Born South Side, Chicago, Eshay Brantley moved to South Minneapolis in 2004. A multidisciplinary artist, social justice advocate and teaching artist, she commences her work in ritual-based writing and performance to foster and uplift the narrative of marginalized groups.
What sort of access to theater did you have when you were growing up?
“I’m from Chicago and moved to Minnesota in 2004. Minneapolis Public Schools have better access to the arts than some of the private schools in Chicago. We create so much opportunity for young people here and give them a chance to make a career out of it. But do I think youth in marginalized communities have those same opportunities? Absolutely not. I’m a rarity. Coming up as a Black girl, people were like ‘You’re gonna go to school for what?’ A lot of the young Black youth I’ve come up with don’t see enough theater that centers our stories. We have to do mainstream theater while also doing our own DIY work to bring young POC and marginalized youth to the art form.”
Can you describe the moment when you first knew you loved theater?
“I was performing at Children’s Theatre Company when I was younger, and right before my monologue, the lighting was so perfect. One night, I tapped into the character to the point where Eshay didn’t exist. I embodied Sweet Pea. I started crying. It was a completely different experience than any other night. That was it. I knew I wanted to do that for the rest of my life.”
What have you learned from the students you’ve worked with?
“I’ve done a lot of student-created and student-led work, and I realized that the older we get, the higher our stakes are, so sometimes we lose the heart of the work because we want the award or the recognition. I had so much passion for the art when I was younger. I didn’t care for notoriety; I just loved doing it. Sometimes a student’s passion can reignite my passion. Young people have the ability to just stop and experience the art.”
Do you have a dream show or dream role?
“My first dream show was A Raisin in the Sun. I’m from Chicago, and I believe that those characters are my family. I see those women every single day. A more challenging show I’d love to do is In The Heights. I was lead dancer in high school in that show. I want to do more musicals; that’s something I’m working towards.”