Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog

Cast Interview – Zainab Jah
Zainab Jah
Zainab Jah

Actress Zainab Jah stars as Azmera, an African graduate student, in MRT’s new production of Tranced by Bob Clyman, now through March 8th. She has received acclaim from numerous critics for her performance in Tranced, with Donn Saylor of the Boston Examiner calling her “a revelation, turning in a stunning, startling, wrenching performance that no MRT audience member will soon – if ever – forget. Ms. Jah is, in a word, electrifying.


To help give the MRT audience some insight on her background as an actress, and her thoughts on Tranced, Zainab was gracious enough to answer a few questions for the blog.


** Warning – This interview contains plot spoilers for those who have not seen the show. **  


What attracted you to the role of Azmera in Tranced?


Azmera’s strength of her belief in taking a stand and not being able to look the other way, these are the main things that drew me to the character. Also, our incredibly similar backgrounds. I’m also a British-schooled African, although I was actually born in London and spent my formative years in Freetown, Sierra Leone.


What was the audition process like for you?


As usual, it’s always a little nerve-wracking. The difference with this was I was deeply, emotionally invested in it. I spent a few days working on the sides, about 2 hrs a day for 4 or 5 days, after having read the script. I really wanted to be as familiar with the material as I possibly could in order to be able to ride the emotional roller-coaster the part required and not lose my footing.


It also helped that I had auditioned for the part a year earlier, for a West Coast production, so I had a certain level of comfort with material.


In your bio, it says that as a child you worked on television shows in Sierra Leone. Can you share some experiences from that time? What were the shows and roles about? Would any of them be comparable to American children’s programming?


Working in children’s television was fun. It was very Sesame Street, with fabulous scenery! One of my most vivid memories is of myself and about 15 other children sitting on the snow white sand at the beach, singing “I Can See Clearly Now”!


Much of the decision making in Tranced has to do with whether “the ends justify the means.” Do you believe your character, Azmera, was correct in the choices she made? Put in her position, would you have made the same choices? 


My answer to the last question is simple. Yes, absolutely! Azmera did what she had to do. Unfortunately, as we come to realize, we are so desensitized in today’s society, even genocide barely gets our attention.


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