Q&A: Tamberla Perry of 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark'

RedEye talks to Tamberla Perry about performing the title role in the Goodman's 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark'

  • Tamberla Perry in a photograph used for the publicity poster for "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" at the Goodman Theatre
Tamberla Perry in a photograph used for the publicity poster for "By…
April 23, 2013|By Julia Borcherts, @JuliaBorcherts | For RedEye

Sure, she's a WGN host for Illinois Lottery drawings and was recognized in 2011 as one of Chicago Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful Chicagoans"—but Tamberla Perry is more than just a pretty face.

You may also have seen the native Chicagoan—who grew up in Marynook, Beverly and Chatham and now is a South Shore resident—in TV shows such as "Chicago Fire" and "Boss," where she played a recurring role as a Chicago alderman's wife. She also is a company member of African-focused theater company Mpaact and has appeared in "The Brother/Sister Plays" at Steppenwolf, "Race" at the Goodman and "Fedra: Queen of Haiti" as well as "Black Diamond" at Lookingglass, where her husband, actor Kevin Douglas, is a company member.

Now she's back on stage at the Goodman as the title character in "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage ("Ruined"), a comedy—with a message focusing on race and marginalization—about a fictional African-American actress in the 1930s who tries to make a name for herself by stealing small scenes in big movies. We called Perry in between rehearsals to get her take on the show, the Lottery and more.

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"By the Way, Meet Vera Stark"
Go: 8 p.m. Saturday through June 2 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.
Tickets: $25-$81; 312-443-3800; goodmantheatre.org

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On the old Hollywood style in "Vera Stark": I love everything about the fashion and the glamour of that period. I am such a period person at heart; half the clothes in my closet are vintage. I do tons of consignment, thrifting, vintage shopping. So if Hollywood in the 1930s could be Hollywood today—honey, I would be fabulous every day.

What she has in common with her character: We both do what we can with what we're given. Even today, Tamberla likes to say that there is a "No, I won't work with that person or do that type of work" clause in all of my contracts. However, [laughs] if it gets down to it and the money is right and there's not a lot of money in the bank account, I may have to shut my mouth, take a role and deal with it later on. [Vera] dealt with it in her time quite a lot more than I have to deal with it now. But that's not to say that it doesn't happen; it most certainly happens.

Why "Vera Stark" is still relevant: It's interesting; the plight of the black actress continues today. We may not necessarily be playing maids and cooks in everything, but our roles are limited and there [are] about 800 of us going out for each of those roles.

What she learned while researching her character: This character is based off of Theresa Harris, a black actress from the period. Even though she played maids and cooks and confidantes of these white actresses in these movies, she knew how to get into a scene and take that scene and not necessarily steal the focus--but kind of steal the focus. She knew how to find her light and make that scene be about her versus just "Yes'm" and "No'm," and coming and going and bringing on some food and leaving.

On her recurring role in "Boss": It was fantastic. You get your trailer, you get your crew. You don't do anything but show up and say your lines and look pretty and wear really expensive clothes for a few hours—okay, maybe 10—and then you leave. But the cool thing about it is, because I do so much theater, you get to really see the ins and outs of television and how it works; how different it is from theater [and] even film.

Her biggest "Boss" missed opportunity: "I didn't have any scenes with Kelsey [Grammer]—I'm sure he saw my half-naked body several times in all of his scenes, [laughs] but I didn't get to work with him. "

On the South Side's best-kept secrets: We have some fantabulous Jamaican restaurants on the South Side. [Uncle] Joe's Jerk is one of them—it's a chain that we have over there and it's actually really, really good. Hyde Park, the Bronzeville area—just jewels of everything, from the cafes to the little restaurants. A lot of people don't know that there's an ice skating rink in the middle of the University of Chicago—Midway Plaisance—right down the street from where Barack Obama lives. And we have the beaches—I can walk to the beach or the golf course from my house.

Misconceptions people have about being an Illinois Lottery host: Number one is that it's rigged. Number two is that I get proceeds from the winners' money—that when people hit the jackpot, that the Lottery women get a cut of it. How crazy is that? [Laughs.]

The craziest encounter she's had with a stranger who recognized her as a Lottery host: At a funeral, this woman was walking up to view the body. She came up [to me] and she said, [growls] "You didn't pull my numbers last night, girl," and then proceeded to go look at the body.

Where she gets her nails done, since the Illinois Lottery camera always zooms in on her hands: The go-to spot is La Chateau Tamberla with my nail file and my fingernail polish. [Laughs.] My appointment is a walk-in, any time of the week. And it's usually about seven minutes before I go on air that I will be painting my nails.

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