Can an actor be at the top of their game and not live in LA or NYC? Yes they can!
Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s where you will find my favorite actress, Tamari Dunbar. Her story is as unique and different as every actor from coast to coast. She comes to the table with her own set of needs, and somehow she has found a way to continue on with her artistic goals while staying on a personal road that is just as important to her as acting.
As actors we have been told throughout our careers that you have to choose between a career and family, between a career and where you want to live. Tamari has managed to choose what’s most important to her in her personal life while still continuing to be an actor who gets better and better. And has remained one of my favorites from NYC to Hollywood. I met her in the summer of ’94 while I was doing summer repertory theatre in Logan, Utah.
From the moment I met her and watched her, I admired her. Not only as an actor but as an artist. I knew she was the real thing. I could go on for pages about what makes her stand apart but just take my word for it… she’s wonderful.
Tamari has spent most of her life in Utah. This is her home, where she has friends, family and a community that gives her a full life. Oh, if only she had chosen a profession other than actor, she wouldn’t have had to consider life choices that would take her away from all of this. But she is an actor, and somehow she has done it without having to leave the place she calls home. She is “Dorthy” in my version of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Tamari was born in San Jose, CA, and raised in parts of Idaho, California and Utah (where she considers her home). She basically started acting when she was ten. If there was a show, she was in it.
She knew from the start that it wasn’t that she wanted to be an actor, she was an actor. There is a difference. One sounds like fun; the other is a calling. This is probably why she caught my eye. I felt a kinship to the tribe.
As she grew up and continued on her acting journey thru high school and beyond, she attended school at Utah State University going after her BFA in theatre. It was there that she was cast at “Lyric Repertory Company”, the same theatre I was hired at. And it was that summer that she made me realize that all acting talent in the country didn’t have to live in either NYC or LA. She felt the same way I did about acting but she was comfortable in laying down stakes wherever that was and acting would always be there.
Understand, this was 1994 before today’s technology. No online submission, no agents in every state, no face timing your favorite teacher in NYC, no self-submissions, no MP3s for your voice over auditions, etc. You get my point. We were told to either go to NYC or LA… or stop dreaming. So, I watched this actress and thought surely she will head east or west. And she did after college, going to NYC and auditioning and working in theatre. And she also married and had three babies. For her, heading back to Utah to be surrounded by her family, friends and her community was what was best for everyone.
So back west she and her family went and they settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. She took her given circumstances and made Utah work for her, specifically Salt Lake City and the close surrounding areas. I asked Tamari several questions and honestly, her answers were as comparable as those of a Los Angeles or New York City actress who is a mother of three. The point of this piece… act where you are. No excuses. We all have challenges but if it’s what you must do, you can do it.
Here are some of the questions that I asked Tamari to get an idea of the reality of an acting life in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Do you have an agent in Salt Lake City?
Yes, I am with Talent Management Group for TV, Commercial and Film.
Are you in the Union?
I am not part of the union at this time. I am eligible for Actors Equity and I’m collecting my equity points, but the casting does get slimmer because many of the theatres will only contract in a few equity actors and the rest are non union. But I may reconsider in the future.
Do you work exclusively in Utah or have you traveled out of state?
I work exclusively in Utah and shy away from out of state offers to stay close to family.
What is the creative community like in Utah?
Utah is rich with talent, especially in the music arena. The acting world is close behind it. There are many theatres doing original work, new plays by local playwrights. One company focuses on works by and for women, another is politically charged, and one does original satirical musicals focusing on local politics and the Mormon religion. There is melodrama, campy dinner theatre and immersion theatre.
There are equity houses and non-equity houses, there is something for everyone and almost all of these pay a salary or a stipend.
How often do you audition?
For TV, Commercial and film I audition an average of three times a month. Self-tapes are becoming the norm. For theatre, I audition about ten times a year.
What were your last ten acting jobs?
- Lyric Repertory Company, Logan, Utah
- Talking Head for an Online Company-Spokesperson, Salt Lake City, Utah
- The Classic Greek Festival, toured Salt Lake,Ogden and Provo, Utah
- Yours Co, Spokesperson for Local TV, Salt Lake City, Utah
- Riot Act Theatre Company, Salt Lake City, Utah
- Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake City, Utah
- Orkambi, Print job, Salt Lake City, Utah
- Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake City, Utah
- The Grande Theatre, Salt Lake City, Utah
- Pinnacle Acting Company, Salt Lake City, Utah
Do you feel fulfilled as a working actor in Utah?
I love having the best of both worlds. I consider myself fortunate to balance family and career. I will never win a Tony (I have to put in my two cents here and say she will! But back to Tamari…) but I am challenged with every show and I do become better at my craft. I work with other actors that share a similar passion and who also have families. I have found success right where I am at and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know I am where I am supposed to be. (Didn’t I tell you she was my “Dorothy”?!).
Can you make a living as a performer in Utah?
No. It is hard to actually make a consistent living. Most of my friends supplement their income with other jobs or teaching.
Do you feel you are known in the community as a performer?
Things are getting better for me and I would say my name is getting thrown around more.
Is there an outstanding Utah acting moment you can share?
A few years ago I was performing in “The Last Ship” at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake. After the show, we had a visitor come up on stage during curtain call, Sting (world-famous rock star and composer/lyricist of “The Last Ship”)! That was really special.
What advice would you give to an actor who wants to stay in Utah?
If you are going to do theatre, you should take voice lessons. And of course, learn your craft as an actor. An actor who sings does well in Utah. Just like every other city, it takes a lot of tenacity and a thick skin. Audition as much as you can. Once you are in with a certain company they will use you again and again. Your income will have to be subsidized but if you want to act and raise kids, this is an excellent place to do that.
Richie Call the Artistic Director of “Lyric Repertory Company”, a professional theatre in Logan, Utah, said, “When I had my first opportunity to work with Tamari, I was very intimidated to work with this actress I had looked up to for so long. What I didn’t know at the time is that she is as kind as she is talented. She is simply one of my favorite actors to work with. Talented, kind, giving, professional and fun.”
So, there you have it. We all become actors for different reasons. Some of us like to be gypsies, some of us like the bright lights of Hollywood or treading the boards on Broadway, but wherever you are, wherever you go, like Tamari you can always keep striving to be the best. For my “Dorothy” she realized a long time ago that her happiness was in her own backyard and there is no place like home! That is until she wins that Tony…wink, wink!