Age & Hometown: 24; Baltimore, MD
Current Role: Making her Broadway debut as the vengeful and protective psychic maid Cassandra in Christopher Durang’s comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
A Famous Friend: Few young actresses would turn down an ensemble role in The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino, but Shalita Grant recalls thinking, “I don’t want to move furniture as my Broadway debut.” The risk paid off, and now the Juilliard grad is making her Main Stem bow as the youngest cast member in Christopher Durang’s new comedy, a project she has been involved with since it was a one-act. Grant plays David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen’s maid Cassandra, a character she based on her bi-polar great-grandmother and describes as “so grand, so wrong, so ‘this is me, I’m the boss.’” Grant knows the character well because Durang, a faculty member at Juilliard, wrote it for her: “I have letters from him saying he wrote the second act with me in mind.” Still, she almost lost out on the off-Broadway premiere to an older actress. Asked back to re-audition, she says, “I just did what I know the part is. Chris e-mailed me and said, ‘You had it once you walked out of the room.’”
Make 'Em Laugh: “When people tell me, ‘You’re so funny,’” says Grant, “I’m like, ‘Really? I’m glad you think that,’ because the first 10 years of my life I was trying to make my family laugh and they said, ‘You’re not funny. Stop.’” The budding actress attended performing arts high schools in two cities and still remembers her most unique audition: “It was the scene from A Raisin in the Sun where Mama slaps Beneatha because she says she doesn’t believe in God. I played both characters…and I slapped myself. It was so bad, but they let me in.” Moving from Virginia to Baltimore to live with her dad's family helped Grant focus on her future. “I took myself seriously for the first time when I was 15," she says. “I thought, I want to make a choice; I want to take control of my education; I want to take control of my behavior and take responsibility for myself. And I did, and look at where I am.”
Living Life to the Fullest: Grant recently moved to a new apartment in Manhattan (“There’s no other boroughs. I don’t believe they exist,” she jokes.) The new digs inspired her to take up a new hobby, furniture-making. “I can build things and make my space my own,” she says proudly. She also recently began ear training as preparation for venturing into musical theater, despite being unable to read music. “I want my life to be as full as it can be,’” Grant says of expanding her horizons. “Every year, there is something new that I’m experiencing, that I’m experimenting with, because I don’t want to be afraid in my life. I want to really live.” Not that all of her efforts at self-discovery have been successful: “It’s f**king hard!" she says with a laugh. “It’s hard, and it’s scary, and I’ve failed, and I’ve made some really ugly things. But I’m trying.”