We had the good fortune of connecting with Sonia Jackson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sonia, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I never thought that I was a creative or artistic person. I kind of fell into my creative career as something else to do. Though my dad was a classical musician he ended up teaching High School driver’s education. My mom gave piano lessons from home. Artistry was in my background but far different from what I do now.
I had dance classes, music lessons and participated in the various productions that came with those programs but never thought of it past being extracurricular activities.
At 14, I got a chance to see a production of West Side Story put on by the Inner City Cultural Center. It fascinated me. I can remember sitting on the edge of my seat, wrapped up in the story, wrapped up in the characters as they danced the challenge scene, as they sang about love, as they danced the fight scene. Live people.
Until then I had only seen live orchestral musicians on stage. It wasn’t until college that I actually got to play. Through all this, it never dawned on me that I could actually do this as a career. And, no one asked.
In the middle of my business career as a human resources professional, I was unhappy and felt like nothing I did made any difference. I tasted the frustrations and limitations of where I could go and what I could do. I felt like I was losing myself.
Somehow I ended up in a goal oriented workshop that had mostly entertainment industry professionals. As I listened and watched it felt like that’s where I was supposed to be. I started doing stand-up and people laughed. I added plays, I started feeling excited and alive. I pursue a creative career because it let’s me express what I love. It let’s me express myself through my craft, to contribute what’s within me to the world.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
When I decided to become an actress, I had nothing to put on my resume except a play that I wrote when I was seven. So I decided to do stand-up because I liked to make people laugh and added that to my resume. Then a friend suggested I do something memorable and I birthed my first solo show, I’m Gonna Fly. It is the story of the world’s first licensed black aviatrix, Bessie Coleman, and is about going beyond your circumstances to live your dreams.
I’m Gonna Fly was dear to me because it was also about me going beyond my circumstances to live my dreams. I didn’t have anyone helping me navigate my career in the entertainment industry and often I had difficulty determining the best action or the best path to take.
It wasn’t easy because I second-guessed myself constantly. One of the hospitals had a theatrical department that went to schools to entertain students and teach them about dental care. They were looking for seven people with strong improv skills. I thought,”Great, this is perfect for me. I can do this! I have strong improv skills.” So I auditioned.
I knew I did great at the audition. All the people on the team watching were laughing. I maneuvered all of the scenarios they gave with ease. I left the audition feeling pumped, confident that I had booked one of the jobs. No call came. I was a bit devastated because I had hope this would put me in a position to eat regularly and pay my rent. I thought I knew how I had done, I had done very well, but if they didn’t hire me. Maybe I didn’t do well.
Self-doubt crept in and started making a home in my life.
Jump ahead several years to a party I was attending. I don’t even know whose party it was, but as I wandered around, a young woman walked up to me smiling and said hi. She remembered me from that audition and said I was really good. I laughed, remembering the sting from not booking it and said to her,”Yeah, I was so good they didn’t hire me.” To which she replied, “Yes. The director figured you would be working in feature films in six months and didn’t want to train you and have you leave the job, so he decided not to hire you.”
I misinterpreted something that happened and let it send me down a spiral of self-doubt and self-criticism. It affected all my auditions after that.
Running into that young woman at that party shifted my perception and I started to reframe the situations in my life.
I’m a spiritual person but before that moment, I saw my spirituality separate from my artistry. It took me a minute to realize my art comes through my spirituality. This brought me back to me. What am I here to do?
I am here to bring my unique gifts to the world. It’s easier to see in the projects that I create. I’ve created three solo shows to date and a theatrical ensemble piece all in support of women and women’s issues.
I’m Gonna Fly was the first. Conversations ‘Bout the Girls is both an ensemble piece and solo show about the relationship women have with their breasts and body image. Mamaisms is old-fashioned wisdom for a new generation, and is about mamas, children and mothering.
What I do with my shows is to look at everyday situations and circumstances through my unique take and show the audience what’s funny and/or heart-breaking in the world so that we see and feel life’s greater possibilities.
I am here to honor people and the human Spirit we are here to be through my gifts. Next year, we’re planning to bring Conversations ‘Bout the Girls to the virtual world so it can be experience on a larger scale.
For more information, go to my website, www.SoniaJackson.com
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love to look at and experience things that I haven’t seen before or just go places that I’ve always wanted to go. I always loved going to the car show when it’s in town and I think the Petersen Automotive Museum would be an interesting place to go. That and the Space Museum. I’m not vegetarian but I love the food at Gracias Madres and the court dining in the evening is nice. You can’t beat lying on the sand, listening to the waves at Zuma Beach for a day or two. I’m also hoping for the return of LACMA music in the park.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have a shoutout for my friend, Rickie Byars! Rickie exudes creativity! I’ve known her for 30 years and she allows creativity to just flow through her every thought and idea. From creating a summer camp for neighborhood children to experience and participate in the creation of music, to her women’s retreats that support and guide women in seeing the best in themselves, to providing inspirational songs and music with every breath. I’ve always been a creative person, but hanging around my friend, Rickie, has helped me free up my creativity in unexpected, uncensored ways. Her belief in herself, coupled with her excitement about life and all its possibilities is infectious.
I have a shout-out for my friend Dorothy J. James who nurtures her friends while assisting them in their creative endeavors. Dorothy created an organization called the Southern CA Assn of Nonprofit Organizations, which provides community and nonprofit leaders knowledge and resources. She recognizes the necessity to promote excellence in everything that one does. As one of Dorothy’s small nonprofit clients, she is helping me gain organizational performance and management skills on the same level as multi-milliion dollar nonprofits by helping us develop and strengthen our leadership skills. She’s also an accomplished singer who touches your soul with her song.
Pink couch on page by itself – selfie Bookstore with cast holding script, with clock towards top – no official photographer Prayer hands, applauding – Anissa Alston Me kneeling – screenshot Ken Johnston 4 women with blue lights – Anna Kupershmidt Me dancing – Rosie DeCandia Bookstore with audience – no official photographer Group shot w/ 10 – Wonder Woman Photography