Stars and the City: Tamara Tunie’s New York
“From the moment I stepped foot in New York City, I knew this was where I needed to be”
Fresh from Danai Gurira’s hit play ‘Familiar,’ (Gurira also penned ‘Eclipsed’), Tamara Tunie next stars in the world premiere of ‘American Son’ by Christopher Demos-Brown at Barrington Stage Company
My mother says I was born a New Yorker. I just happen to be born in Pittsburgh — go Steelers! My first trip to New York was during spring break of my freshman year at Carnegie Mellon. I came to New York with a friend, a fellow Carnegie Mellon musical theater dude.
From the moment I stepped foot in New York City, I knew this was where I was going and needed to be. It was the late 1970s. The Wiz was playing on Broadway and that was my first Broadway show. My friend and I were so blown away. It just confirmed that this is what I wanted to do. I went back to Carnegie Mellon all inspired, singing every song from The Wiz. From there, pretty much every year I was in college, I would come to New York during spring break or a long weekend.
When I came to live in New York, my only hope was to work as an actor, to be able to support myself and pay my bills. My journey in the city has been extraordinary. I am so appreciative to New York City for the way it has embraced and provided opportunities for me to have an extraordinary career. Here I can do daytime drama, a Broadway show and a primetime television show all at the same time. There is nowhere else in the world where you can do that. That has been an incredible gift for me. There was one 24-hour period when I was doing As The World Turns, Law and Order SVU and Julius Caesar on Broadway with Denzel Washington. I did all of those jobs, and I did one of them three times.
In turn, I have done my part to help make the city better by supporting different organizations that I work with, like Figure Skating in Harlem, which is an arts and education program for girls in the Harlem Community that is amazing. The organization is 18 years old. I was a founding board member. Also, I have been on the board of God’s Love We Deliver, an organization that provides food for people who are extremely ill and cannot shop or cook food for themselves or their families. I am also active with Harlem Stage, the performing arts center in my Harlem community. I serve on that board and help continue to propagate the legacy of Harlem and its artists — providing a place for new artists of color, whether they be Hispanic, African American, Asian. We help cultivate their new works and get their voices out to in the city, as well as all over the world.
What do you love about New York City?
1. New York is so amazing and offers so much. But when I think about things that are uniquely New York, I think of The New Leaf restaurant in Fort Tyron Park. It’s such a beautiful little restaurant that was once an old administration building for the park. Then Bette Midler, as part of her big cleanup of Fort Tryon Park, helped establish this restaurant in the park, through the New York Restoration Project. Once you step inside, it doesn’t feel like you’re in the city. It’s more like the countryside in upstate New York. The food is always delicious, they do beautiful cocktails and a fantastic brunch. I’ll get a Bellini and it’s just perfect. The New Leaf can be used for private events. A friend of mine had a wedding reception there and it was gorgeous. You take the A train, exit and walk into the park. Suddenly you’re in this peaceful, magical, green environment.
2. Central Park in autumn is glorious. I love a particular area in the West 80s right near the reservoir on the West Side. It used to be part of the bridal path. During fall, the trees turn a golden yellow. At its peak those leaves coat the ground and makes a carpet of golden leaves. It’s incredibly magical and beautiful.
3. I love the subway because it is the most effective and efficient way to get around. It’s rare when I encounter a situation where the train isn’t arriving when it should or is delayed. I’m totally dependent on the subway. The MTA is really taking care and it seems my fellow New Yorkers are much more conscientious. They are not throwing trash on the subway, which I appreciate. Thank you my fellow New Yorkers. Also, the subway map is easy to read and clear. When I have visitors who come and stay, I show them how to read the map and get their MetroCard. It’s really clear and effective. And any New Yorker loves knowing which train car to be in when you arrive at your destination so that you are as close to your exit as you can possibly be. My question is always, should I be at the front of the train or at the back? And when you’re in the right car, that’s when you know you are a real New Yorker.