Rehearsals are in full swing at Labyrinth for Dolphins and Sharks, a ferocious new comedy about the overworked and underpaid staff of a copier shop in Harlem. We sat down with cast members Flor De Liz Perez, Chinaza Uche and Pernell Walker (who play, respectively, the ambitious manager Xiomara Yepez, the eager new hire Yusuf Nwachukwu and the exasperated office veteran Isabel Peters) to talk about the show, survival jobs, and making a living in New York.
Q. The three of you play very different co-workers at Harlem Office in Dolphins and Sharks. What aspect of your character do you most identify with?
Pernell: I think I identify with Isabel’s bold unfiltered humor and being unapologetically real in how she communicates and is. She is definitely true to herself.
Chinaza: I think of us as very different… But I did go to NYU like Yusuf (I’ve got the loans to prove it!). And I am Nigerian and my mother’s maiden name is Nwachukwu. So there’s that. Yusuf is also a dreamer, with a passion for what he loves. I think of myself in the same way.
Flor: Xiomara has a sense of duty and ambition to be in a better place tomorrow than she is today that I can identify with. And she most definitely reads as an older child, which I am too!
Q. Your characters all hate their jobs at some point in the play. What’s the worst survival job you ever had?
Flor: I worked for a big name retail store in Soho one summer. I enjoyed working the registers and getting to interact with the customers, the other employees were nice, and even folding the clothes was alright. But the thing I hated was that this particular brand came in very select, very small sizes for particular body types. I would get young girls at the register asking me if we carried items in larger sizes and it killed me to say “no” so often – to see these girls trying to fit this image. In the end I couldn’t support contributing to the “ideal body” culture we were selling, so I quit that job!
Pernell: The worst survival job I had was working at J. Crew as a sales associate during the 2008 recession / crash.
Q. Sometimes you catch a lucky break with jobs. What’s the best survival job you ever had?
Chinaza: I used to host a weekly Ping Pong tournament. I would crown champions and give out amazing prizes. I ran with a pretty hardcore Pong crew back in those days. We all owned at least 2 paddles.
Pernell: The best survival job was working at Jazz at Lincoln Center as an usher. I loved seeing all the wonderful musicians, singers and stars that came through. I learned so much about maintaining a great performance venue.
Flor: I worked as a nanny for a playwright’s daughter in the city, and this little girl was one of the brightest, most inventive and delightful kids I’d ever met. It was a joy to spend afternoons with her making up songs and stories, playing games and reading books. And the whole family was wonderful. Was a very special time!
Q. New York City is an expensive place to live. What’s your best tip for saving money or stretching a dollar?
Flor: Make a budget! Make note of every dollar that comes in and put it to what you need first (bills, rent, etc), then some in savings, and don’t spend what you don’t have!
Pernell: Make lunch from home and bring healthy snacks.
Chinaza: A few thoughts: Matinee Movies! $8! Also, ask that friend, your mom, your aunt, Uncle T, Bill from next door, your old college professor, that college student you teach FOR THAT NETFLIX EMAIL & PASSWORD! Also my roommate has a gym membership to Planet Fitness. She hasn’t gone in 2 years. That’s like… roughly… carry the 2… $6,470.
Q. Last question. If you won the lottery, what’s one thing you’d immediately splurge on?
Flor: Pay off my family’s loans and bills in one go!
Chinaza: I’d take my parents on vacation.
Pernell: I would get a really nice spacious condo. Then I would support and contribute to emerging playwrights of color and theater companies who are helping get diverse stories made.
Photo credit: Monique Carboni