A scientist by trade, Winston-Salem native Masha Dowell says she is ready to dive into her second career as an actress.
She is also a writer and director for stage and screen.
“I’ve always been creative, more so than scientific,” Dowell said. “The scientific career really afforded me financial stability. It allowed me to volunteer a lot with different arts organizations and learn where I wanted to place myself as an artist.”
A graduate of East Forsyth High School in Winston-Salem and N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, Dowell has family in Winston-Salem. She is now in Raleigh but plans to return to her home in Los Angeles, Calif., in November, where she has a full-time job as a gate agent with American Airlines. In addition, she is a medical freelance writer.
“That funds my art when I do independent theater,” Dowell said her freelance work and airline job.
She has created or co-created several projects. Her films are “Dear Marcus Luke,” and “Out of the Blue,” and she has written three web series, “Oscar Watch Us,” “Heartbreak” and “The Telecommuters,” which was screened professionally at the New Media Festival in Los Angeles.
For her latest project, Dowell’s one-woman show “Blackwomanology” is playing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is considered the largest arts festival in the world. The city of Edinburgh welcomes artists and performers from around the globe for three weeks in August. The festival includes theatre, comedy, dance, opera, music, exhibitions and more.
Although the 2020 Edinburgh Festival Fringe was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts festival is back this year with more than 700 in-person and online shows. “Blackwomanology” is one of the online shows, available for viewing through Aug. 30.
Art and science
After graduating from N.C. A&T in 2000, Dowell worked through 2005 conducting scientific research on behalf of Laboratory of America, the National Genetics Institute and Pharmavite LLC. While working in the sciences, she started gaining experience in the entertainment industry by interning in the television development departments of several Hollywood production companies in Los Angeles.
For the next five years, she continued to work in the field of science but was laid off from her job as a quality manager from a scientific company in Research Triangle Park in 2010.
That was when Dowell decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue her dreams in the arts world.
“It made me start thinking, ‘What do I do with my life?’” Dowell said. “I said, ‘Why don’t you do what you really wanted to do always?’”
Initially, she made films but now wants to do more acting.
Kareem Ferguson, a filmmaker and actor in Los Angeles, has known Dowell for about 10 years.
He said he met her when she created a program to showcase artists in Los Angeles.
“She produced it, directed it to highlight Black voices before there was a Black voice hashtag ... There’s the hashtag of amplifying melanated voices and amplifying Black voices. Masha was doing that years before hashtags even existed,” Ferguson said.
He added that she is a kind, loving human being who is driven and never gives up.
“She is ambitious but not to the detriment of climbing on top of people,” Ferguson said. “I can’t wait to work with her again.”
Dowell got the idea for “Blackwomanology” after she began noticing a lot of media headlines about or focused on Black women.
“I started looking up other races and genders to see if they were talked about as much — with media headlines,” she said. “I didn’t find it.”
She found that Black women were looked at “as one-dimensional people and not humanized.”
In “Blackwomanology,” Dowell brings up real-life headlines in the media then gives her spin on it from her real-life experiences. She said the play takes people through parts of her journey in reimagining her Black womanhood through some people she has met along the way.
“I guess people have specific stereotypes of Black women, but, no, it’s all different types of us,” she said.
She hopes the play will help Black women reimagine their own Black womanhood, “to look at it as a journey they create themselves.”
She said she is happy to be part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
In early January, Edinburgh Festival Fringe organizers were expecting an all in-person 2021 event, she said.
“But they noticed that shows couldn’t even get in their country,” she said.
She said she got an email in March that they would be willing to accept filmed versions of productions.
“We had to submit it, but if they didn’t approve it, we couldn’t be screened at the festival,” Dowell said.
Dowell said she performed her one-woman show in 2018 at the Solofest at the Whitefire Theatre in Los Angeles, but “Blackwomanology” had to have been performed in the last year to be presented at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
To solve this issue, Dowell rented the Moonlight Stage Company theater in Raleigh in June and hired a director and cinematographer and a crew to film her play.
“All these were artists who moved back to North Carolina because of the pandemic,” she said.
Dowell is the creator, producer and sole performer in “Blackwomanology.” Veronique Macrae is the show’s director, John Markadakis is the cinematographer, John Tarver is the theatrical technician, and Loreal Ray is the production assistant.
Connecting online via zoom meetings with artists and doing roundtables with Edinburgh media has been something new for Dowell, but she said it is worth the exposure.
“I consider myself a global artist,” she said. “I have been so blessed to connect with so many international artists online.”
Dowell’s future goal is to do more theater.
She said she recently received a $500 grant from the Network of Ensemble Theaters that will allow her to develop “Blackwomanology” a bit more.
“I would like to tour with my one-woman show,” she said.
Dowell has a bit of advice for up-and-coming actors.
“Basically, there’s no one pathway to become an actor,” she said. “Start where you are.”
She said that today’s technology enables people to put their plays or monologues online.
“I know we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, but now is the time for artists to create, to share their stories about what we’re going through now. In a few years from now, people will look back and it’s kind of like, ‘What art was being created during this time?’”