag queen named Tanvi.
The production, which includes music, dance and visuals, follows Thomas’ desperation to fit in as a young Indian woman in Singapore, her search for acceptance in America and her emergence from insecurity toward self-acceptance.
“ARTS has chosen to co-produce this exceptional, unique work because of its uplifting and empowering message, particularly for young women of color struggling with self-esteem in marginalized segments of the population,” said Jan Glasband, executive program director for the Simi Valley Cultural Association and artistic director of ARTS.
Thomas, who lives in Thousand Oaks with her husband and two daughters, is an actor with a background in voiceover work.
She grew up in Singapore and at 17 worked as an on-air personality at a Top 40 radio station, voicing ads for Harper’s Bazaar and Samsung.
She transferred from a school in Singapore to Cal State Long Beach as a broadcast journalism major and hosted a jazz radio show.
She is known for voicing every iTunes ad for Pandora, and her resume includes voice-overs for Target, Amazon and Google ads.
As an Indian growing up in Singapore, Thomas said, she always wanted straight, silky hair like her Chinese classmates, and she tried to change her look in different ways to fit in wherever she went.
“There was a lot of hiding who I truly was,” she said.
“I spent a lot of time ashamed of my story and never thought it was worthy to be told.”
Looking to showcase her acting and writing abilities, Thomas started writing “Naturally Tan” in 2020. She eventually did a virtual reading in front of other writers and solo artists, and her story resonated with them.
“It made me realize that me telling my story is giving a voice to anyone who has hidden themselves, to inspire those who may not see themselves anywhere else,” she said. “So, the show is really a love story of self-acceptance and finding your worth.”
Thomas has performed the show at Hollywood Fringe, the Santa Monica Playhouse and the L.A. Women’s Theatre Festival, and she won the Solofest 2021 “Best of Fest” Award.
“The journey with doing the show has been incredible. It was kind of a releasing for myself. It’s pretty empowering to put out a one-person show,” she said.
Thomas said that as a mother she felt she also had to do the show because she started seeing her own daughters questioning themselves and their own ethnic features.
“A lot of people have come up to me and said every young woman should see this because they’ve gone through the same questions of ‘Am I worthy? Am I beautiful?’ and looking outside to find validation when really it’s within you. I think it starts at a young age,” Thomas said.
“I just want to move the needle forward on all these topics, eradicate colorism and help people step into their own light, celebrate their uniqueness and rediscover who they were before the world told them what they’re supposed to be. Diversity is beautiful,” she said.
ARTSpace Black Box Theater is in the converted multipurpose facility at Simi Elementary School, 2956 School St.
To see a video trailer of the show, go to vimeo.com/544721601.