Ordena Stephens-Thompson is a Jamaican-Canadian actress, most well-known for her role as Novelette “Letty” Campbell in the television adaptation of “Da Kink in My Hair” based off of the stage production of the same name. Known for her ability to fully immerse herself and the audience in every character she plays, and always delivering captivating and masterful performances, one might assume that Stephens-Thompson only ever dreamed of becoming an actor.
Born in Jamaica and moving to Scarborough, Ontario as a child, Stephens-Thompson grew up entertaining herself by copying the characters that she watched on the Carol Burnett Show. However, she didn’t actually commit to following the path of an actor until her final year of high school. Right before graduation, she was still struggling to decide between two paths, becoming a lawyer, or an actor. So, like many high school students, she found herself in her guidance counsellor’s office, searching for answers. Upon learning that she would be required to attend eight more years of schooling if she chose the path of a lawyer, it was cemented for her that she should follow the path of an actor instead.
Applying to both Toronto Metropolitan University and George Brown College, she performed a speech from “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf” for her audition. She went on to study acting at George Brown College in Toronto, and the rest, as they say, is history.
First airing in 2007, “Da Kink in My Hair,” written by award-winning playwright, actor and producer Trey Anthony was a groundbreaking series. It was the first sitcom in Canada to air nationally on mainstream TV that was written by, and starring, a Black woman. The story is centered around Letty, the busy West Indian hair salon run by Novelette Campbell in Toronto’s Caribbean-Canadian community, Eglinton West. According to CBC “Life’s big events – love, marriage, divorce, births, death – send clients into the salon, where they end up in the capable hands of the smart, juicy owner.” In 2008, the show won the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Best Fiction Series prize, as well as a Gemini award for best hair.
The show was a huge hit in its original time slot, however, due to scheduling conflicts with “Grey’s Anatomy” during the second season, the show was short-lived, being cancelled in 2009 after only two seasons. But its impact has remained. To this day, Stephens-Thompson is recognized for her role in the show, with fans often commenting on how much they miss the show and the legacy that it has.
Beyond this, her other acting credits include playing “Lainie” in Designated Survivor, “Martha Frances” in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and a small-town nurse in “The Umbrella Academy.”
While she found mainstream success on screen, she has said that she prefers the stage. She prefers the expressive nature of stage and the fact that everyone works more closely together as a collective, rather than the hierarchy of screen. She likes that she has more room to play, saying that stage is more enticing and exciting for a wider audience, rather than being restricted by camera placement when filming for screen.
Her stage acting credits include being a member of the original 2003 cast of the stage production of Da Kink in My Hair, playing the role of “Patsy”, as well as “Rose” in Fences, “Beverly” in Fairview and “Cynthia” in Sweat.
In 2018 she was nominated for two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, which are presented annually by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA). She was nominated in the General Theatre Division for Outstanding Performance Ensemble, for her work in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, as well as in the Theatre Young Audiences Division for Outstanding Performance Individual for her work in Risky Phil.
More recently she was one of the original cast members to perform in the limited revival of the stage production of “Da Kink in My Hair,” this time taking on the role of the lead, Novelette, a character that she has become so well known for. The stage production, which has won four National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awards and four Dora awards, has been updated to reflect how the world has changed since the show was originally written. She joined other original cast members, including d’bi.young anitafrika, Miranda Edwards and Satori Shakoor, as well as the original director Weyni Mengesha, to celebrate the play’s 20th anniversary.
In a career where it feels like she’s still just getting started, Ordena Stephens-Thompson truly stands out. No matter what character she’s portraying, and no matter the medium, be it stage or screen, Ordena Stephens-Thompson is an actress who’s moving and groundbreaking performances are sure to stick with you.
Lily Frances | Staff Writer