Exploring Passions with Taye Diggs

Frank Sinatra Artist-in-Residence talks passions, people and performing

Noah Sonnenburg
Scene Editor
November 28, 2018

Taye Diggs speaks at Mayer Theatre at Santa Clara University on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer)

Taye Diggs is a breath of fresh air on an otherwise smoke-addled campus. We all could do with some inspiration and a couple laughs along the way.

This year, Diggs is Santa Clara’s Frank Sinatra Artist-in-Residence. His presentation on Nov. 11 proved that he wants to bring some valuable lessons to campus, but he also wants to have a little fun in the meantime.

Diggs was born in Newark, New Jersey and spent his early years in Rochester, New York with an art-loving family. He came from small beginnings but rocketed to stardom due to his knack for dancing, singing and writing—just to name a few of his talents.

So how did that all happen? For Diggs, it was pure passion.

Aptly, “Explorations of Your Passions” was the title of Digg’s speech on Sunday, which sent the audience on a rollercoaster of experiences—from laser-focused attention to Digg’s stories of fortune and misfortune alike, to rollicking peals of laughter.

Diggs set the tone for the evening with a humble and hilarious entrance. As professor Christina Zanfanga introduced him, she read off a list of Diggs’ many roles and accomplishments—a list that went on for quite a while. While the audience was pleased to offer their murmurs of appreciation and approval for appearances they recognized, Diggs was not so patient.

“Alright! Alright!” he said as he burst onto the stage mid-list. “I’m so famous!” he jokingly boasted.

With a long career navigating Hollywood and Broadway as a man of color, Diggs’ wisdom isn’t ones to be taken with a grain of salt. But Diggs didn’t want to be preachy in his speech. He pointed out most especially his belief that someone can only be effective if they are vulnerable and themselves. “I don’t fancy myself a lecturer,” he said. “Tonight I’m trying to be as me as possible.”

Diggs’ talk was one really dedicated to artists and entertainers. For all the fledgling creators at Santa Clara, he was focused on sharing how best to productively engage with your passion—a lesson that non-artists can learn from as well. “When it comes to passion, if you can learn to be passionate about who you are, you can funnel that into whatever you need,” he said.

As he put it, there are two kinds of passion. First, those that you cannot control, and a second kind that is deliberate and considered.

For Diggs, his journey of passion began watching his mother learning to dance because he said watching a woman he idolized explore her interests was like witnessing her passions. After seeing this, he pursued his goals with the same zeal.

It was during this time that Diggs found himself being compelled by his first category of passion—the uncontrollable kind. At a certain point he found himself falling off this path and questioning his abilities.

He shared that his passion evolved when he started listening too much to criticism and the conniving politics of the entertainment world. He found himself questioning his success because of the caliber of the performers he was surrounded by. “You never want to be doing this,” he said. “What’s so special about me?”

After an emotional spiral, Diggs found himself at a low point in his career where he worried about his own abilities. That all turned around for him when he utilized his second category of passion to push himself back to where he thought he belonged.

Diggs shared that the turning point in this part of his journey was when he was offered his role in the musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” “When I got that call from the agent I laughed at him. Then I said yes,” he said. “I knew if I stayed on the phone any longer I would have said no.”

What Diggs’ talk really offered was the thought that our passions and pursuits are never just a solid experience. Rather, they are a process which, if we are passionate about them, we must pursue with all our vigor.

He wrapped up his speech in the same jocular way he started it. “How long have I been talking?” he asked an audience member. “Long enough?”

No matter how long, the Bronco community can’t wait to hear more.

Contact Noah Sonnenburg at nasonnenburg@scu.edu or call (408) 554-4852.

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