12 Questions With Actress, Athlete and Activist Tanna Frederick


Tanna Frederick seems to do it all. As an actress, philanthropist and athlete, Frederick can't be stopped. She has won multiple awards for her acting chops including Method Fest's “Performer to Watch", the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival's “Maverick" Award and Best Actress at World Fest Houston, Montana International Film Festival, Fargo Film Festival and the Wild Rose Film Festival.

The Iowa native doesn't limit herself to performing, she also founded the Iowa Film Festival and Project Save Our Surf, a nonprofit dedicated to ocean conservation, improving the availability of freshwater to those in need. SWAAY sat down with Frederick to find out about the hard work and dedication she puts forward to keep up with her active lifestyle and many hats she wears.

Photo Courtesy of Tanna Frederick

1. When did you know you wanted to be an actress?

7 years old.

2. What were some challenges you face being the first female producer of a VR narrative?
If I brought to light all of the challenges I would be doing a disservice to all of the new frontiers available. I prefer to focus on the chasms being bridged every day between the sexes in the arena of women in tech.
3. You've won a lot of awards for your work how does it feel to be recognized for your talent?
I think all of these awards are incredible and am infinitely thankful for them. I am very thankful for the nature of my being as an artist, though, and the 'divine dissatisfaction' that occurs with it. There is no competitor in the world as vicious as myself. I am proud of the work I've done but never satisfied with it.

That keeps my inner critic, as long as I can withhold her, in a constant battle to push further and consistently recreate myself as an artist without a bar. There is no bar to be set. Our bar as artists is to discover more and push ourselves more. It's like pushing a boulder uphill to keep up with my own criticism and be satiated with my own work.

4. We know you love fitness, how do you incorporate it into your busy schedule?
It keeps me sane. It's a non-option…A necessity. I center myself by looking to my physical core when emotions are tough in work.
5. How do you think your athletic abilities help you in your career?
I could not have sustained the last show I did without them. As an artist, my body is my tool. It goes beyond an aesthetic vision. It is the physical manifestation of what I have worked at. It's how I look at Athena as a symbol of women in modern times. She was wise, athletic, and an artisan. I admire the balance and necessity for being a modern, 'Renaissance woman' in this culture. It's hard to come by, but it is my standard I set for myself.
6. Can you tell us a little about “Project Save Our Surf"?
We all have a backyard, so to speak. Mine is now in Santa Monica because of my occupation in California. All of us need to keep our backyards clean and healthy for all of our neighbors who are in our 'community garden'. Whatever state or region I live in, I'd take care of the native terrain and will continue to do so. My roots gave me that coming from the Midwest. I'll always keep that ethically intact.
7. You also founded the Iowa Film Festival, what inspired you?
Access to art. There is a great divide in terms of artistic commodification and geographics in this country. It is getting better and has gotten better but I think it is a great struggle to bring new artists to light between New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Filming incentives in Iowa were nil when I moved to California for job opportunities. The most we could hope for as actors were extras in huge budget films shooting in larger cities brought in by studios from the West Coast.

There is the Iowa cliche in film which constitutes an idea of all budding directors and actors and producers coming from Iowa or some state that begins with a vowel. But the reality is the industry is built on those transplants and their dreams. It's just a shame that because of tax breaks or cheap labor the industry takes advantage and moves projects from state to state. I was trying to set up shop for more opportunities in the Midwest. Voices that haven't been heard and deserve to be heard. I want to help smaller voices to be loud and strong no matter what the socio-economic supposed values of the region are.

8. What were some difficulties you had starting “Project Save Our Surf" and the Iowa Film Festival?
Hearing 'no' all the time. After a while, I think I got so used to hearing the word 'no' that I became immune to it. I think that I've trained myself to hear 'no' as 'maybe'. That's probably one of the best gifts I've received being an artist operating outside of the system.
9. What is your favorite role you've played?
There is no favorite, only the role I'm intimidated by. There are preserved traditions in film and theatre that actors should want to recreate and the biggest compliment would be to have done such a thorough and brave attempt at capturing a playwright or screenwriters vision that I would inspire more recreation of the playwright's work.

Photo Courtesy of SwedenWithLove

It's my job as an actor to make the playwright look brilliant. Being a student at the University of Iowa and given that challenge to communicate an individual's vision was eye-opening. It's not about me or anybody's perception but about being a working cog in the clock to communicate to an audience.

10. What is your dream role?
Each role I play is a dream role. It's not about me but the common vision of the team I'm on. In each production, everyone has a life and family and ends up going home to their husbands or wives or kids wanting to feel they made something happen that was worth giving up their time for this crazy business. If I can help facilitate that, I'm happy at the end of the day. There's a unity to each production that when it falls into place, you feel it. You feel people going home at the end of the night who have all been working for a common vision. When the lights are turned off and everyone takes a breath before locking up, there's a feeling of stillness and peace. That's what production is about. That ten minutes after your stage manager or crew departs and that beautiful ten minutes of happiness before I realize I need to wake myself up the next day and start all over again. I think that feeling bleeds into any profession. But especially as an artist it's all about precision and being a part of a team. And completion.
11. Who is inspires you most?
I am always inspired. This business is crazy. Anyone who puts themselves into this battlefield is certifiable. But I am most inspired by those who do. My DIT who's job it is to sit with the equipment and makes sure that all of the footage is backed up until everyone has left the building is my hero. My makeup artist - who will redo a wound forty-three times to make it look legit before she wakes up to teach college classes at six in the morning the next day and goes home to read her kids a bedtime story - is awe inspiring.
12. What is some advice you have for girls who want to start a nonprofit or want to be in the entertainment industry?
The best mindset I was taught is not to believe that I 'wanted' to be an artist or philanthropist or athlete but to understand that by striving for my own sense of ideals and broadening horizons, I was enough.
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How Postpartum Mesh Underwear Started My Entrepreneurial Journey

"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.

It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.

My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.

Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.

I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.

My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.

Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).

They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).

Fast forward to 2018...

While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.

In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.

As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.

Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.