Living a dream
Timberland graduate making her mark in New York
How far would you go to fulfill a dream?
Artisha Mann’s dream has taken her to New York City – and the talented actress and filmmaker’s journey is only beginning.
Mann, a 2003 Timberland High School graduate, grew up in Shulerville. The small town in upper Berkeley County is far removed from the bright lights of Manhattan, where she has lived and worked for the past five years.
Mann went to New York after graduating from Francis Marion University. A business degree notwithstanding, when she finished college she had only one goal in mind: she wanted to act.
Since her days at Bonner Elementary School, she has dreamed of performing. She was in the drama club at MMS, but Timberland didn’t offer drama during most of her four years. At FMU, she embraced the theater and gained valuable acting experience while earning a degree that she refers to as her “back up plan.”
Five years ago, the college graduate faced a crossroads. With a diploma in hand, she could either enter the workforce, or pursue her dream. For Mann, the decision was easy. She researched acting schools, and found the Actors Studio Drama School in Manhattan. She didn’t know whether the school would accept her, but she knew she had to try.
Her fiancé, Jonathan Cooper, is from St. Stephen but has family in New Jersey. Cooper drove her to New York. They found the school and, in a testament to her can-do attitude, Mann applied on the spot.
“I had wanted to be an actor for so long, I just went for it,” she said. “It was a whimsical type thing.”
During the application process, school officials asked her to perform a scene – something for which she had not prepared.
“I asked my boyfriend, will you do a scene with me?” Mann recalled with a laugh. “He said OK. We literally improvised the scene.
“A week later they called and said they had accepted me. I was so excited.”
She enrolled in the three-year program in 2009, living in both Manhattan and New Jersey. The school helped Mann develop her talents.
“At the Actor’s Studio I worked with big name people … they allow you to work in front of all of these stars,” she recalled. “It’s nerve wracking but it prepares you.”
Since finishing the school, Mann’s life has been a whirlwind. She has performed in a host of off Broadway stage productions including a starring role in a female version of “Top Dog Underdog.”
She has also been featured in TV commercials, including an AmeriCorps commercial that ran nationally, and a commercial for Athena underwear that appeared in Europe. She has had parts in other films and theater productions, all while making crucial contacts throughout the entertainment business.
Most importantly, Mann has immersed herself in learning every aspect of her craft.
While her love for live theater is great, Mann has discovered that filmmaking – both in front and behind the camera – is also a passion. Her most recent project may be the most exciting to date.
Mann has created a new digital series called Jayde, a science fiction drama that stars Mann as the lead character, Myriam Jade.
According to the show’s Web site (jaydeseries.com) the drama “follows a core of characters as they navigate elements of betrayal, lost identity, and the supernatural … Jayde brings a strong woman’s touch to the world of online entertainment.”
Four other actors have joined Mann to create a compelling set of scenes for the show’s pilot episode, scenes that can be viewed online.
The next step will include drawing on her business degree: Mann is shopping the series with hopes of one day landing a spot for it on cable TV – possibly AMC or the Sci-Fi network.
“I'm really hoping Sci-Fi picks it up,” said Mann, who created the show along with New York-based director Derron Campbell. “We are going to be submitting it in a couple of festivals here in New York. We’re really excited about it.”
Her immediate goal is to raise money to complete the pilot.
“In order to finish creating the series, we have to raise $9,999,” she said. “That’s the next step. We have to do a proposal, present a trailer, all of those things. We need to develop a fan base and get the series made.”
To that end, a fundraising effort has started on www.kickstarter.com. Visitors can type in Jayde Series at the top of the site’s home page, and be taken to a page to donate funds. Jayde is also on Facebook.
As Mann continues to work on her new project, she is, as always, grateful for the support she receives from friends and family in Berkeley County.
”I’ve gotten so much support from people back home,” she said. “They are really rooting for me to get this series made”
That support begins with Mann’s mother, Deborah Loyal, who has been instrumental in her success. Loyal has supported her daughter both emotionally and financially every step of the way.
“She has just been completely supportive,” Mann said. “She really sacrificed a lot of money she didn’t have at the time. My first apartment in New York was 900 dollars a month and I didn’t have it.
“I still ask her, mom, how did you pay for this? She really gave up a lot.
“My family has been so supportive, which is more than I can say for a lot of artists I’ve spoken to. I really couldn’t ask for a better support system from home. That’s why I’m doing what I’m dong now. I always have my mom and sisters, and my stepfather to support me.
“I’ve been blessed.”
Loyal, who still lives in Shulerville, said she is “very proud of my daughter.”
“Artisha as a child was full of drama,” Loyal said with a laugh. “Very dramatic. When she was in middle school, I exposed her to the drama club … and she was a natural.”
Loyal said that even when Mann was pursuing the business economics degree, her true love was never far away.
“Her love for acting, she just wouldn't stay away from it,” Loyal said. “The first play I ever saw her do that was more of a professional type thing was at FMU … I couldn’t believe that was my daughter. I was like, are you kidding me? I understood then that she just had a serious talent.”
Mann’s work is not the only exciting thing in Mann’s life. She and Cooper are getting married on June 22.
As she continues to work towards her goals, Mann appreciates how far she has come.
“I just love it,” she said. “I’m around these great, amazing stars and it really blows my mind. I never imagined I would be in the middle of so many great actors.”