Artist to Artist- In the Moment with Kendra Christel!

Dear Readers,

I am lucky enough to know several very talented people in the arts. Kendra is one of them! She is an actor, director, writer, singer, and producer! This week, I was privileged to sit down with her and we both talked life, love and the pursuit of art from her perspective.

KendraPic2

Professor Haston– Kendra, thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule (she opens Sister Act, playing Deloris Van Cartier, at the Georgetown Palace on Friday 4/19/2019). Tickets for Sister Act

So let’s jump right in- Who are you named for? 

Kendra– I had an uncle named Ken- Kenneth. My full legal name is Kendra Omega Davidson Banks. My stage name is Kendra Christel, which is because I took my sister’s name. My legal name Kendra Omega Davidson Banks- Omega is important because I am the last child of 5. 

Professor Haston-  Where are you from? 

Kendra– Austin. I grew up off Martin Luther King Drive in a neighborhood called Craigwood.

Professor Haston-  What do you think makes you a successful artist?

Kendra– Probably the same thing that makes me an unsuccessful human. I am extremely hard on myself. Sometimes it wears me out. I constantly tell myself to work harder or do more. 

Professor Haston-  Where does that come from? Your parents? 

Kendra– My grandmother. She was from a totally different generation. I don’t know if you are familiar with the phrase in the black culture,  “You have to work twice as hard to be half as good”? My grandmother was from the generation of, “You have to do this, you have to do this right”. She worked hard and she put a determined thing in me. Sometimes I think I can go too far on the “try harder” scale.  Really trying is what makes me an artist. 

Professor Haston-  Well you do so much…you sing, you act and you dance and direct and produce… What brought you to acting? 

Kendra– College. I always wanted to be an actress, I just never did it till college. While a student at Texas State University, I joined Harambee Dance Group, became a member and chairperson for Gospel Expressions Association choir, and an original Executive Board member of the Ebony Players theater group and I have been acting ever since. 

Professor Haston-  What do you still want to tackle in the world of acting? 

Kendra– The things I am doing now, I want to CONQUER them. I don’t believe you can be good at one or two things. You can be good at a LOT of things. I want to be really good at writing. I want to be really good at acting.

I want to be an EGOT. 

That’s when you win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.

Professor Haston-  What’s the best advice you have ever received? 

Kendra– My mom, she is so quotable. “God’s favorites always have the hardest time”. Then people will say, “Well, God doesn’t have favorites.” and you say to yourself, “Well you must not be one”.  He tests us because He believes in us so much. It was tough for me growing up, I had a great childhood but as you can imagine, you know when you are creative you just don’t fit in and you struggle. I never stressed myself out about making friends or being liked but then people start to mistreat you or try to make feel bad about how and who you are and then it becomes necessary to constantly be on defense. That takes a lot to get out of that mindset when it’s how you grow up and my mom would tell me, “Babe, God’s favorites always have the hardest time”.

Professor Haston- Speaking of a hard time… I read recently about an all white cast doing a production of Porgy and Bess? What do you think of that? 

Hungarian Cast Members “Identify as African American”

Kendra– It’s disrespectful. It’s extremely disrespectful. Don’t get me wrong. I mean it’s Gershwin, I understand loving an artist’s work so much you have to be involved or you have to touch it some kind of way.  But there are just some roles and some works that should go untouched. Gershwin put that stipulation in for a reason (stipulation that the lead roles should only be played by African American actors) Then and now, black people and brown people, we don’t get roles that we should, we don’t get the opportunities that we should, we don’t get the treatment that we should. I mean it’s seriously clawing all the time, it’s exhausting. Just as much as people who are not black and brown are tired of hearing about it, we are tired of going through it so we wish we could stop telling you about it and the fact that there was beautiful thing created just for us, us being black people and they being not black people, couldn’t let us have it. It’s frustrating, it’s not enough to make it hard for us to be accepted and to be artists and to be beautiful and be talented and be celebrated and be creative within in our right and our own realms. It’s like we are being invaded. You can’t let us have the thing even though we created the thing. It’s frustrating. From what I understand the estate of  Gershwin is trying to sue, and I hope they win because you shouldn’t do that. It’s cultural appropriation at it’s finest. 

Professor HastonI find it disgusting. As an artist, I love the songs of Gershwin but that isn’t a role I would consider playing ever because no matter how much research I do, I will never know what it’s like to be black. 

KendraYou know what, that’s hard for an actor of any color. There are going to be roles that you can never play and never identify with because you will NEVER be that. Look, I love Frida Kahlo, I love her work, I will even wear flowers in my hear sometimes like her, I love the kind of woman she was, when I found out she was in a relationship with Josephine Baker, it made me love her even more. But if I was given the opportunity to play her in a movie or television show, I would turn it down, because it’s ridiculous. There are just a plethora of Latinas who could play that. I am not that. I can appreciate it and love it until I turn blue but I am just not that, and that’s okay and so, with them having these cast members sign a piece of paper that says you “identify as black” is f****** ridiculous.  Being black is such a vast thing. We are so different, we are so numerous. We come from everywhere, we are everywhere. Just saying that you “identify as black” – I mean, I am black and sometimes I am not sure if I am as black as I should be. We are so different. It’s disrespectful and it’s disgusting and I don’t like it. 

Professor HastonHave you seen roles that are going to white actors that you think should be going to African American women? 

KendraYes. It’s everywhere. There are roles that can and should be opened up to black women. Steel Magnolias, you know. I could go on and on. I remember trying out in high school and because I didn’t have the “traditional theatre voice” I wasn’t even looked at twice. One thing I can say is I have been working with a great production company called Mad Productions who cast me as the Queen of Hearts.  You wouldn’t immediately think about this black woman ruling over Wonderland, but why not? No one thinks, “Let’s try that,” and then this company does. They have a knack for casting the non-traditional. It’s part of the thought process of this part doesn’t HAVE to be played by a white person. It’s getting better slowly but surely because people are looking at things with new eyes. 

KendraasQueenofHearts

Professor HastonWhat do you think we all need to do to be accomplices in the fight for human kindness and better race relations besides realizing that we still have so very far to go. 

KendraIt’s exhausting. Also knowing that any moment we can regress. At any moment, someone will say something or someone will touch my hair… 

Professor Haston- Without your permission? That’s unacceptable. 

Kendra- We say it on social media all the time and we say it in life “DON’T TOUCH OUR HAIR. WE DON’T LIKE IT.” I don’t care what your one or two black friends let you do. Don’t do it. I had a woman send her 6 year old child over to me to ask me if she could touch my hair. I had to tell the child, no you may not and inform your mother that it’s not appropriate. It’s extremely frustrating. 1. I don’t know where your hands have been. 2. I am not an animal in a zoo, don’t pet me.  Don’t get me wrong, I know the myth of black hair is fascinating, and when I have friends who ask me, “How did you do that?” I will tell them and they are genuinely asking. “Can I see how you did that?” Yes, tben you can touch my hair. When it comes to sharing my culture with people, I am happy to share and teach and educate, and a good general rule of thumb, keep your hands to yourself.

{You heard it here, folks!}

Professor Haston- So as we are talking hair and costumes let’s talk a bit about Deloris Van Cartier- Why are you so excited to play her? 

KendraOne, I am a HUGE Whoopi Goldberg fan. But really, the story of Sister Act, this person who just wants to make it, reminds me of me. I know it sounds like a cliché, and it’s true. Growing up as a little girl I wanted to be a performer so bad I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, God that would be so boring. My cousins and my friends would say I couldn’t sing and they thought I was weird when I wanted to play theatre and not like freeze tag. They would indulge me sometimes. “If you could just get this English accent right..this production would be great, trust me.”  I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I know my parents weren’t discouraging, they were just worried. You don’t want to hear your child wants to be an entertainer, you want her to say she is going to grow up to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer. I had a knack for being on camera.  I got to interview some celebrities when I worked for Spiderwood Studios and I was good at it, but I got sad because I wanted to be on the other side of the camera. When I was interning there, I knew I HAD to do this. I couldn’t shake it. That’s why I identify with Deloris, she is in this relationship and gets in trouble, but she wants to be a disco diva so bad, and that’s all she has ever wanted. I can identify with that longing so much. I get to be glamorous and fabulous. 

KendraisDeloris

Professor Haston- If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

KendraStart before you’re ready. I have been a late bloomer in everything. Still. I am to this day. I was a late bloomer in dating and marriage. I was published at age 8, so I knew I could do it, so I would say it doesn’t matter how scary it is, GO DO IT. I just now feel like I am getting in the swing of the acting thing. I definitely don’t feel old but I wish I had started sooner. Start Before You’re Ready. 

KendraSinging

Professor Haston- Have you ever taken a hiatus from acting? 

KendraI did. It was about three years ago, November of 2016, when I was diagnosed with PCOS Polycystic ovary syndrome

It was horrible. It sucks. It really does. I joined a support group. I went back to therapy.

In my case, I am insulin resistant, I am infertile, my hormones are really out of whack, so I easily gain weight. I have had to use 3 different birth controls, I am on a fourth one now. I was taking 13 pills a day, my hair would fall out sometimes, still does. I wasn’t  eating like I should, throwing up constantly. On my worst day, my husband would have to stand me up and bathe me. Because I just couldn’t get the weight off and it caused body image issues. I just closed off, I stopped acting and doing music, I closed myself off from all my friends. I started going to a support group, spent time in therapy and I started losing weight and I had to spend a solid year taking care of myself. I had painful surgeries. I needed a break, because I could not function.

Professor Haston- What brought you back?  

KendraMy husband. (gets choked up) I don’t want to cry. 

Professor Haston- It’s okay if you do. 

Kendra- It doesn’t matter what I looked like or what I felt like. He never made me feel like he didn’t think I was beautiful or pretty or worthy. He never left. He never left. Not one time did he complain. He was on top of all the mess. He cooked for me, he literally had to hold me up and bathe me and he NEVER complained  and it says something that after I was diagnosed, is when he proposed to me. So to learn that someone has a life- changing condition and know that we might not be able to have kids and still decide, “Well, I still want to spend my life with you”.       I had to pull myself up and bring myself out and not go back, because it doesn’t matter what I feel like, I just couldn’t have him living like that. I know he will stick with me through whatever. He is the most loyal person and it’s when you have someone like that you want to be your best self and give them the best of you and live your best life.  If you are going to sign on to spend the rest of your life with me, than I am going to make it a really good life. 

Professor Haston-  How do you deal with haters?

Kendra- Like my Mom says, you have to consider the source. If someone hits you with a low blow then they have just signed a permission slip for you to do what you need to do get them off of you. The more public you get, the more people will hate. 

Professor Haston-  Who is your favourite artist?

Kendra- I don’t have one. There are just too many. I mean this week, this minute.. it varies day to day. 

Professor Haston-  What inspires you? 

Kendra- My fear. My biggest fear is lying on my deathbed and thinking and feeling that I should have done that or tried that. I should have done that. Like my mama says, When you slide into Heaven, you should be tired, just barely making it. 

Professor Haston- Speaking of being tired, (You are in tech week, aka Hell Week, after all) how do you “fill up”? (what you do as a performer to fill yourself to give to others)

Kendra- There is a lot of wine involved. When I am not busy writing a novel, (she is working on a book, people!) or doing a show, I watch a ton of supernatural television. I love television which is why I have a degree in it. I do face masks, I do therapy, and I spend time with my “purple hearts”.

Professor Haston- What are purple hearts? 

Kendra–Those are what I call people who support me. In the Armed Forces you get a Purple Heart for valor and giving a piece of yourself for the greater good, for great sacrifice. Purple is also my favorite color. So, I call people who support me purple hearts because they understand what it’s like to have to grow and change and hurt and struggle just to prevail and get to a better version of yourself.

PurpleHeartsKendra

Professor Haston- Well,  I consider it an honor to be one of your “purple hearts” Thank you for helping to inspire all of us and sharing your truth, your talents, and your thoughts with us.

One of the last things Kendra shared with me was this –

There is no limit to how great life can be. 

I quite agree, Kendra.

How about you readers, what say you?

Think About It.

Creativity is what you make it.

Dear Readers,

Last year I was driving along the road and saw these gorgeous flowers.

They were  just beautiful. The sun was going down so it was just about to hit that “magic hour” photographers talk about and I had the fire of inspiration flood my soul, so I parked the car and grabbed my daughter and started posing her in the flowers.

This was the result. I took about 35 pictures to get two good ones. As I understand it that’s pretty good. Most photographer take 100 or so to get that one perfect shot.

 

This weekend, my good friend Susie and I were catching up and chatting. In my world, this is also called a walk and talk, and I noticed the patch of flowers near her house and we got inspired and took some pictures.  I wasn’t sure how the toddler was going to do with posing and what not, since she is a lot more wriggle and lot less pose at this stage and that led to some pretty great pictures. Susie and I had a blast taking these, and I have to say, she is quite the artist.

 

 

As you may or may not have read previous posts, I have been doing interviews with different subjects on what it means to be an artist and I think I need to expand my definition. I hear people say it all the time. “I am not creative”. Well, maybe your definition of creative needs adjustment. An artist is anyone who creates.

Put another way, When you pick up a paintbrush or a pen, you are an artist.

If you pick up a camera or a script, you are an artist.

If you bake that perfect cake or pie, you are an artist.

If you put your fingers on a keyboard and write something, you are an artist.

If you read a book to a kid and you do all the voices, you are an artist.

If you disseminate information and put it in a pretty format on a visual representation at work, you are an artist.

If you pick up an instrument and play it, you are an artist.

Likely there are some I have forgotten, so please chime in.

So the question is, Are you an artist?

Think About It.

Pushing Your Luck…or Making Your Luck? The Choice Is Yours!

Dear Readers,

You wait to get your vehicle inspection done (you have till April 5th)  5th of the month

You wait till April 15th to finish your taxes or file that extension. (Don’t do it!)

You wait to get gas when the car is “E”, usually because you are almost home.

You see the “check engine” light pop on. PSA- Sometimes this is because your gas cap is not fully engaged. (that was a lesson that cost me some money)

You spend a little more time getting ready and don’t leave enough of a buffer (traffic/lights/weather) for parking to get to your appointment on time.

You text that “one message” while pulling up in traffic despite it being ILLEGAL.

You put off getting that crown put on the temporary tooth and it falls out forcing you to go get emergency surgery, in a week when you already have a lot of time and energy commitments and really could have stood to do without that complication.

If this is just me, feel free to breathe a sigh of relief and move on, but I don’t think it is.

So I think that here an there, pushing your luck on these things is okay, and I can attest to the fact that it works out about 50% of the time.

I think it’s when it becomes a habit that you need to put on the brakes and examine why you keep “hoping it will all work out in your favor” instead of doing the prudent thing and making the change in behavior needed to avoid “needing luck” for things to go your way.

Put another way, don’t you think we all really make our own luck by making responsible choices and doing the maintenance on the car, our teeth, and our taxes?

Think About It.

Artist to Artist- In the moment with Eva McQuade!

Dear Readers,

Eva McQuade is an award winning actress, writer, and producer.  To list all her roles would take most of my blog post, so we will just say, if the character has lines, she has said them. Here are just a few of those roles…

Two years ago, I was delighted to work alongside her in “My Big Fat Bahookie” 

BahookieShootEm
Pastor Adipose and Madeline Face Off

A body positive play written and directed by Lorella Loftus.  It was a joy to work with her and I am happy to say we became good friends out of that bonding experience. It doesn’t always happen with shows, sometimes you come together for those 12 weeks and you do a show, you tell a lie that tells the truth and everyone goes home and you see each other here and there but you don’t bond as strongly, that was not the case here.

Eva sat down with me to talk through her origin story, how she came to be in Austin and her latest project (opens Friday!) – Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Professor HastonEva McQuade, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, I know how in demand you are, so let’s dig right in, Are you named for anyone? 

EvaA soap opera star!

Professor Haston- That’s something we have in common! 

EvaJenny

Professor Haston- But back to you, tell us about how you became an actor?

Eva– In second grade, I was in a Valentine’s day show with a coke bottle choir. Had to play a song. “Love Me Tender” and I don’t know there was something about seeing all the people happy and the fact that I made them happy made me feel very happy. In high school I started doing more theatre, and I was in a Midsummers Nights Dream, where I was taught by a great teacher, Ms. Cindy Grauke, she was a wonderful person. She was a fun cool lady, and she was different and was really interested in helping kids to pursue their dream if they wanted to do theatre.  She was just very open to collaborating with kids to help them figure out what they wanted to do. I grew up and studied journalism and worked for newspapers in San Antonio. I graduated from college and was trying to be a grown up instead of a “starving artist”. My friend Rhys, he was working with a newly-formed theatre: The Overtime Theatre, and said the director John Poole knew me from college. When I came to watch his show, “Faustus,” I talked with John. He asked, “Why aren’t you acting?” I said, I don’t know, I never thought you could be an artist and be an adult and in order to do this, you had to live in a garret and eat brie” but then again, brie is a very expensive cheese so more likely you have to live in a garret and eat Velveeta. So he told me about this parody of “Flash Gordon” called “Flinch Gordon” and told me I should be in it and it just sort of snowballed from there, when I met my husband (then boyfriend) he lived in Austin and along with a thriving theatre and film community, made it an easy decision to move here. So I did.

Professor Haston-  How do you handle rejection?

Eva- Um, there have been some parts that have been very difficult to lose. I have auditioned for the role, Tracy Turnblad about 8 or 9 times. That has been the most difficult one to lose. Of course I get over it, and there are times which are harder than others. So many musicals I would love to act in and people just do not cast me in musicals. I say that and then again, I have done three over the course of my acting career. BUT I would love to do more musicals. (hint, hint)

(Interviewer note- EVA THE MUSICAL- IT BEGS TO BE MADE!)  Get on it, world! 

Professor Haston- What is your reaction as a Latina actor when you see that Latina parts are not being played by Latinas?

TeatroVivo

Eva-I think it’s a problem in Austin, which has always been surprising to me. Austin, Texas shouldn’t have a problem casting color/gender blind. We need more diverse casts and the spirit of inclusivity is missing from many Austin productions. So much can be learned by casting outside of the box/norm. So much potential for growth. I can only hope by continuing to audition for roles, maybe even especially those NOT directly asking for Latinas, things will change and I’ll make a difference in someone’s mind.

Nekkid

Professor Haston- We all have haters, how do you deal with them?

Eva– I am my worst hater. I am working on it. I am doing what I think is interesting and entertaining. I think people are being nice and they don’t really mean it. I have one guy who does not like me and he either does not mention me or he says really snarky things Aabout me, so I definitely have a hater.  Again, I tend to think that he is right, and everyone else is being kind. 

Professor Haston-  I get that, I mean like Bette Midler says, The trick to being famous is “you have to think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and KNOW you’re not”  sounds like you have a healthy dose of that and while we are on the subject.. I happen to know a lot of people who are NOT nice that have said you are talented. 

Eva- Who? 

Professor Haston- You want me to name names? 

Eva– See??????? 

Anyway—

Professor Haston- What inspires you?

Eva– The show I am working on is inspiring me and I hope it will inspire other people because it’s about our environment and the world we are living in now and it has a message. Doing a show with a message always inspires me. My Mom inspires me. She recognized my acting as something brave. You are doing a lot of things you want to do with your life, and you aren’t scared.  She was a single parent and she went back to school after a long time away, and she became a teacher and she spent 11 years taking care of my grandmother with dementia, so she did what she wanted to do, but it took her awhile to get there. It’s a great reminder we only get one life and you should do what it is you want to do with your life. What are we doing here if not doing what we want to do. Those are the things that will push me: the idea you only get one life to do it all in and why not?

Professor Haston- Why do you act? 

Eva– It’s a difficult thing to have a day job -some friends have multiple!- to get to do this thing  you really want to do. And to audition and then to wait and not get it. Sometimes you get it. It’s a terrible thing to want to be an actor, because you really aren’t yourself most of the time. I also think that is the wonderful thing about being an actor.  The first show I did was Romeo and Juliet – set it South Texas in the 1940’s and it was a bilingual production. This woman came up to me after the show and she was crying and she was with her daughter and she said, “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to hear a play like this in my language and it’s speaking to me and I understand it.” That was so much goodness and joy and love. She felt heard and listened to and that sticks with me, through the auditions and the rejections, and it’s why I do this.  Then one night after “My Big Fat Bahookie” – on the night a row of people left (yes, it happens!) and then one woman comes up to you with tears in her eyes and says, “I have had a problem with my body all my life and she doesn’t feel good about herself and this show helped her feel better about herself. That’s the person I do my art for and that’s why. It’s an honor to be able to do this thing we do called art.

Professor Haston- What advice do you want to share with my readers?

Eva- It’s never too late to do what you want to do.  Put it out in the universe that you want to do something, and then you will be amazed at the things that open up when you do that.  Ask yourself the question- Why not you? Don’t live a life of regret. It’s said that we go to school and we get a degree or degrees and then we get a job that maybe we like or maybe we don’t and then we spend about 40 years working to do something you really want to do. The goal would be to go and do something with your life. Travel, see plays, you only get one life in your life. GO DO SOMETHING WITH IT! 

Supportive people in your life are everything, it makes a tremendous difference.

My goal is, as ever to inspire one person every day, so I hope Eva’s words inspired you.

Think About It.

If you are in Austin, you can see Eva in action starting this Friday!

Last: An Extinction Comedy opens this Friday at the Vortex! It’s a scripted-improv paleo-futurist apocalyptic adventure through the waning days of our species with a band of comedians determined to be the pie in the face they wish to see in the world! Don’t miss it!

 

Artist to Artist- In the Moment with Professor Peña!

Dear Readers!

Gabriel Marcelo Peña is my dear friend, an actor of great talent, and we studied the Meisner method together under Richard Robichaux.  I met him when I was stage manager on his first big show in Austin “The 21 Would Be Lives of Phineas Hamm”

21wouldbe

written, directed and produced, by Rachel McGinnis Meissner and we became fast friends.  

Profs12and15

Recently he took some time out of his very busy schedule to talk with me about all things art, theatre and life!

To see more about Gab and his many talents- Check out his website- gabrielmpena.com

GabGodfatherShot

Without further ado, Let’s get to the interview!

Professor Haston-Who are you named for?

Professor Peña – My full name is Gabriel Marcelo Peña- My mother was going back and forth between two names.- “Damian” (like “The Omen”) and “Gabriel” and Pops said they should hedge their bets and go with the angel- so Gabriel it was. I love words and the origin of things so I looked it up and the name has Hebrew origins – Gabriel the Angel appears in Islam, Christianity and Judaism which appeals to my sense of a mixed and multicultural heritage. Additionally, in all those stories- Gabriel is a communicator– I am a communicator and even my nickname (Gab) means to talk.  Marcelo- comes from the Italian actor, Marcelo Mastrioanni –my pops was a big fan of him, so they went with that for the middle name. Also, my father was very close to, and really loved his grandfather who was an Italian immigrant to Mexico so the name is perhaps a bit of an homage to him, Rodolfo DiCapelo. I’m guessing at the spelling of his name, family legend is that he changed the spelling and/or pronunciation of his name when he entered the US and then AGAIN when he migrated to Mexico. I come from nomads.

Professor Haston- How did you come to be an actor?

Professor Peña- The origins of it – I was in middle school and I felt very isolated and very “other”, in large part due to being a Latino in a Black and White Southern town, and due to a lottery system program I got thrown into a different school. I thought, great I already don’t have friends, now I go to another school where I will have still have NO friends. I got a chance to do the morning announcements, which I thought were boring and stale, and so when I got picked to do them I presented them with a point of view and some enthusiasm and people started to acknowledge me. This was a cool new experience at the time. Then after that, I copied my sister, Paula (thanks P!) and followed her to an acting camp and loved it. From then on, it developed into, “Oh, now I get to do things that I don’t get to do in my real life” Like my first kiss, was a stage kiss – Or on stage, you get to yell at someone or beat someone up- you get to do this because it’s written down and it’s the job. I really fell in love with it then, I realized it was a license to do and experience things fully or freely in a way that I don’t always get to in my daily life.

Professor Haston- Can you talk about the hard parts of being an actor or times that it hasn’t been so great?

Professor Peña- I remember intentionally distancing myself from it once. I was studying theatre in college when I went abroad for a semester in Argentina. I was not fully dedicated to the idea of performance as a profession. In fact,  at the time, I was very deliberate about not doing any theatre, not seeing any plays. Yet, while abroad, a guy at school reached out about doing “True West” I kept finding myself jotting down ideas and thinking about the role. So even when I wasn’t trying to do theatre, it followed me anyway. Fast forwarding to now, I moved to New York a year ago, and it’s been an adventure. New York is no joke, although I have found a slice of it that I absolutely love. I have a B.A. in Theatre and I have an MFA in Acting and I will say it’s been a big adjustment going from acting and artistry EVERY day at school to not having a guarantee of when the next role will be. To give you an idea of the importance of the drive required out here, last year, on one of the casting sites I use for auditions, I self-submitted 141 times and heard back less than 3% of the time. But, overall, I find it is best to forget about each door knock and move on to the next one. 

Professor Haston- In addition to being a writer, singer, actor and musician and you are a producer of multilingual plays- How do you choose just one to focus on when you are talented in so many things?

Professor Peña – My identity as an artist is ever-changing and evolving. For a long time, I thought of myself as a music person, then as an actor. Then as an actor who played the rebel, or outcast. Also, my Latinidad, or relationship to being Latino, is something that has developed a lot and that’s a big influence as well on my art. I once heard that an actor is always working, though not always employed. It’s the idea, the notion, that you are not always getting paid to do it, but you can work on your craft no matter what. To measure that “work” I started using an app called “Toggl”  (because it’s what we do in the 21st century) to track how much time I was putting into my part-time job (because I have to eat) and track how much time I was devoting to my acting career. I decided to challenge myself and see if I could spend as much time on my acting as I was spending on my part time job. I think “Toggl” is meant to keep track of business projects, however, I use the free version of the app for what I need and I love it. I have it on my computer, iPad, and phone and I’m able to retroactively add events if I don’t use/have one of those devices to record my time and/or if I forget to. I’ve divided my time into 5 categories (I had “commuting” as a 6th separate category but now I include any commute time in with the activities I’m recording). This is, again, a way to see if I’m balancing my time well. If I’m investing too heavily in one area or not enough in another. While the goal is to at least have 50/50 between my part time and the other categories I find it important to remind myself that the ENTIRE amount of time I’m recording is an investment in my acting career. It’s a great way to motivate myself when I feel somewhat powerless or stuck and it also validates that I am putting my energies into my dreams. A big part of this is not beating myself up for the results, it’s a barometer and allows me to be aware. In the show “Slings and Arrows” a Canadian show about a Shakespeare company, they say, “Acting is an act of faith” – and I think that’s true but it doesn’t hurt to plan and prep.

The following are the categories I use to track my time and I’ll list examples of what I mean next to them:

Action – Acting Gigs, Rehearsals, Classes, Workshops, Working/Memorizing material, anything that would fall under “Acting”, “Performance”, etc.

Administration – Going through breakdowns, Sending submissions, Updating my Website/Resume/Headshot, etc. The “Paper Work” part of being an actor – which is a SUPER important part of it.

Associative – Meeting other professionals (actors, directors, so on), Creative Projects (music involving my experiences as a Latino actor in New York City), Research (which theaters are equity houses, info on casting offices, etc). The moves that are important for “playing the long game” of an acting career.  

Well-being – Meditations, Workouts, Physical Therapy, seeing plays and movies and “good” tv, taking in museums and art, day trips.

The events/practices/things that “fill me up”. 

Job – Thing that helps me make money to keeping doing what I want to do. It’s important that I title it “job” rather than “career” because it helps me keep perspective on the ultimate goal and/or what I want to prioritize.

Professor Haston- What is your reaction as a Latino actor when you see that Latino parts are not being played by Latinos?

Professor Peña- I have a strong personal reaction, professional reaction, and an intellectual reaction. My journey is complicated in that, I am not what popular media says is a Latino and I play with that dynamic in my music and my writing. Someone, i.e. popular culture, trying to tell me what my identity is, or should be, feels like a quintessential experience of a minority or person of color in the United States. It’s extremely complicated and very personal and also something that I think that hopefully is becoming more and more of a discussion, and little by little is getting more complicated, in a good way, problematized in a good way, and righted in a just way.

Professor Haston- What do you think makes you a successful artist?

Professor Peña – I think I feel successful when I can think to myself, I made “this” – I made that role. That isn’t to say there were not other people who contributed, the writers, the director, the crew, they all contribute but I like to feel like, “I put my name on that”. When I finish a song, I get the same feeling, that’s when I feel successful.  It also validates me as an artist to talk about my art. Doing things like this interview helps me stay present to the idea and feeling that I want to do this acting thing, out of the wonderful irrationality that is love.

Professor Haston- What advice would you give to your younger self?

Professor Peña- (chortles) Oh man, so many things…… Okay, well two things:

  1. “In the best way possible, if you can, let yourself take it less seriously.”
  2. “As patient as you are, sometimes you aren’t, and that’s okay, but believe me, believe me, believe me, the more you embrace the idea of not having a clock on things the better, better, better you will feel.”

Professor Haston- What is some of the best advice you have ever received?

Professor Peña- Ooh, there is a long list from my folks that just lives in my skin. However, one of the conscious responses that comes to mind is from Richard Robichaux- (Professor at University of California at San Diego),  “Trust that you are enough.”

The Meisner technique, as taught by him, helped me be as dangerous as I wanted to be, in the context of a stage, without anyone getting hurt or going too far. His teaching and his classes really helped me evolve back to being a kid and finding that sense of play. His technique helped me boil it down to the basics and really get back to myself.

Professor Haston- How do you respond to criticism because we all have haters!

Professor Peña- I love the framing of that question. I actually like critiques. I think there are so many ways to take it. Like, Oh cool, I see how I can take that and make it better because of what you are offering me. I can always “leave it” instead of taking it if I disagree. I have been fortunate enough to not have people just be mean for the sake of being mean. I don’t do or like social media so I’m sure that helps. I prefer face to face with people. Also, grad school is an excellent opportunity to learn the value of critique.

Professor Haston- Who is your favourite artist and why?

Professor Peña- Bruce Springsteen- He is my favourite because I have always felt an authenticity from the guy. I first listened to a “greatest hits album” because my pops had mentioned Bruce, and I remember hearing “Born to Run” and immediately loved the song. I was so in it, and then I didn’t like any of the other songs on the album. But because I was in middle school and only bought one cd every other month, (which was my favourite event as a kid cause I LOVED music, still do) I had to listen to the record over and over again and it grew on me. Bruce, in addition to having great music, is a great lyricist and storyteller and the poetry and lyricism in music was a new element for me to focus on. Before I was about instrumental or sonic experience of music with bands like Led Zeppelin. With Bruce’s music AND lyrics, though, there’s the sense that every song is about somebody that is fighting to stay alive, fighting for something better. The fact that he tells stories about people who are not pretty and up there and rich. He tells stories of teenage kids trying to get out of a dead end town, he tells stories about people working all day in a factory. He tells stories of immigrants who die crossing the Rio Grande. He seems like a real, kind, human being. A very wise, very empathetic guy. When he performs, he steps on stage and unzips his skin and ribcage and is just out there.

Professor Haston- What inspires you?

Professor Peña- What inspires me are the souls around me that unlock a part of my soul. My family, my partner, my friends. What inspires me are artists that are telling “people people” stories. I get inspired by any environment I am in. I was going to say the city, but the truth is, I am inspired where I am all the time. When I was in California, it was California. When I was in North Carolina, It was North Carolina. I am in New York, it’s New York. I’m very fortunate in that sense, to be constantly surrounded by inspiration.

GabInspiredSeattle

It seems a good thing for us all to take away, “Be inspired, right where you are,” and a good place to end so you can head to Arkansas to start rehearsal in Native Gardens

It would be impossible to encapsulate the entirety of awesomeness that is “Gab” in just one interview and that’s actually a good thing. How boring would life be if one interview covered the whole of the human experience of one person?

Think About It.

Princess Awesome Asked ME to Guest Post! How cool is that?

Dear Readers!

Today I am honored to tell you about a great thing that happened!

I wrote a post for a company I love called Princess Awesome, they let me know it would be posted today. I love this company and love their message.

In their words- “We believe that if a girl likes purple and also likes trucks, she should be able to wear a purple truck dress. And if a girl likes princesses and also aliens, then an alien princess skirt is for her.”

In mine–

Their goal is to “change the conversation” we have with little girls, with particular attention to how their clothes define who they are, it’s so easy to get lost in that mindset of “little girls wear pink and are pretty and nice and don’t get muddy” well… to that I say, “Open your mind” and also, “Meet my daughter” she LOVES getting messy and doesn’t care about wet in the rain and if she slips in the mud, she gets right up and smiles and heads right back to what made her dirty in the first place!

So if that is the case, maybe what we think about little girls isn’t really accurate, maybe it’s time for that to change… Past time, really!

Think About It.

Here’s the post- 🙂   “And Not But”

 

Happy New Month!

Dear Readers,

If you are wondering why I am wishing you a happy new month, it’s because I was reminded that we are 3 months into the year 2019 and it might just be time to take a look at the resolutions, or as I prefer to call them, “promises I have made to myself”

Instead of a resolution, what promise will you keep that you have made to yourself?- Professor Haston

Some people are talking about “less screen time”– We have touched on that in the blog before, that is different for everyone. Though I consider myself to be very conscious of that, it was not until I started tracking it that I realized how much I do use my phone so I became aware of it and have already made that a new promise to myself.

I promise when I am with my child, I will be on the floor and “looking at her and playing with her and my phone will be in the other room”

I have been doing this about 50% of the time, I think that is good and I can be better. Sometimes the phone is in the room and if she is playing with another toy or with her book, I will occasionally text or scroll. I think that is okay, and it’s important to me that she never thinks my phone is more important than she is so I have developed the not so great habit of sneaking my phone out and back under covers but I don’t want to teach her sneaky behavior either so I guess the goal is back to 100% no using phone when she is awake.. I might not be able to make that goal but here in the examination of it, I see it needs work. It’s progress, not perfection, right?

But enough about me — how about you?

What promises have you made? What promises have you kept? Do you need to hit that “reset” button ? Forgive yourself if you are not as far down that road as you want to be. You are on the road, aren’t you? So let’s have some praise for that and then move into whatever your “NEXT” is.

Think About It.