Tiffan Borelli, Interview
Born in Oklahoma City, Tiffan (IMDB, Website) has made it from TV all the way to concerts on Broadway and leading roles Off-Broadway. From singing to acting, she has performed impressive roles in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, A Crime to Remember, and Shadow of Doubt.
Growing in your family’s wheat field in Oklahoma to being a professional performer, what inspired you to become who you are today?
Yes, some of my earliest memories are sifting through piles of wheat seeds on my dad’s land. As an Oklahoma woman, I always seem to be seeking the outdoors, fresh country chimney-scented air, lavender (I blame my French roots for this), and I’ve even sponsored a pig, but I really feel like I can thank the musicals Rent and Ragtime for getting my heart involved. How the history and culture present in those pieces was able to find me and speak to me so personally in my childhood bedroom through those double CD’s (that I burned through several times) was inspiring, enlightening and transformative. I knew I wanted to spend my days participating in those and other works of art that had a strong impact and a large outreach.
As far as education goes, it definitely began in middle school right after I wanted The Yankee Doodle Girl solo in a spring show, because a boy I had a crush on was going to be Yankee Doodle. (Thanks, Jake Singleton.) I added a little last minute choreography, and lo and behold, I held the audience in the palm of my hand with my five-word solo. At Putnam City North High School, I found my competitive edge. There was something in the water during my time there, and my peers had it going on. My drama teacher RoseMary Martinez and choir teacher Jan Hulsey were just extraordinary. I worked so hard during those year, and it always felt like I was playing catch-up to several triple-threats a year ahead of me. So much so that when I got to college my work ethic had become apart of my hard wiring.
My fondest educational years were spent at Oklahoma City University. A dream school that pushed me hard and gave me many opportunities to grow as a leading lady and specifically as an actor. I was equally obsessed with drama and comedy, and it was there that I could practice it with an audience. I always said there was no time for me to pledge a sorority, because I would either be on stage or in the practice rooms every night. Luckily this was true. My college voice teacher Florence Birdwell is a major influence, because she wasn’t only interested in my voice but who I really was. I didn’t know what that meant for a long time myself. But I sure looked hard and found plenty during my search. So much so that I stayed on for my Masters Degree there. I know Birdwell was a strong guide in my life and that what we were working on took time. She has proven to be a “FairyGod-Mother”of sorts for many. “The bigger the voice, the longer it takes” was an expression that floated around OCU, but for Birdwell, she was after not only my authentic voice but also words, truth, realness, rawness, healing, honesty and then, to share that. For me that understanding took a little longer. I consider my extended time there to have been a rich investment in myself.
So it started in Oklahoma, then continued in New York. How did the transition go?
The transition was unique for me. I had just finished a season interning at Maine State Musical Theatre. The mother of my friend and castmate Ben drove me down from Maine to NYC. I always was glad that I was able to sidestep the dramatic plane ride where I left my hometown, with tears, two suitcases and a dream. The next week, at my first NYC audition, I booked a job in a tour called Halfway There. I didn’t really know what it was other than that I got to act (no singing) and it paid $500 a week. I remember my friends and family being confused as well.
Turns out it was a touring company that has been established in the 1960’s by Periwinkle National Theatre about five teens facing addiction going through recovery with their drill sergeant. We toured all over the East Coast playing hospitals, recovery centers and penitentiaries. My first audience we played a prison where I entered through a metal detector (not quite a stage door). The audience’s behavioral progress was tiered by the color of their shoelaces. We even were invited to have coffee and converse with many afterwards to hear how we impacted them. Many thought I was really ‘Mandy Middleton,’ a 16-year-old battling a sleeping pill addiction. Some colleagues had trouble understanding what I was doing there, no matter how many times I tried to explain it. ‘What show are you doing?’ But to me, it was clear and purposeful. To me it was heaven. I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
As far as my dreams go… My father recently reminded me that I said in high school my dream was to be a Disney Princess at Disney World. (Did I really say this!?) It is very likely, especially because at that time I probably didn’t understand that artists could make a living from the theatre. My career dreams continue to evolve now more to motion pictures, television, producing, & hosting. I have grown more branches within my field. The founding branches still remain as well. To my surprise all of these extensions have helped to ground me as an artist and person.
If anyone had to do the same transition today, what would be your advice to them?
When I came to NYC, much like my approach to college, I arrived focused and disciplined, but along with that, it felt like a solo approach in my early years. I have come to really appreciate the gift of networking, socializing, camaraderie. I treasure that now and seek it often. On that note you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
Actor @ ID, Oxygen, & NBC, coat connoisseur, wife, Woodstock lover, true crime docu-dramatician, voice teacher…www.instagram.com
I would also say to keep your ears open to feedback. I am not speaking solely from a casting perspective but universal feedback. My now manager, Laurie Smith, once told me she thought I would be excellent for TV/Film, but when we started working together, I was a musical-theatre-or-bust kind of girl. Sure enough, she was right. She helped me enroll in a couple of session of on camera with Bob Krakower (I cannot recommend his TV/film class enough), and within a relatively short period of time my creative world opened up because of that.
Also for me I notice the world keeps connecting me with arts highly based in reality, not just imagination. First of all, there’s True Crime (you can find me on the ID channel and often), and I work with Theatre Breaking Through Barriers, a theater company composed of both able-bodied and disabled artists (http://www.tbtb.org/). We have to listen. What are our gifts, collectively? How can we contribute to this world in an authentic way as opposed to a general way? I’m talking specifics… It’s in that searching and listening that you find yourself and your eclectic artistry.
Acting, singing, dancing, all those skills require a lot of work. How do you keep them sharp?
Core Artist Ensemble is a company that I am founding member of. We do shorts throughout the year at The Barrow Group Theatre Co. The work that cycles through there keeps all of us sharp and honest. We met in master class at the Barrow Group and noticed a particular bond and camaraderie from which our company was born. We often work with new writers on new works, and with that, we really get to work on pioneering new roles. The company is growing, and the work is solid.
I also happen to be the Events Committee Chair for it, so please check out what we are up to next at www.coreartistensemble.org.
More on maintenance…
I’ve also learned to travel. I used to be afraid to leave the city for recreational purposes. But when I travel, I am inspired, and it is while being away that I gain perspective, world knowledge, and the opportunity to feed my insatiable appetite for adventure. It fuels me as a person and an artist. In my life I’ve visited Europe, South America, Asia, and Cuba (I know that’s not a continent). I have never met a cruise I didn’t like. In recent years, I connected with a whole branch of my Borelli ancestors that live in France — with some of them, I even share the same eyes, nose and toes. Boy if that didn’t give me an added sense of self.
Out of curiosity, if you can tell us, what are you currently working on at the moment?
I have a passion project where I am looking to host a True Crime series for kids. To be continued…
I also tour off and on in a production called Flipside: The Patti Page Story by Greg White where I play ‘Patti Page.’ To sing those iconic songs and wear those costumes (20 vintage dresses, I think) is pure joy. I’ve been in a few readings of the musical adaptation of The 7 Year Itch at The York Theatre. It is a wonderful musical comedy and well written by Fred Werner Jeffrey Monday. I hope that finds a sit down run this year. The world will love it.
Aside from your day-to-day, are you doing any volunteering outside of work?
I would consider myself an activist for women’s rights, gay rights, and especially suicide prevention. My voice is growing recently because of the political climate. I also volunteer for soup kitchens and community based reading projects for kids. Working with kids in general has been a clear partnership with me for sure. I am also committed to teaching students in Brooklyn at a fantastic Academy called Acting Out. The school specializes in audition prep for students looking to attend gifted and talended schools in the greater NYC area. I always want to help in a bigger way for these causes but am learning the real way to do that is to talk to and help one person at at time.
Who should we interview next?
- Dean Imperial is a writer (now writing for BRAVO) that works with Core Artists Ensemble. We did a show of his shorts last year.
- Jillian Louis - most recently Diane in The Cheers Live tour
- Michael Yeshion — Actor and Photographer