At 24, Tyharra Cozier knows what she wants and she’s making it happen. “I am blessed,” says the recent graduate of Portland Actors’ Conservatory (PAC). With a BA in theater from Florida State University, Cozier describes herself as an “actor’s actor,” playing roles that are “emotionally draining but also cathartic” to model the potency of vulnerability. She’s also a youth instructor for the August Wilson Red Door Project and the co-founder, with fellow PAC graduate Monica Fleetwood, of Portland’s new performance outfit, Syde-Ide Collaborations.
Cozier and Fleetwood have worked out a clear mission for Syde-Ide: They want to illuminate “the marginalized lens through theatrical performance and visual art, inspiring conversation and action.” In late 2017, they decided to incorporate theater as well as dance, music, creative writing, and visual art. They wrote up a plan, obtained a business license, created a website, and got to work.
Their first production, a world premiere of New York playwright Liz Morgan’s The Clark Doll, opened for a February run at Performance Works Northwest. Directed by Victor Mack, the story follows three Black women navigating in a universe of white fairy tales, Black womanhood, and ancestral trauma. The Clark Doll starred Cozier, Fleetwood, and Shareen Jacobs, in the roles of Sophia, a former slave; Natasha, a contemporary college student; and Judi, a roaring ’20s performer. The actors moved about a dream-like set, donning masks, dancing, fighting, and singing, sometimes in front of a gauzily-projected Snow White, as they relayed their characters’ struggles to escape societal and historical strictures, realize individual autonomy, and rejoice in the strength of sisterhood.
Cozier and Fleetwood want Syde-Ide Collaborations—named in homage to both “side-eye” and the Ides of March—to be a place that centers underrepresented voices. “We’re not just a Black company,” Cozier says. “We’re interested in the refugee crisis, Latinx, Native American, Muslim, and LGBT stories.” Among their plans for Syde-Ide is an annual summer festival that highlights new work, including at least one classical piece “turned on its head” and a world premiere. “Syde-Ide was created out of a need to express those stories,” Cozier explains. “We’re interested in taking risks. We’re okay with people being uncomfortable, because that’s how people learn.”
Syde-Ide has received solid support from the community in the form of press coverage, cash, and space. But the founders are interested in more than being “hot one minute and not the other.” They chose the word “collaboration” rather than the more typical “company” for their project, because they envision Syde-Ide as a creative space for all. “I want to go out and bring the community in,” Cozier says.