As a young girl, Rashida Strober had a mother who she felt wasn't always there. She was often in trouble in middle school. In her teens, she was homeless off and on for three years, and dropped out of high school. She lived briefly with a man who she said exploited her.
Acting saved her.
The details of Strober's life are fodder for her solo plays exploring the life of an urban black woman. Her scripts are at turns provocative and humorous.
After several years developing her craft, Strober, 33, has an increasingly busy public calendar. She is performing tonight and April 7 at two St. Petersburg public libraries. On Friday, Strober will be in Tampa in the Gasparilla International Film Festival's "Got Talent" competition. In June, she is scheduled to perform at the DC Black Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C.
A substitute teacher in Pinellas schools and a St. Petersburg College adjunct professor of social science, Strober is also the mother of a 12-year-old son, Rahim.
We talked to her about her art.
How did you develop as an actor?
It really happened when I moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting in 2005. After graduating from the University of South Florida, I moved to L.A. About six or seven months later, I started writing The Ice Cream Lady's Dream, which is based on a lot of my childhood. I feel like if I had never gone to Los Angeles, it would have never been written.
Your work is sometimes angry. It often contains adult language and themes, including the controversial "n-word." How do people react to that? Why do you include those elements?
When I did a performance at the Royal Theater, there was one person who said something about the language, but when I do the performance at the libraries, I do a separate version. I don't curse or anything at the library.
It serves a purpose because people feel that it's organic. It's real and it's relatable. Because of the experiences that I've had in my life and my not being a writer, I've learned that it has to be real and organic to connect with people … My work is autobiographical. I have to feel it.
Is it hard being an actor and playwright in Tampa Bay?
Yes, it is. The market is not really here. It is very hard to get to the market. As a new artist, you have to go out and find it. I do a lot of self-promotion. You have to put out your work, and work very, very hard.
Some people in St. Petersburg have a lot of talent, but they can't succeed. For some reason, they can't get out. It's either the circumstances or the person. They can't find a way to make that talent happen, so they hover to other things, to the streets, to violence, whatever.
One of the reasons that I got out of St. Petersburg was because I knew I had to. And I knew that because others helped me.
Mattie Everette was my seventh-grade teacher at Tyrone Middle School. She passed away. We had just a terrible upbringing. A lot of that is in the plays. This lady saw all this happening to me. I was getting into fights at school. I would get suspended, and my mom didn't really care. But I had a talent to act. Mrs. Everette got me into an oratorical speech contest. For, like, three straight years I was the champion. She would always just encourage me and help me. My mom never showed up, but this woman was always there. When I ended up homeless, she was one of the people who I thought about.
Another person is Linda Clark. I call her Mrs. McCall in The Ice Cream Lady's Dream. She was my chorus teacher at Tyrone Middle School.
What should visitors to your performances expect?
If they don't like honesty, don't come. Because it's very honest and it's very real. It's all about resonating with the audience. One thing I've learned is that if it doesn't resonate with the audience, you're done.
Luis Perez can be reached at (727)892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com.