An Interview with the Inspiring Artist and Philanthropist
By michael taylor
Angela Wildflower is a rising star whose artistic talent is rivaled only by her optimism and philanthropy. In honing her craft on stage, on camera, and in the recording studio, Angela has stayed true to herself while building an eclectic resume that includes her Broadway debut in Motown The Musical, a guest role on the CBS series Blue Bloods, and a starring role in the acclaimed web series, First Dates. Most recently, Angela has been moving audiences through her performance in The Old Globe’s feel-good musical, October Sky. In addition to sharing insights about her professional journey and creative process, Angela speaks about a new era of diverse representations in the entertainment industry, and her commitment to empowering a changing generation through art, education, and mentorship.
michael: You made your Broadway debut as Mary Wells in Motown the Musical in 2014, and your theater career has taken you around the country and overseas. What do you enjoy about working in live theater?
Angela:Live theater. Well, there’s an energy, right? There’s an exchange between yourself and the audience as they’re watching, and there is a thrill in that—in being able to embody someone’s story, and then you get one shot to make it happen. So, you know, when you’re working on camera we can say “cut” and “let’s try that one again,” but with live theater I really have to try to understand who the character is. I get that one shot, and it’s a very intimate relationship I feel between myself and the audience. I think about that sometimes. Every night, people applaud for you. There’s an instant gratification, and you know what works, and you also know what didn’t work, you know what I mean?
Angela: So, it’s constantly teaching you. It’s really one of my favorite mediums—the thrill of just doing it live and getting that shot, you know?
michael: Beautiful. Actors often consider themselves life-long learners. What kind of formal and informal training prepared you for a career in the performing arts? And what are you trying to learn now?
Angela:Well, formal training was important. I started at Spelman College, and I had done a lot of work, of course, in churches and community theaters. But it wasn’t until I really began to study it as a craft that I started to understand what you could do with a natural gift, and really expand it. So, I’m big on education, and understanding the craft of what you’re doing—that was my foundation.
And I’m constantly in a class. You know, if I’m in LA, then I’m constantly there learning how I can do commercials, or TV and film. If I’m in New York, I’m taking classes with casting. I need to understand how you see me and how I want to be seen. So, it’s a constant learning game because I don’t know that anyone ever really masters it. You know, the industry is always changing. The needs are always changing. So, I think you have to remain a life-long learner if you’re going to continue to thrive in that industry.
michael: Life is learning.
Angela: [Laughs] Yeah.
michael: In addition to your theater experience, you’re also a singer and songwriter, and you’ve acted in television, film, and a web series. Despite your many talents and projects, do you ever find yourself feeling uninspired or stuck, maybe? How do you work your way out of these occasional creative blocks?
Angela:Well, of course. You know, this is such a competitive industry. It’s funny because people on the outside—your parents, or people looking on—they want to make it the same logical world that they live in. And I think once you just kind of accept that it’s its own thing, you know—the odds are generally against you—once you kind of accept what it is, you find a deeper purpose in it. So, I read when I get uninspired. I have what I call my “trinity,” and those are three books that I live by. So, The Alchemist, right? Have you read that? By Paulo Coelho.
michael: Ah, very good. Yes.
Angela: Um, A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson, and The Four Agreements, by Miguel Ruiz. And so, those books tend to just get my energy back where I want it. They get me postulating on positive things, and they just kind of get me recharged every time I put things into perspective—because it’s so easy to get lost, or to start taking things personal, like “why isn’t it happening the way I wanted it to, or as fast?” These books tend to just get my energy and my focus back where it needs to be. And you just allow the world to be bigger, and you allow yourself to just walk your own journey, and live your own purpose-driven life. So, those books keep me centered.
michael: I see.
Angela: So yeah, she gets down, but she get up! [Laughs]
michael: [Laughs] Perhaps there should be a fourth book written by Angela on keeping centered!
Angela: You know, perhaps someday. Because I really feel like I was brave enough to just walk my own path, and it has served me sometimes and it has not at times. But if nothing else, I have lived such a cool journey, and it wasn’t what I had ever expected. And in some areas I went further, and in some areas I didn’t go as far as I thought. So, maybe someday I’ll write a book about it, and encourage somebody else to keep on going.
michael: And sign my copy. [Laughs]
Angela: All right, I got you. [Laughs]
michael: To add to your long list of accomplishments, you also maintain a sophisticated website and an active social media presence. I’m wondering, why is this visibility and engagement important to you, and how has social media impacted your career?
Angela: Wow. Well, it’s a challenge daily trying to keep up with the trends, and what makes sense for you, and how to get your story out there, okay? Social media is huge because now people are getting hired based on how many followers they have, and this is how people decide whether they want to invest in you and your brand. For me—to make sure that I’m not selling out my original brand—I’m somehow being myself, maintaining my authenticity and story, but sharing it with people in a way that they want more of. I’m constantly learning what that is. And there are times that what I want to put out isn’t maybe received in the same way, or vice versa, and I think social media is like [snaps fingers] keeping us on our toes, where that’s at. But it’s also a cool way to communicate with people, and you find out what they’re into and what they’re not into. And it’s a scary place too, you know. Because even as I watch other friends and colleagues, you’d be—maybe you’d be—surprised at the comments. The freedom people have to write—
michael: Right, right.
Angela: And so that can be something that can build you up, and it also could tear you down. So, you can’t give it too much value, right? Because if I believe what you said about me negatively, that means I have to believe what you said about me positively, right? Or vice-versa. So, it’s fun, it’s an awesome tool. Um, it’s an illusion, right? To some degree. But it’s the way the world is moving right now—it’s the digital era. And it’s kind of exciting to see where it can go, and the limitless possibilities. You know, just even being in the digital era as an actress, I think it’s created more opportunities for us. People are finding their way on their own personal pages and their own videos that they’re making, and putting their story out the way they want it told. So, you know, it’s a good thing, it’s a scary thing, it’s the future—I’m rolling with it! [Laughs]
michael: [Laughs] And even an old guy like me can keep up with it!
Angela: [Laughs] Well, yeah! Come on. You better! You have to because the world is, you know, it’s just a digital place now.
michael: [Laughs] Correct!
Angela: So, like it or not, ready or not!
michael: Right. Conversations about the challenges women of color often face in the entertainment industry, including biased casting practices and notable underrepresentation both in the spotlight and behind the scenes, are starting to get the attention they deserve. Have you detected any positive shifts in industry attitudes or practices in response to these conversations? And are there particular actors, writers, or directors who you feel are breaking down barriers for women of color in this business?
Angela: Absolutely. Right? It’s been a big year, and a big hashtag this year was “black girl magic.”
michael: Ah, beautiful!
Angela: And it is happening! I have never looked on TV and seen more people that look like me, telling stories that are relatable. And this is new! This is, like, this new season of TV, and so there’s like a moment—I do believe it’s happening! I think we’re emerging, and I think our voices are being heard, and I think we’re being seen in new ways. Beauty is being explored, and we’ve got really great celebrities now that are different sizes, different hues, different hair textures—we’re celebrating who we are, finally. And I think that’s exciting.
You know, I was just looking, there’s Luke Cage out now, and you got Orange is the New Black, which is bringing in a lot of diverse talent. And you’ve got the new show with Issa Rae, Insecure, that’s on HBO, and Atlanta, that’s on FX. And more are coming down the pipeline. And Empire, which is, I think, maybe the most watched TV show. So, it’s really interesting to watch this renaissance—might I say—of TV. But I also think you are seeing powerful brown girls on stage too, and we cannot forget about our girls who are writing for stage. So, we just had Eclipsed with Danai Gurira—she wrote that. She also stars in The Walking Dead. The brown girls are out here working, and I think it’s exciting. I think it’s time for our story to be told, and for people to see us in new ways. And what a time to be alive!
michael: [Laughs] It really is!
Angela: Indeed. My friends are out there working everywhere, and it is inspiring to see it happen.
michael: You’re currently starring in a web series “dramedy” called First Dates, which chronicles your character’s experience as an unexpectedly single, professionally accomplished Black woman navigating the odd world of online dating. What promising and unique advantages does the up-and-coming web series platform have to offer artists and audiences?
Angela: Web series are a gift, I think, to new actors and new filmmakers. It gives us a platform to create more work without having to wait on the studio’s approval, or anyone else. So you’re able to skip over the step of that approval, and just get it out to the people and see what they’re interested in. So, this is one of my unexpected, but really favorite projects to work on because I think that a lot of women, in general, are dealing with that phenomenon of online dating, and of being a young professional.
I think this is the generation of women who were encouraged to go for it. And we went for it, and I think in the process things changed. And things were pushed off. It’s a different woman I think you’re looking at than a generation ago. I think my character, Sam, steps right into that, and in her own funny, quirky way [laughs], represents what I know my friends are, like, totally experiencing out here as they’re looking for love, and trying to balance that work, life, personal life, and just kind of figure it all out. So she’s fun, and it’s great. We actually went to the American Black Film Festival this year—we were nominated as one of the best web series of the year, which was amazing, to get that kind of exposure. And to also see the other web series that are being made, and what stories are being told, and just the possibilities made it very hopeful. So, we’re going into season two when I go back to New York in November.
Angela: So, we’ll see what adventures Sam is on. [Laughs]
michael: In addition to your varied and exceptional artistic talents, you’re also highly regarded for your extensive work as a philanthropist. For instance, you founded the nonprofit organization 1UrbanGirl, which provides mentorship and creative education for inner-city youth. What inspired you to found this nonprofit? Have there been moments in your nonprofit experience that stand out as particularly memorable or rewarding?
Angela: Yeah, you know, I just saw this quote the other day, and it said, “Be the kind of adult you needed when you were a kid.” I think that’s all I strive to do with 1UrbanGirl. When I started it, I saw a group of girls that needed me, and I wanted to be there for them. I was very clear on what I wanted from someone at that time. So, I just put myself in their life that way. And it’s amazing because I got to watch them grow—that specific group of seven, eight girls—and watch them finish high school and go to college. And so, I was there with them. And then, I think, it teaches you, because I want to say that out of six or seven girls, maybe three still ended up pregnant out of high school, and maybe three of them did go on to college.
You just learn that you give what you can, and they take what they need, and then you constantly give. So, I’m just as proud of those that became young mothers and are being great mothers to their kids, as I am of the ones who are becoming young professionals in the world. I just wanted to be a somebody in their world, where there may have not been a person. So, yeah, it touches me. My mom says, you know, you call it “philanthropy,” but I give because it’s important to me. And those girls are important to me, and kids remain important to me. So, I work with different afterschool programs and schools, and I mentor—even via FaceTime. I work with a little girl in Augusta, Georgia, actually. And so, we do what I call dream mentoring.
michael: Very good.
Angela: Yeah, I’m just helping her sculpt her dream because I had one and somebody helped me, you know? So, that’s where it comes from—I think my mama probably planted it there. And it’s still important to me—especially doing something like acting. It’s important to make your art matter, or just to give back those skills—to recognize that you’re from a place where a lot of girls look up to you because some people don’t get as far as you’ve come. And, you know, you came from that little place. So, even from a distance you remain an inspiration to a little brown girl with a dream who’s like, “how do I do that?” Well, maybe this way.
michael: Never forget where you come from. . .
Angela: Yeah. So, that’s what I’m doing. It always rewards me, and there have been some hard moments, some disappointments professionally that when I looked around, I was like, “I gotta go back and work with the kids and teach them.” And every time I did it—even though sometimes I begrudgingly did it because it’s like [sighs] something that disappointed me, or failed—every time I went back, they gave me more than I ever expected. They challenged me, I challenged my creativity, and then it’s always fun to watch what they do. I allowed them to create their own music video, and I work with kindergarteners to, like, fifth grade—so it’s all funny, you know? [Laughs]
Angela: But it’s amazing to watch what happens when I put a camera in your hand, or a mic in your hand, or I play music, and I give you the confidence and the freedom to just go for it. And to watch who they become! And then they call me up, and they’re like, “Miss Angie, I remember when. . .”
michael: [Laughs] Yeah. . .
Angela: You know? You’re like, “Good! I planted that seed.” And so, it’s awesome to see the other little wildflowers coming up, and what they’ll become.
michael: Beautiful. You’re also a founding member of The Star Tribe Society, a collective of talented individuals who aim to “create a voice for a changing generation.” What sorts of changes are you witnessing in young people, and what trends are you noticing in the ways they choose to express themselves?
Angela: Well, with Star Tribe, it was just a collective. There I was in Harlem—the birthplace of it all, right?—and I was with some progressive young minds. And, you know, I was an artist, but someone else maybe worked in sports, somebody else, you know, a lawyer—it was just a young, energetic group that wanted to put all our skills together and see what we could do. So, there’s a nonprofit that one of my friends runs called Active Plus, and so basically right there in Harlem he’s creating sports opportunities for kids that go without. So, we were able to do a benefit concert and raise money for the kids in Harlem to get healthy snacks, and to get uniforms for the winter. So, it was just a collective of people putting their resource together to say, “Okay, how can we serve this community that we live in?” And even though I’m not from there, that’s where I lived, you know, that’s where I was taking resources from every day. So, that’s what that collective was—it was putting it back.
The trend now—it’s interesting. I think we’re at a very powerful place. I think we’re starting to do our research again. I think we’re starting to remember our history. I think we’re starting to get proud again, and I think we had lost that. I think that’s the hopeful side of things. As a community, I think we’re starting to go back to a time that, I don’t know, just even in style of clothing—dashikis and emblems and things that we saw in the nineties are coming back, you know? I mean, that sense of unity. But still, it’s a challenging time. So while I hold on to the hope, I’m not oblivious to the challenges that are being faced by the youth right now and, man, I’m rooting for the best. I’m hoping for the best. And I think art is a great outlet for people to express themselves, and to bring a voice to the voiceless. So, hopefully, through all mediums of art—acting, music, hip hop—we can make some positive changes moving forward. I’m hopeful. [Laughs]
michael: [Laughs] Yeah, I’m hopeful too. What do you plan to accomplish next with your nonprofit work?
Angela: Well, right now I really do want to expand my mentoring capabilities. So, I’m working on a project and building a website to be able to communicate with more young people all over the world, and just kind of be the bridge between young artists and professional artists and create some mentoring opportunities there. So, that’s my next big project where kids are involved, and where my social passions are.
michael: Awesome. You’re the only cast member performing two different roles in The Old Globe’s current production, October Sky, which takes place in a small town in West Virginia in the 1950s. In this production, you play an adult and a high school student. What has your process been in preparing to shift between two characters?
Angela: Gosh, it’s been so fun. Okay, so the way that they directed the show, the students all worked, generally, on certain days. And then they would bring in the adult cast on other days. So, while we were playing all the high school roles, I think we were able to bond and create a real sense of what this community was. So, it was fun to lead that world. I guess I was the only actor doing that—to lead the high school kind of world and community, and then merge myself into, you know, the worries that the adults had. It’s such a different perspective. But it’s been so fun to make those changes, and figure out those mannerisms in your body, and how to tell that story.
And, I’ll be honest, I was leaving one day, and there was an African American lady who came over to me and she said, “I just want to tell you thank you for representing us.” She said, “because it was the 1950s, and that’s how it was—there was only one family in these communities. There was always just one. I was that family in my community, and so, when I saw you all—it spoke to me because I understood that’s how it was.” And, it really just gave purpose to what I was doing. I was like, “oh, this is somebody’s story,” and I took a great amount of pride in it. And I think each night it has grown in terms of who she could be, and the way you can tell that—and not just seeing it as an afterthought, but as a real important puzzle piece to a bigger story. It’s been great. Working at the Globe has been great. I tell people it’s like the Disneyland of theater! [Laughs]
michael: There you go! [Laughs]
Angela: It’s beautiful here! And they treat you really well, and I will be really sad to see the show close. I was thinking I would call my director because if there was an award for assembling such a great group of people, she could totally win it or be up for it. She put together really great people who I’m just proud to work with every day. And this has just been a special, special time.
michael: I would agree! October Sky is an uplifting new musical based on the memorable film about boyhood dreams, rockets, and 1950s Americana. What feelings or ideas do you hope will stick with people after they see the show?
Angela: I always say this show is like apple pie! It’s so heartwarming, and it’s easy to digest. The music is catchy and beautiful. And I think there’s hope in watching the boys. I mean, sometimes from backstage—from some of my vantage points—I can see the audience. And to see the wonder in people’s faces—they are rooting for these boys! And I think that’s what is so exciting—watching the audience go on this journey with them. And they’re hoping that their rocket goes off, you know what I mean? And when it does, they start clapping and you’re like, “they’re with us!” So, it’s a feel good, and I think it’s just a time when people want something that feels good. We want to be reminded of, maybe, a simpler time? It’s just a heartwarming story, and I think it’s great for families. Because I think the adults get it from that perspective, and there’s something there for the kids. We just watched middle schoolers—I want to say they looked about ten or eleven—who sat there and watched the whole thing bright-eyed and hopeful. So, hopefully we’ll remind people to shoot for the stars, you know? And that sometimes what seems impossible is totally possible.
michael: Now, I tell ya, for me sitting in the audience, there were moments in there when my eyeballs got a little bit sweaty.
michael: But one particular moment was when they took the elevator down into the coal mine. You know, they turn on the lights on their helmets, and they took the tag off the board. I mean, that was like—
Angela: And you see that’s how they tracked who was still safe, and who wasn’t safe. And there’s a whole world there.
Angela: You know, what I also think is awesome is that when we got to rehearsal the first day, we went around the room and people said where they were really from. Most of us flew in from New York, LA, Chicago, but people grew up in Midwest places! You know, Kansas City, where I grew up. Someone else grew up in Oklahoma, somebody else grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and one in Iowa. And there were all these Midwestern people that understood and honored this area and this town, and I think that’s also what can be felt—that we’re serious about this place because we all come from a place like this. So, I think it makes it even more heartfelt—we are country people [laughs]. But we’re proud of that, you know? And so, it’s good. And we do often hear that, you know, people’s eyes just sweat—just a little bit! [Laughs]
michael: [Laughs] Just a little bit! So, what is next for your career?
Angela: Next? Well, I just shot my first feature before I came here to San Diego. I shot a small role in the new feature called Roxanne, Roxanne that is produced by Forest Whitaker. I’m really excited about that. So, what’s next for me is TV, film, TV, film, TV, film—I’m putting it out there! I want some more of that. But I also want to do some more legit theater, and not just musicals. So, last year at this time I saw The Gin Game on Broadway with Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones.
michael: Oh yeah?
Angela: And I’m sitting there and, I’m like, I want to do this for the rest of my life. I want to see myself when I’m 80 up there, still telling stories, and still moving audiences. I think that was the day that I knew it was, like, totally possible to do it forever. And so, it’s important for me to make sure that I’m covering all of my bases. I got music that I want to do this season, and TV and film. And to just continue to grow as an artist, as a person, and definitely as a human being, I guess. So yeah, she’s growing—Wildflower! I’m constantly growing! [Laughs]
michael: [Laughs] All right, well thank you for coming by and speaking and sharing with us. We wish you the best. Keep doing what you’re doing!
Angela: Thank you! I appreciate it. You too!
This interview series is produced in collaboration with The Old Globe and Jenna Weinman Consulting. In an ongoing effort to promote more diverse interest and involvement in San Diego’s theater scene, readers are encouraged to participate in this important dialogue about inclusivity and the arts. What would you like to know about theater? What would you ask a Black actor performing at The Old Globe? All reader questions and comments will be taken into consideration, and may even be featured in an upcoming interview. Please email submissions to michael taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org