As stages begin to reopen around the globe, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with Shereen Ahmed, who plays Eliza Doolittle opposite the Henry Higgins of Laird Mackintosh in the national tour of the Lincoln Center Theater production of My Fair Lady, which resumed performances earlier this month. The actor understudied the same role in the 2018 Broadway revival of the classic Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical and played Esther in the Irish Repertory Theatre's virtual production of Meet Me in St. Louis: A Holiday Special in Song and on Screen. Ahmed was also seen in NBC's New Amsterdam, and her regional credits include Lucy in Jekyll & Hyde, Maria in The Sound of Music, Anna in The King and I, and Fiona in Shrek the Musical.
What is your typical day like now?
Well, it’s very different now than how it was a few weeks ago! A typical day starts with some sort of physical movement: going for a walk, doing a yoga flow, or lifting weights. If I don’t exercise during the day, I regret it later in the show. Then I try to get out and tour the city we’re visiting that week, usually in search of the best coffee in town. I’m a coffee addict—I drink at least three cups a day!
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
I’m a huge Brené Brown fan. Her podcasts Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead are fantastic. Her work has transformed the way I think about finding courage in vulnerability and has informed a lot of the work I do on the stage. Her podcasts and books were a real lifeline for me during the shutdown.
You starred in the tour prior to the pandemic. Is there any part of the role or the show that speaks differently to you now following the events of the past 18 months?
The entire show speaks differently to me now. The brilliance of My Fair Lady is that the discoveries are endless—the writing is that good. I think what speaks truer and stronger to me than ever before is Eliza’s drive to overcome the obstacles set in front of her to achieve her dreams. It took me 18 months of grief and hardship to return to the stage. At times I didn’t know if I would ever return. Her story hits a much deeper chord with me now than it ever did before.
How do you feel about returning to live performance?
Grateful. Thrilled. Ready. It is truly a gift to return to the stage and one I will never take for granted.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to a theatre?
I understand. We’ll be here to welcome you back when you’re ready.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Silence is no longer acceptable, and there is action in conversation. Don’t know where to start? Begin with listening to understand. I think if we all approach these conversations with curiosity, empathy, and collaboration, we will get much further in creating the change we seek to make.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
You are not alone. You are never alone. There are resources that can connect you to the support you need. For me, when the isolation and unrest is compounding, I start with focusing on my breath and grounding my feet. Then I pick up the phone and call someone I love—even if I’d rather be alone.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
I learned that there is power in stillness. If you were to tell me pre-COVID that I would have to be still for 18 months, I’d think you were absolutely nuts. Now that I’m slowly returning to the hustle, I can feel what stillness has taught me. I have deep trust in myself and in what I bring to the table, I’m more patient with myself and others, and I know that when I fall, I can get right back up because I did it before.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Over the pandemic, I became a global ambassador for an incredible organization, Education for Employment (EFE). Their mission is to empower youth in the Middle East and North Africa by training them with the hard and soft skills that lead to employment. They provide everything from job placement training to mentorship programs and so much more. I am in awe of the work they do and proud to be a part of their team.