Debating for the Next Generation: Artist Spotlight on Deysha Nelson of "What the Constitution Means to Me"
February 24, 2023
Deysha Nelson is no stranger to the stage or the screen. Though she is just 15-years-old, she has already been acting for almost a decade in TV, movies, and professional theatre productions.
In FST’s production of What the Constitution Means to Me, Deysha plays a teenage debater who goes head-to-head with the central character (played in FST’s production by Amy Bodnar) over whether or not the U.S. Constitution should be abolished. During each performance, it’s up to one audience member to decide who has the most convincing argument—Deysha or Amy—and whether they will vote to repeal or preserve our country’s founding document.
We sat down Deysha to learn more about her performance experience, the rehearsal process for this Obie Award-winning play, and what she’s learned about herself over the course of the play’s 12-week run.
In FST’s production of What the Constitution Means to Me, you play a high school debater. What has that experience been like for you? Have there been any humorous or touching moments you have experienced that you’d like to share?
Playing the role of a spontaneous and spunky debater who represents Gen-Z (people born between 1997 –2012) has been exciting and audacious, especially considering the fact that I have never debated before. The most touching part of performing in What the Constitution Means to Me is when an audience member catches me as I’m leaving, and expresses how impressed they were with my wisdom and performance skills.
One moment I will never forget is when I was reciting one of my humorous lines, “Zombies have no connection to their past. They think about one thing…” and a man in the crowd yelled out my next line for me: “Eating Brains!” The crowd and I found it hilarious! It was definitely a moment I will cherish forever.
You were last seen here at FST in the 2017 Mainstage production of brownsville song (b-side for tray). What was it like to return to FST after six years? What has changed? What have you most enjoyed about being back in Sarasota?
I loved performing in brownsville song (b-side for tray). It was my first time being here at FST, and it was one of the most enjoyable theatre productions I have ever done. Returning to FST after six years has been a journey. I’ve grown a few inches (especially considering I was nine-years-old when I did brownsville song), and I’ve grown mentally and physically. With both plays that I have performed in, the audience has walked out with new knowledge and a new understanding of subjects and opinions. That’s pretty powerful.
You also have TV and film credits, including Mya in Holiday Rush and Hanna on God Friended Me. Does your creative process change when you’re approaching a TV or film role vs. a character in a live play?
I wouldn’t say my creative process for doing plays vs. TV and film are that different. I will say that I have to mentally prepare myself for a much longer process of being in a theater production, but I always enter my roles with passion, dignity, and determination, no matter the genre.
What the Constitution Means to Me is about to wrap up its 12-week run. Have you learned anything about yourself as a person from this experience?
What I’ve learned about myself is that I am worth so much more than I give myself credit for. This is a big role, with a lot of cues, lines, and directions to memorize, but I completed it with ease and always had a smile on my face—all while maintaining a 4.0 in school. Any obstacles I may be faced with, I’m lucky to have the ability to know that I can handle it.
What the Constitution Means to Me ran in FST’s Keating Theatre from December 7, 2022, to February 26, 2023.