A Successful Run--Theatre arts grad makes great strides in Hollywood and in Iowa

A recent article in The Edge asked, “Tanna Frederick: Does She Ever Rest?” It’s a fair question about Hollywood’s new Queen of the Indies.

The 1999 graduate of the Department of Theatre Arts—who was honored June 9 by the UI Alumni Association with a Distinguished Young Alumni Award—admitted, while she was training this spring for her first Marathon, “I always have too much energy in me and it complements the stress build-up inside of me, and I need some way to get it out. I need to get out there and run 10 miles really fast until I feel calm, collected, and cool, and able to assess a situation from a grounded standpoint.”

Tanna Frederick is one of 12 University of Iowa graduates who picked up Distinguished Alumni Awards in June. For more details, see now.uiowa.edu/2012/05/alumni-association-honors-12-achievement-service

The feature in The Edge observed, “When she’s not starring in a feature film, she’s acting on stage; or behind the scenes directing the production; or working on the film festival she established in her native Iowa; or advocating for cleaning up the California coastline; or just surfing. Does she do windows? We didn’t ask.”

Well, they missed out on her distance running, and Frederick’s single-handed attempt to revitalize the Iowa film industry is more than just a festival. Her Project Cornlight is a production company that is now filming its first feature, The Farm, with an all-Iowa cast, and will start shooting Serendipity Green this fall and winter in Dubuque.

On a recent trip back to Iowa, she was the keynote speaker at the Iowa Motion Picture Awards in May, and picked up the Cinecause Award in Dubuque. Her Project SOS camp brings inner city kids for a summer camp, and this summer she is returning to her hometown to play the witch in the Mason City High School production of Into the Woods. That’s not just so that she won’t become sedentary: “The funding has been cut and they can only do one musical every other year right now—I’m trying to change that.”

As if that was not enough, she also just signed to be the “face” of a new fragrance and clothing line, and look for her on the July cover of True Cowboy magazine (not riding a bull, as far as we have heard).

While Frederick first gained attention as the new muse of legendary indie director Henry Jaglom, including the Best Actress Award at the 2008 Fargo Film Festival and the Montana Independent Film Festival for Hollywood Dreams, she has also quickly made an impact on the theatrical stage. When Jaglom gave her the script of the stage version of his film A Safe Place, she founded a theater company to produce it, and she then starred in two more of his plays.

Los Angeles theater critics showered praise on her when she starred as the canine lead in Sylvia (she learned the part in 12 days after the original actress withdrew), and this winter and spring she directed and starred in Clair Chafee’s Why We Have a Body, in which she performed during the University Theatres Mainstage season in 1996-97.

“I was really surprised because I was a sophomore and there was only one spot for this Mainstage production,” she recalls. “The UI has such an amazing graduate program, so everyone was vying for the role. We had a visiting professor from New York, Mary Beth Easley, and I was taking one of her classes at the time. She was an incredible director and an incredible woman and teacher so everyone really wanted to work with her on this production.

“Since I was an undergrad, I hadn’t been on the main stage yet; when Mary Beth Easley requested that I go in and audition, I was stunned because the role was for a 40-year-old paleontologist lesbian. I went in and acted as if I were my mother teaching her nursing students and booked the role straight away. The surprise of getting the role and surprise of nailing the role—and the incredible experience of working with those great artists—was such a big deal to me.”

And the play also stayed with her. “This material is one of the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ type pieces where people walk away feeling amazed or they walk away feeling like someone just ran their fingers down a chalkboard," Frederick says. “And that's OK, because that’s true art. The art is hitting people’s source, hitting them deep down inside, and that is the kind of material that I want to work with.

“I don’t mind a good argument at the end of the play coming from a couple as they drive home,” she continues. “I’ve seen a lot of women walk out of the theater being moved and husbands waiting in their cars in a sort of a mystified place that this piece took them and freed them up—not in a feminist way, but in a human way.”

Winston Barclay
Photo courtesy of Tanna Frederick

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© The University of Iowa 2009