If there’s one thing you can say about San Diego actor Taylor Henderson, it’s that a thing would never be enough.
The 31-year-old North Park resident all-rounder doesn’t believe in putting limits on her career. She has worked as a stage, film and television actress, musical theater performer, singer, teaching artist, immersive and improvisational performer, producer, director, casting coordinator, stage manager, screenwriter and dresser. Always on his to-do list: directing a musical and turning his passion for Dungeons & Dragons into a marketable YouTube brand.
“I really like having my hands in a lot of different things,” Henderson said. “It can be a double-edged sword, but you never get bored.”
In June and July, Henderson played the drunken sea captain at the Acey-Doucey Club, an immersive underwater tiki bar experience in the Gaslamp Quarter. In August, she played Phoebe the Shepherdess in the New Fortune Theater production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” And in October, she’ll play Ida, the costume designer for a 1940s theater troupe in North Coast Repertory Theater’s “Into the Breeches.” Because male theater actors all left to serve in the war, female theater workers stepped in to play the male roles in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” and “Henry V.”
Henderson said she was excited about “Into the Breeches!” because it features a strong cast of female actors and there are some interesting plot twists. Ida is a black woman sewing costumes at the theater in Alabama in 1942. At that time, Southern theaters would not have put black women on stage. Thus, theater performers like Ida were “outliers,” a space that Henderson said she inhabited very comfortably.
Before the pandemic, many of the roles offered to Henderson were parts written for black actors, like Joanne on “Rent,” Gary Coleman on “Avenue Q,” and “typical slaves and maids.” But following the We See You White American Theater manifesto released by artists of color in June 2020, theaters across the country have begun to right historic wrongs by providing new opportunities, both on and off stage, for BIPOC artists like Henderson.
“I was delighted to see and have benefited from the fact that there are people who let traditional roles be told from a different angle”,
— Actor Taylor Henderson
“I was thrilled to see and benefit from the fact that there are people who let traditional roles be told from a different perspective,” she said.
Henderson, who is queer, said she has also become much more confident in her talent and physical expression. The turning point came at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 when she auditioned for a character role in Amazon Prime’s interactive live event “Carnival Row.” She walked in with her head half shaved, a new piercing, and all of her tattoos exposed, and passed the audition.
“When I booked ‘Carnival Row’ I wondered why I was trying to fit in with this idea of who people think I am? I decided to let my work speak for itself,” she said. “They said to me, ‘You showed us another side of what we thought this character could be. It was so reaffirming to know that even outside of the canonical roles, I can play anything. It’s been really refreshing. And it makes the rest of the work interesting when people can see, listen, and hear your ideas and different perspectives on how things can be done.
Henderson grew up in Las Vegas, where the theater bug started in elementary school. She performed in school plays through high school, played saxophone in the college orchestra, and honed her singing skills in karaoke bars as a teenager. Because her family could not afford to send her to a theater conservatory, she learned her craft on the job, landing in ensemble and playing backstage roles in Las Vegas theaters.
In 2013, she moved to San Diego and landed her first job at SeaWorld San Diego, where she walked around the park dressed as a starfish in a beehive wig. From there she worked both onstage and backstage at the Ion Theatre, Sledgehammer Theatre, Cygnet Theatre, Old Globe, San Diego Musical Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Repertory Theatre, Roustabouts Theater Co. and the North Coast Repertory Theatre. . Between shows in San Diego, she traveled back and forth to Vegas to sing at concerts and salons. She has also worked on film projects in Los Angeles.
When the pandemic shut down theaters in 2020, she returned to Vegas to wait for things to happen. She was excited to find new opportunities when she returned to San Diego earlier this year. Her next goal is to chair a roundtable of female Dungeons & Dragons players at Comic-Con 2024. Some people may find that a bit cheesy, but she’s okay with it.
“People think I’m way cooler than me,” she joked. “Choices that make you a more interesting person are valid, as long as you don’t try to be someone else.”
I am who I am as an artist because of…
Tracie Thoms, the versatile, Emmy-nominated star of television and film, including the filmed musical “Rent,” where Thoms played lesbian lawyer Joanne: “’Rent’ was the first show I saw on Broadway, and it had a huge impact on me. When the ‘Rent’ DVD came out, I ate it. I also like crime dramas like “Law & Order” and saw this same beautiful woman in both places. The more I watched everything she did, the more I wanted to do everything. When I moved to San Diego, the first musical I did was “Rent,” and I was cast as Joanne. It was a full circle moment.