Kara Young is back on Broadway this season in the first Broadway revival of Ossie Davis' Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch. She plays the scene-stealing Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins opposite the Purlie Victorious Judson of Tony winner Leslie Odom, Jr.
In her two previous Broadway outings—Lynn Nottage’s Clyde's, which marked the actor's Main Stem debut, and Martyna Majok's Pulitzer Prize-winning Cost of Living—Young received Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for both performances. And, she may just add another Tony nomination—if not the award itself—for her current work at the Music Box Theatre in Purlie Victorious (which was recently extended through February 4, 2024)
Young's many other accolades include an Obie, an Audelco, the inaugural Florence Mills Rising Star Award from Black Women on Broadway, and a Theatre World Award. On screen, she has been seen in The Staircase, Chemical Hearts, Random Acts of Flyness, and The Punisher. The actor will next appear as a series regular in Amazon's I'm a Virgo.
In the brief interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Young discusses how she pays tribute to Ruby Dee and her advice for dealing with disappointment.
Where did you train/study?
Kara Young: New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, Labyrinth Theater Company, all over New York, and still studying.
Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor stand out?
John Tyrrell is an amazing teacher. He did not bullshit us, always told the truth, gave us so many tools to exist outside of school.
What are the challenges/rewards of this role?
There are so many beautiful challenges and so many magical rewards, one of them getting to work with this amazing cast. I’m still in performances and might have a better answer for you on February 4.
You wore a dress to the Purlie red carpet with Ruby Dee’s face on it. How did that come about?
My Aunt Martha Jenkins is a seamstress/designer, and we have been collaborating forever. It was important for me to recognize Ruby Dee [who created Young's role in the original Broadway production of Purlie] as the icon that she is.
You made your Broadway debut in Clyde's. What do you remember about your first night on Broadway?
It was like any other night at the theatre! You get to be a storyteller, and people listen. This time, more access, the possibilities of more ears and eyes. I do remember pinching myself because of the giants that I had the honor of working with, including the late Ron Cephas Jones.
What do you consider your big break?
Every opportunity to act and tell a meaningful, important story.
How did you get your first job in the theatre?
I truly don’t remember but feel like I’m always starting out in the theatre, even if you’ve performed in the same theatre before. It always feels like a first. We create new communities fast, new families fast, and then before you know, we’ve ended. I know I didn’t technically answer the question, but it’s all relative what was the “first.”
Tell me about a job/opportunity you really wanted but didn’t get. How did you get over that disappointment?
There are so many jobs I didn’t get, probably more I didn’t get than I did get… You have to move on fast, you got 5-10 minutes to feel anything, and then keep it moving. It wasn’t for you. Period.
Is there a person or people you most respect in your field and why?
The elders of our community. The actors who are still doing this thing—I respect anyone who sticks this out and continues.
What advice would you give your younger self or anyone starting out?
Keep your sword sharpened and ready for battle.
We’re not told much about Lutiebelle Gussie Mae and how she met Purlie. Do you have a backstory for her?