Tami Dixon and the Art of Storytelling

For Tami Dixon, the world is her theatre. As the Principal Creative and Co-Founder of Bricolage Production Company in Pittsburgh, she’s brought countless stories of quirk to Pittsburgh audiences, in addition to acting, writing, and directing virtually any sort of interactive experience. We discuss how she fell in love with the arts, her critically acclaimed South Side Stories, and Bricolage’s work to rebuild community. Catch her in the flesh at our Inspire Speakers Series on January 31st.

Tami Dixon

Photo: NEXTPittsburgh

How did you find yourself in the theatre business?

Gosh, I feel like I’ve been performing since I exited the womb. I was always a precocious kid, a very attention seeking, spotlight-grabbing ham. I was the kid in the grocery cart telling jokes in line. Anything to make people laugh. And I was good at school because it was a way to get attention. Raising your hand and being right was part of my shtick. In second grade we took a field trip to the Cleveland School of the Arts for a Christmas play, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. A few weeks later, I auditioned and stayed there until I graduated high school. I thought pretending and play-acting was only for kids, but when I saw adults on the stage it dawned on me that that was something I could do as a grown-up.

Why did you want to join the arts scene in Pittsburgh?

Well, I didn’t. After I finished school at Carnegie Mellon, I went straight to New York. I left Pittsburgh with my two middle fingers up in the air like, screw this place! I came back in the summer to do a show and my house was robbed, all of my belongings were stolen, so I was really done. And obviously, New York was where it was at! So I spent ten years there pounding the pavement and had resigned myself to auditioning every couple days and having a side hustle. Then I met my husband. He lived in Pittsburgh, and when I came back, I was able to see the beauty that this city holds. I realized that New York’s pace doesn’t sit well with my constitution, and when we moved in 2005, I’ve never looked back.

There’s a strong sense of community in “South Side Stories.” Where did you find your inspiration?

Well, I live in the South Side Slopes. Industry was the absolute identity of the community, but after that was stripped away, there seemed to be something missing. So I embarked on a listening tour. I had this little grocery cart that I put two camping chairs in and a sign that said “Tell me a story about the South Side,” and I would just drag that thing around different places and wait. I was never alone. Often times people would say (in ‘yinzer’ accent) ‘oh I got a million stories, let me tell you,’ and I couldn’t get them out of the chair for hours! Next thing I knew I was being invited to barbeques and homes. That began a really long process of transcribing these really long interviews. Of course, it’s usually in minute 59 where people feel comfortable enough to really tell me something meaningful, that’s helpful and vulnerable. I want to see how you’re flawed so I can go ‘oh, you’re just like me.’ That’s where people connect and that’s what I brought to the show.

Are those the kinds of connections you try to make at Bricolage?

Storytelling is the basis of art, right? We know who we are by the stories we’ve been told and the stories that we tell. If art equals storytelling and storytelling equals community then, community equals art. If a community is devoid of art, devoid of story, how can you know your community? A big theme at Bricolage is immersion. Making the audience a part of the story and interacting with them. Our education program isn’t meant to train new actors, it’s a way to help students learn and discover more about themselves. We take the curriculum that they’re already learning and deliver it to them through art that they make. They don’t realize they’re learning, but suddenly they’ve retained all this information because they were part of something greater than themselves. We ask more of our audience because that creates vulnerability which creates connection and, of course, a story.

Join GBA in welcoming Tami Dixon and an uplifting group of local changemakers to the fourth Inspire Speakers Series storytelling event on January 31 at Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.

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