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Ensley’s Tyesha Brown left Magic City for LA, but remembers her roots

Tyesha Brown (left), and actor and producer MarQues McConnico on the set of Juug Gone Wrong.

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Playwright Tyesha Brown graduated from Ensley High School and loves her hometown, but she is not one to remain in Birmingham.

“You’ve got to go where you want to be,” she said. “Sometimes you have to leave.”

Even though Brown left Birmingham for Los Angeles, she still returns to the Magic City to provide opportunities for local artists to perform in her plays, which have included “All Is Fair in Love and War,” starring actor Yohance Myles and rapper David Banner, “For Better or Worse,” and “The Bougie Feminist.”

“I enjoy the opportunity to provide [work] for actors here because they don’t have a lot here,” Brown, 35, said. “You can do it here. … The more people you reach the better.”

Another play, “Breast Cancer Monologues,” was very personal for Brown.

“My mom had breast cancer, and my dad had colon cancer,” she said. “I created ‘Breast Cancer Monologues’ because I was thinking about how I couldn’t imagine being told I have breast cancer, being told I only have six months to live. So, I came up with the idea to do the monologues from different perspectives of people with [the illness], people close to them.”

The show was performed in both Birmingham and Los Angeles.

‘Do This Forever’

Tyesha Brown (left), and actor and producer MarQues McConnico.

Brown’s interest in theater began when she was in high school, when the students received a visit from Girls Inc.

“They had a grant to do a program called Snapshots, which provided media training for high school girls,” she said. “I was in that group. We wrote a movie, shot it, filmed it, the whole nine yards. That’s how I got into film. I was like, ‘I want to do this forever.’”

After graduating from high school in 2000, Brown attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md., where she majored in computer science. She discovered that she did not want to sit at a computer all day, “which is weird because it’s kind of what I do now,” said Brown, who has served as a casting producer for Walmart and has worked with the Bravo Network and Emmy Award–winning producer Mark Burnett.

Brown wanted to drop out of college to pursue her dreams, but her mom told her no: “My mom said, ‘You need your degree.’ So, I opted for the Walt Disney World College Program because I needed a break from school, but I still got my school credits.”

Move to LA

Upon completing the Disney program, Brown returned to Morgan State and switched her major to film. Before she graduated in 2005, her mother died of breast cancer. Brown skipped the graduation ceremony and moved to Los Angeles, where she started Virtuous Lady magazine and networked with people in the industry. Eventually, she earned an internship with the BET cable network.

“It was at the same time as Hurricane Katrina, and BET had an auction,” Brown said, adding that the winner would have lunch with entrepreneur, author, and producer Russell Simmons.

That person backed out, however.

“I had the money, … so I paid $2,500 to have lunch with Russell Simmons. We had lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge, and he brought [director and producer] Stan Lathan. After that, I kept in touch with [Simmons] for years,” said Brown, who learned a valuable lesson from that meeting.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” she said.

Making it in Hollywood

Brown also learned the difficulties of Hollywood.

“You can submit your resume to 1,000 places and get no calls back,” she said. “But you can have one person know you, and if they tell someone to hire you, that’s all it will take.”

While in LA, Brown met someone working for the BET game show “The Boot.”

“The company that produced the show needed somebody to transcribe, which involves watching the footage and logging what you see so the editors can see what’s where and build a story,” she said.

Tyesha Brown (left), and actor and producer MarQues McConnico on the set of Juug Gone Wrong.

That led to her work with Mark Burnett and shows such as “The Voice,” “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race,” as well as work on BET shows, including “College Hill,” Bravo’s “The Singles Project,” and Walmart commercials.

“I casted a lot of moms from Birmingham for those commercials,” she said. “I did a portfolio of about 300 [women talking about how much they saved by shopping at Walmart] for the commercials.”

Brown is currently in Birmingham and will return to Los Angeles after she completes some of her projects.

“I’m a co-producer for a pilot for the Netflix show ‘Maintenance,’” she said. “I’m also producing a movie with [actor] Clifton Powell, called ‘Juug Gone Wrong.’”

Juug Gone Wrong is produced by Birmingham native MarQues McConnico and will star actors Vanessa Simmons, Jessica Ryan, Clifton Powell, and Yayo Juug.

Being persistent is key, she said: “If I hadn’t been persistent, half the opportunities I had, the people I met, wouldn’t have happened. It’s not easy, and it’s even harder to stick with it. The struggle is real, but if you really want it, you can make it happen.”