Student Spotlight: Elijah Jalil Paz Fisher

Portrait photograph of Elijah Jalil Paz Fisher.

In this episode, hear from Elijah Jalil Paz Fisher, a recent graduate of UM’s MFA in acting program. Elijah talks about his love for acting and the impact that Dr. Cristal Channelle Truscott’s book, Soul Work, had on him. Then, he explains the meaning behind his final creative project, Screamin’ From the Zoo, which streamed online during the Theatre and Dance department’s spring 2021 show, Farewell. 

Episode Extras

UM Article About Elijah 

https://medium.com/vision-magazine-2020/student-spotlight-e03047368ac1 

More about Screamin’ From The Zoo on Scholar Works 

https://scholarworks.umt.edu/gsrc/2021/arts/4/ 

Story Transcript

My introduction to acting, or theater honestly, came my senior year of high school. Realized the tug that theater had on me and wanting to do art. And then I got cast in a play called Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. I had about nine lines I remember. But the cast -- I fell in love with like being in a community of folks who were trying to -- were working together to complete this project. 

My name is Elijah Jalil Paz Fisher, and I am getting my master of fine arts in acting. 

For my final creative project, I came upon this method in the black acting methods textbook called Soul Work by Dr. Cristal Channelle Truscott. I was enjoying reading the way that she worded, know, exploring soul and trying to understand soul because she says that defining it is a mind bending, elusive exercise. There's a bunch of different types of things that we use or that was classified as soul in the document. And a lot of them come from African-American traditions, but it's worth noting that, like, I feel like everybody has a soul, And so everybody. Can at least relate to the idea of looking for and working on and defining soul. And so, through that I was able to create this show called Screamin' from the Zoo. 

In the show, essentially, I developed four characters that are all different iterations of myself. I think that everybody does have different sides of themselves that they show in specific spaces. So, I leaned into it and I gave them all names that were similar to or play off of my own name. So, I called the emcee the emcee, but he was the character that basically guided the audience through this show. And then I move on to my next character, which is Elijah Jalil. And that is me with a guitar, you know? And then I move to the center stage where there's this cardboard piece on the floor and that is Jah Jah, which is the hip hop iteration of Elijah. And then I moved to the fourth, which is Elijah the scribe, and Elijah the scribe just writes poetry. And by the end of it, they all sing this song called Freedom. And I think that in evaluating my soul, I've understood that like the main thing that I am fighting for or constantly trying to push for is freedom for everybody. But also, like all of me and all of the me's that exist. 

Because I have been one of the only black students in like a room often, a lot of the work that I create is centered on like race and like how it is portrayed and how I feel about it and what I'm learning about it. It's not a topic that people love to speak about all the time. Even right now. It's, it's a tough thing. It's an uncomfortable thing. And I understand that it is because we have not been given the words to really have conversations about it. And it can be overwhelming, but I've done it quite a few times already. And knew that I could do it. It felt worth it, you know what I mean? It felt like it was -- there's a lot of purpose behind what I was doing. And so, I was motivated by that. 

I am somebody who has learned that I am not just an actor. Like I want to do almost everything so acting, singing, dancing, you know, being a part of the directing process or dramaturgy or writing the plays. because they all intrigue me and they all inform one another. as a graduate student, they are really supportive about what path you wanted to create. If they didn't have the resources, they were like, yeah, go find them. And we can talk about them, but know that like you, you do what you want, create your space and we will support your space however you need it.