"Don''t look like they did much of a good job."
The audience laughter that followed her delivery of that line was all actor Tarra Riggs needed to hear.
Just two years ago, Riggs got involved in community theater groups like The Center Players, where she delivered that laughter-producing first line in "Rehearsal for Murder." Riggs graduated from Jackson State University with a degree in business administration and a minor in education, only because that's what her mom told her to do.
"I took drama classes on the side without her knowing," she says.
Growing up as a dancer in Maywood, Ill., Riggs was used to performing in front of crowds with dance troupes. "I was always on somebody's stage," she says.
Even though she enjoyed the drama classes in college, Riggs still had some exploring to do before she'd find her way back to that slice of her soul that loved the limelight so much. After finishing college in 1994, Riggs moved to Atlanta on the advice of a girlfriend that it was "the place to be for young black women looking to find themselves."
Atlanta was not the place where Riggs would find herself, though. That would only come after she moved back to Jackson, got married, had her first child and finally after she was laid off from her job at WorldCom when she was pregnant with her second child in 2002. At the time, she thought losing her job was the worst thing in the world.
Today she says it's the best thing that has ever happened to her.
"My husband said to me, 'Just do it. Just do what you want to do,Ҕ Riggs says. The good times only got better when Francine Thomas Reynolds of New Stage, who was also the casting director of the movie "Ballast," called Riggs for a callback from her "Ballast" audition. While Riggs says she assumed she'd just end up with a background role, director Lance Hammer had other ideas and cast her as Marlee Sykes, the female lead.
"Ballast" is a film about three Mississippians, shot entirely with a Mississippi backdrop and performed by an all-Mississippi cast. The film received honors at this year's Sundance Film Festival for Best Director and Best Cinematography. Rolling Stone journalist Peter Travis gave Riggs his own Best Actress Award, writing: "I had never heard of Tarra Riggs before I saw her as a single mother trying to make a life for her 12-year-old son in the unforgiving Mississippi Delta. Now I know I'll never forget her.
What a great comeback for Tarra. Congratulations to her!