Of the many female personalities in August Wilson’s plays, Ruby in Seven Guitars is the woman who has the men standing beside themselves. Men who will shoot somebody and go to jail over her, for example.
“She is a commanding character,” says Tyharra Cozier, who’s playing Ruby in PassinArt’s production of Seven Guitars. “When she first walks on, the men are falling all over her, and all she says is, ‘I’m thirsty.'”
Seven Guitars is Cozier’s first play with PassinArt and her first role in a play by August Wilson. She studied August Wilson while working towards her degree in theater at Florida State. She dove deeper coaching and mentoring high school drama students for The Red Door Project’s August Wilson monologue competitions.
That lead to another Red Door project – Hands Up: Seven Plays with Seven Testaments – one play with seven monologues about police interacting with citizens. Hands Up, a collaboration with Portland Playhouse and Confrontation Theatre, was in 2018.
Then 2020 happened.
“I started feeling like an activist,” Cozier says with ironic understatement about the rage that erupted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
“I was in the street, organizing marches,” she recalls. “I got gassed. A lot.”
She received a grant from the Breath Project to write a spoken word and music piece about the experience. It continues to be a work in progress.
“I’m still healing from the trauma. We’re all pretty traumatized,” she says. “I needed to take a step back. There are so many pieces around police brutality.”
Cozier teaches a master class every fall as part of Oregon Children’s Theatre Young Professionals program. She teaches teens how to use performance art to advocate for justice and community. It’s theater for social change.
“There’s a lot going on in the world right now that’s being thrown at them,” she says. “I worry that it’s too much for them. The work is very physically and emotionally taxing.”
She also teaches her students, “It’s yin and yang. It has to balance.”
Cozier takes her own advice. She counters activism and theater with her job in commercial real estate. She manages leasing for the Fox Tower downtown. And she loves it.
“It’s a nice groove,” she says. “You can’t be an artist if you’re struggling – not at all.”
She says among the perks are opportunities to manifest her superpower.
“I’m really good at understanding why people do what they do. I’m good at conflict resolution,” she says. “Understanding is a good communication skill.”
At the end of the day, Cozier plays video games, streams, and communes with her nine-year-old rabbit, Pegasus. Her music inclines toward local – singers Lo Steele, Dani Danger B, and rapper Donte Thomas of Produce Organics, who is her boyfriend.
She describes her reading right now as “a comic book phase.”
Specifically, the Bitch Planet series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Valentine De Landro about fiercely unapologetic, non-compliant women who are exiled to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy.
“Had me in a grip for a week,” Cozier says. She said she met people in the streets with NC – for non-compliant – tattoos.
DeConnick speaks to Cozier as “Another artist who’s burnt out.”
Cozier is only 30 years old. And she’s tired.
“I’m so tired of talking about systemic oppression, tired of writing about systemic oppression, tired of advocating against systemic oppression, tired of being systemically oppressed.”
She quotes James Baldwin: “The responsibility of a poet is to tell the truth. No one ever tells you it’s exhausting.