Thousands of readers voted in our Best of the Bay 2023 Readers Poll, honoring dozens of wonderful local businesses and cultural forces. Now it’s our editors’ and writers’ turn to highlight specific people and places we’ve been loving about the Bay Area. Join us in the celebration—and help keep this 49-year-old tradition alive.
If first impressions are everything, I’ll always wonder what Jasmine Williams thought when I directed her in a short play about a raunchy bachelorette party. Admittedly, it’s an unorthodox way to get acquainted. Nevertheless, it established a level of trust between us that wound up being crucial the next year when we both understudied Berkley Rep’s production of The Last Tiger in Haiti. Despite my being older, it was no challenge believing her to be the big sister to rest of us orphans.
I imagine most of Jasmine’s collaborators would have anecdotes like these. For almost a decade now, the Oakland-based performer has been (along with her many colorful hairstyles) a welcome, eclectic presence on Bay Area stages and screens.
She was the writing student way too obsessed with her professor in Aurora’s production of Bull in a China Shop. She was the sex worker and neighbor’s confidante in Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s production of Intimate Apparel. She was one of the many digital-spiritual personalities to pop up in Cutting Ball and Mugwumpin’s lockdown experiment Utopia. Just recently, she was the millennial-daughter-at-a-personal-crossroads in Magic Theatre’s world premiere of Josephine’s Feast.
If nothing else, she knows how to make herself stand out. In fact, she’s so good at it that’s she’s expanded her skills into costuming. She’s the one behind the dreamlike, ‘70s-style threads seen in Shotgun’s take on Passing Strange. She picked out the ‘90s-style bright patterns and baggy jeans for Aurora’s production of The Incrementalists. In one of her biggest showcases, she provided the Eastern European furs, leathers, and skirts seen in Shotgun’s acclaimed production of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.
It’s not just the fact that Williams is here to exercise all her talents, it’s also the fact that she’s here, specifically. Both the Bay Area and its performing arts scene have turned upside-down by racism, income inequality, and gentrification (conditions only made worse by the still-ongoing pandemic), leading to a great many POC residents and performers pulling up stakes and heading elsewhere. That’s why when someone of Williams’ dedication—she describes herself as “a vessel for change; collaborating with BIPOC artist and organizations to tell bold stories and shine light on Black and Queer Liberations”—not only remains in the Bay Area, but most often works on stories of marginalized people (like Nick Hadikwa Mluko’s They/Them), it’s both welcome and necessary.
As I write this, I’m not sure what Jasmine’s next project will be, but it’s a safe bet that she’ll be easy to spot amidst a cast of beloved collaborators. Bay Area stages have only benefitted from, in her own words, the “PositiviTea” she brings to every show.
Did I mention she really likes her tea?
Jasmine Milan Williams can be found online at here.