Familiar face feels ‘useful’ in the Little Apple

By Mary Shirk

Look at the photo again. You might know Tyler Woods.

You might have seen him in a performance at Manhattan Arts Center. You might have seen him at Target behind the counter at the dressing rooms. You might have seen him performing as “Ty Woo” in a drag show. You might have had him work with your children in a youth theater production. You might have seen him socializing at Auntie Mae’s Parlor or Radina’s Coffeehouse and Bakery in Aggieville. You might have seen him when he was a K-State music performance major or during his graduate work in theater. You might have seen him in local TV commercials.

Recruited here from his home in Fort Scott through a high school summer honors choir, Woods came to K-State in 1999 and made the Little Apple his home.

“I like the pace of Manhattan,” Woods said. He has traveled and gotten to perform across the country. With so much talent, he does get asked why he stays in Manhattan.

“I feel useful here,” he said. “If you go to a big city there’s going to be a lot of people trying to do the same thing that I do. And even here there is competition. There are a few of us around who have the same accreditations, and we all have things that tie us here, whether it’s family or just our support systems here — and even amongst ourselves, that’s our support system.”

The people of Manhattan are what keep Woods in the community.

“It seems like I came back because my support system is here. Both of my parents have passed away so I don’t have that in Fort Scott,” he said. This became his adult home in college.

“It’s not a bad place to be, not at all. I can think of a lot worse places to be.”

Woods said there are more artistic opportunities in the area than people might be aware of.

“They might hear about MAC from time to time, or they might hear about a show happening in Wamego, but I don’t think they know how to approach volunteering, approaching getting involved in performance and the other things that they do.”

Years of working with children in theater have given Woods a peek into what life is like for the youngest generation of Manhattanites.

“I feel like parents over-schedule the kids,” he said. “When they come to do a rehearsal, they’ll have three other things they are doing that evening. They have the chess club that they have to go to or are playing football.”

“I love that there are so many renaissance kids, but at some point you’ve got to focus.”

Looking to the future, Woods hopes to be performing more steadily, particularly in his work as a drag performer. “I don’t get many opportunities to do that anymore because the bars I worked at have disappeared, sadly, and you can’t make a living off one huge drag show every year.” As Manhattan continues to grow, he hopes the city getting bigger means there will be more opportunities for artistic work in the area.

He is already seeing the benefits of that growth. Woods has gotten to do commercials this year through New Boston Creative Group, an opportunity that was not available a few years ago.

The downside of Manhattan is there is a small gay community.

“It’s hard to date,” he said. “Particularly if you are a gay man above a certain age in this town.”

Woods said he is comfortable as a gay man of color in the Little Apple.

“I’ve been here long enough that people just know what they are dealing with when they see me,” he said. “I still get looks when I walk down the street because I don’t dress like everybody. I’m gender non-conforming from day to day, so I do get the occasional look from people.”

While at K-State Woods was president of Ebony Theatre, a group that performs works by black playwrights.

“I grew up in a small town where there weren’t many black people, but there were some.”

Now, in addition to being recognized for the work he has done, he is recognized for the work of others.

The Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has brought a new kind of attention his way. One of the show’s main characters is Titus Andromedon, played by Tituss Burgess. The similarity in appearance and mannerisms of Woods and Titus is uncanny. Strangers approach him almost daily to remark on the resemblance. Woods said he is happy seeing “himself” in a TV role.

“I thought, does Tina Fey (the show’s creator) have a little carbon copy of me in her life that she felt like she needed to get out there in the world? ”

“It feels good, but it’s mixed because, yeah, there are characters like me that people want to see, but on the same side I’m not in a place where I can get to be those characters myself and get paid for it.”

While not born and raised in Manhattan, Woods does consider himself a townie.

“If you’ve been here since the ‘90s I feel like you deserve the station”

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