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Rising Stars: Meet Deana Taheri

Today we’d like to introduce you to Deana Taheri.

Deana Taheri was born in London to an Iranian father, and British mother; however, she didn’t stay there long. Due to her father’s profession, she moved all around the world – hopping from school to school, city to city, and continent to continent. Before making her first solo move, to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to obtain her BFA in Acting, she had spent her last three years of high school in Doha, Qatar. She left the consistency of moving as a family unit behind to pursue her career. Deana began performing at five years old, when she was cast as an orphan in the UK national tour of Annie. From there, Deana fell in and out of various hobbies, and it became clear that acting was not like the other things she had lost interest in – it was her passion. She began competing in the prestigious Bristol Eisteddfod for Speech and Drama, where she received high distinction awards year after year. Despite being uprooted by moving every few years, Deana did not stray from her path.

She continued to perform wherever possible, in and out of school; and began taking part in examinations with London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) and Trinity Guildhall for drama, musical theatre, and classical voice, where she achieved consistent top marks. When she moved to Qatar with her family in 2013, she performed in leading roles in productions at the American School of Doha (ASD), which garnered mentions in various Doha newspapers. She also gained the opportunity to perform in Oman and Abu Dhabi as a selected Senior Fine Arts participant with the Middle East South Asia Conference (MESAC). Attending ASD opened the door to America that had only been cracked for her until then, and she was encouraged to audition for New York University (NYU)’s summer high school program. She auditioned for the five week musical theatre training program with NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ New Studio on Broadway, and was accepted. Over the five weeks, she was able to work with theatre royalty such as Michael McElroy, Gavin Creel, Brandon Uranowitz, Telly Leung, and Steven Boyer – who she was later reconnected with. She finished the program with a straight A’s, and the knowledge that New York was where she needed to be.

In 2016, Deana auditioned for NYU Tisch as a BFA Acting major, and was accepted. During her time at NYU, Deana performed in various productions at the famous Lee Strasberg Institute of Theatre and Film, as well as on NYU’s main stage. She also performed in, and created, multiple film productions with New York production company Stonestreet Studios. When Deana graduated in May of 2020, mid-COVID19, she did not let her momentum decrease. She landed the job of casting assistant with Broadway casting director, Laura Stanczyk, based on her skills in casting that she gained through work with Ann Goulder (“Black Swan”), and Billy Hopkins (Emmy winner for “When They See Us”). She was also announced as a finalist of Warner Brothers Television’s Actors in Training program, where she would be considered by Warner Brothers casting executives first for upcoming roles in their productions. She was also signed by Zach Copeland at British American Talent, a management firm based in New York, Los Angeles, and London. Further exploring her skills as a casting director, she was hired by Radish Films LLC to cast their short film “Cook or Die”, and by Space Fish Productions LLC to cast their short film “Blitz”, in which director and writer Emily Dhue ended up deciding that Deana was the best choice for the lead role of Annie.

As someone who had always had an interest in voiceover, Deana was hired by Penguin Random House to narrate a section of Helen Oyeyemi’s novel, “Peaces”, where she was able to call upon her accent and dialect capabilities performing with a Geordie accent. She was then hired by Audible, and author Crystal Lyn, to be the voice of her book “Victoria’s Highway”, and was also asked to narrate the sequel, “Victoria’s Highway: Taking the Long Way Home”. Most recently, Deana, along with a group of her friends and peers from the Lee Strasberg Institute, started Bad Behavior Lab; an artist lab creating works by multi-hyphenate artists. In a world where emerging artists were deprived of opportunity, Deana and Bad Behavior Lab were determined to create a space where artists could produce their work and remind themselves of why they fell in love with the arts in the first place. They kicked off the labs work with “Go To Your Room!”, an anthology series of new works (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmRqlelbWcMiJPNXpitndEw), where artists were given the challenging opportunity of creating a short piece of recorded work to be presented in a bi-weekly virtual performance. Each week, new works are showcased in succession, followed by the live component of the series. Each ‘episode’ will not only feature the pre-recorded works but will be followed by the live-streamed performance of an original play directed by a guest director. “Go To Your Room!” is our way of reclaiming theatre in this age of uncertainty, and debuting consistently exciting and entertaining new works with the surprises of live performance that is so often neglected in the virtual theatre world. You can submit your work to be considered for the “Go To Your Room!” series by emailing your 1-5min piece to contact@badbehaviorlab.com

However, Bad Behavior Lab is not just for theatre. By defining themselves as a “lab” they had unlimited freedom to pursue creation in any artistic medium and have launched into that with the conception of Deana’s short film project, “TRANSPLANT”. Written by, starring, and produced by co-founder Deana Taheri, this short film interrogates what it means to belong as a person who cannot define themselves by one single culture or way of life. Featuring a team of 80% international people, “TRANSPLANT” gives a voice to an experience that is not often discussed in a narrative format and works to assign a physical description to the good and bad of being constantly uprooted. The film will feature footage from across the world, including NYC, Bristol, Panama, and Qatar. In the near future, Deana also plans on shooting a second short film “Bubble Girl”, which is based on an earlier project discussing the denial and acceptance of mental health. She is also cast in the upcoming short film, “Blitz”, and web series “Piss Party” with Space Fish Productions, and a, original play adaptation of Dante’s Inferno, “Inferno by Dante”, where she will take on the role of Beatrice. Being an international, mixed race woman in this industry has not come without challenges; however, those challenges are part of what has motivated Deana to continue pursuing her passions, and discovering new ways to make her voice heard – as well as the voices of her fellow artists.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Smooth is most definitely not a word I would choose to describe the road so far! Though I am incredibly grateful for the life of exploration I have had, moving countries and experiencing so many new cultures, it has come with the challenge of confusion. Confusion of self-identity. It is difficult to define myself through where I’m ‘from’. But, that feeling in and of itself has been the inspiration for some of the work I am most proud of in my career so far. Along with that, moving every few years as a child made it difficult to maintain friendships built across the world; but, it granted me the curiosity of character that has led me to find some of the most incredible people, artists, and collaborators as an adult.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am first and foremost an actor, but I am also a filmmaker, writer, producer, and casting director. Most importantly, I am an international, mixed race, female artist. I want to bring important, and exciting stories to life in any way I can, and do so with the goal of uplifting diverse voices, and making space for artists to freely experiment and develop unique and original work.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
The support of my family has been paramount in my path to success so far. Without their constant encouragement and validation, I would not have had the confidence to pursue a career in the arts; and, without the push to explore new homes across the world, I would have the experience or passion to amplify the voices and work of international artists. They gave that to me, but it’s mine to own. My co-founders of Bad Behavior Lab, Zac Branciforte and Julia Di Lorenzo, as well as my incredible peers and artists from the Lee Strasberg Institute who were unafraid to jump on board with our company, are some of my greatest inspirations and push me to be stronger and more confident in my work every single day. We also have the unique experience having grown into ourselves as artists together at NYU, and having collaborators who understand me on such a personal level is such an incredible blessing. And, if it wasn’t for the time I spent in Qatar, the friends I made there, and the incredible drama department that I had the virtue of working with while I was at ASD, I would not have grown into the committed, driven, unapologetic artist that I am. Everyone should visit Doha when they get the chance!!

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Image Credits
Photographer: Julianna McGuirl

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