By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Myiesha Duff has always been around music, since the age of two, but acting is still relatively new for her.
“My mother was the choir director at church and at two, she put a mic in my hand,” said Duff. “She said this is what I do, so this is what you do. I started singing at two and I had my first solo.”
The Birmingham native grew up singing in her church and with the school choir until sixth grade. She began songwriting at the age of 8. Although she did not understand songwriting until much later, she kept a journal of poems that helped develop her writing ability.
It was around the age of 14 that Duff began hearing melodies and putting lyrics to what she was hearing and it eventually led to performances in off-Broadway shows such as “The Color Purple,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The 31-year-old will star again in the lead role in Red Mountain Theatre Company’s “The Color Purple” which opens Feb. 2. She is reprising the role from the 2012 RMTC production and this will be her third time playing the character of Celie.
“I try to make the character as authentic as possible,” said Duff. “I want to bring something new and something fresh to the table so people are not like ‘oh she’s done that before’ so I want to make it as real and as authentic as possible.”
Initially, Duff played the role of Celie with the Actors Charitable Theatre Company in Tuscaloosa. It was the first time she had ever performed on stage. At the time, she was working as a school teacher at Central Elementary when her husband encouraged her to go out for the part.
“He was just like ‘just go after work and audition, you like to sing and you never know what could happen, so just try it’,” she said. “I went, auditioned and ended up landing the lead role. And that kind of just started it, I did that one time and just fell in love … it was all new to me but it was all fascinating.”
Working with RMTC Executive Director and The Color Purple director Keith Cromwell presented her new challenges.
“One of the biggest takeaways from working with Keith was to have an open mind and trust his vision,” Duff said. “I admit I like to be in control, but Keith pushed me every day with the character. He opened my mind and skillset. I’m excited about returning with more experience, but continuing to learn through the process.”
Playing the role of Celie has not only taught Duff about the character but about herself as well. As a mother and a wife, Duff can relate to Celie’s character and can see the similarities between each of their lives.
“I’ve evolved in ways that I did not expect to evolve,” said Duff. “Six years ago, when I first started, I didn’t have kids, but now I have two, so that’s a major change for me because it changes how I process what’s happening to Celie. On top of life, I feel like I’ve learned who I am and I can bring that to the picture because throughout the whole play, she evolves from this meek and humble lamb to declaring, ‘I’m a real person, I have my own thoughts, I’m here, you’re going to acknowledge me and I’m not ashamed to be that person.’”
Myiesha Duff is wife to Randall Duff, mother of Jaelle and Jillian.
“Having my family here is a major, major help,” she said. “Between my mom and dad and my mother-in-law, they help me out a lot while I’m here.”
The cast has been rehearsing since early January.
Over the years, a personal connection has developed between the actress and the character. “I think we can all relate to this character and story,” Duff said. “Celie is a hidden gem finding her place in the world. I can understand what it is like to be someone’s child, wife, and mother. In the end, we need to embrace ourselves and be free.”
The story resonates with the audience, Duff said.
“I hope the audience can see the journey of hope through life’s struggles, hardships, and abuses. Through it all, we can still be beautiful even after the scars. We’re still here.”
She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2008 with a degree in Elementary Education and Teaching and has taught classes in Fairfield; Tuscaloosa and in Texas.
She’s also completed a year and a half assignment as a worship leader in Dallas with New Covenant Christian Fellowship Church where she served as lead worshipper for praise and worship service, taught new song material and worked with the music director and band leader.
The play will run from February 2 to the 18 and tickets can be purchased at www.thecolorpurplebham.org.