Music Art is Life Playlist 8 Briana Lane 10 Ainae Nielsen 14 Meredith Oâ€™Connor 16 Arieh Berl 20
Culture Noelle Bercy 42 Sofie Sund Interview 46 Sofie Sund Photography Feature 48 Sarati 54 Beyond The Realm of Minimalism 57 Trinitee Stokes 66 Modern Woman 70 Jessica Pietrak 76 Words Of Wisdom: Behzad Dabu 80
Fashion Briana Roy 24 Jenasha Roy 30 Archangela Chelsea 34 Words of Wisdom: Kristy Sparow 36
THE TEAM Editor in Chief Carol Wright is a Junior studying Journalism and Business Entertainment at American University. She realized at the age of eleven that photography was her passion and it was photography that ultimately led her to create Nyota Magazine. Carol is also passionate about public speaking and was given the chance to give a TEDx Talk at the age of seventeen where she talked about the lessons she learned from creating Nyota. Carol loves to create and hopes that wherever life takes her in the future, photography will be at the center.
Assistant Editor Jaha Knight is our Assistant Editor and one of the newest additions to the Nyota Magazine team. She is a Junior at American University, and is studying Broadcast Journalism and Business Administration.
Creative Director Niara Wright is a motivational speaker, fashion stylist, fashion designer and all around creative. She has directed and styled two fashion shows at the Cherry Hill Mall and one in Philadelphia Fashion Week and has styled fashion editorials for the Courier Post and SJ Magazine. Niara also taught entrepreneurship and served as a counselor for Independent Means at Oxford University, England. Niara is the CEO and President of TWL(The Wright Look)Personal Image Firm, owns The House of Flair Lifestyle Boutique and helped her sister, Carol create Nyota magazine. Niara has a Fashion Industry Certificate from the Teen Vogue x Parsons program and is continuing her education at Rowan at Burlington County where she is getting her associates in fashion design. 4
Art Director Bella Wattles is currently an Art Manager living in Los Angeles, California. After growing up in Philadelphia, she moved to Boston to study Marketing at Emerson College where her love of Advertising, Graphic Design, and Illustration developed. In LA, she enjoys hiking, cooking, and anything related to art.
Lead Graphic Designer Nicole Cox is currently a Junior, majoring in Graphic Design at American University. Starting at a young age, Nicole has always enjoyed creating art, whether it was writing stories or painting with watercolors, she always found a way to create, but she never expected the computer to be used as another medium for her creativity. Thanks to the help from her college professor, Kate Resnick, she was able to explore her interest in Graphic design and hopes to one day pursue a career in the field and become a User Interface Designer.
Graphic Designer Rania Lamouri is currently a Med Student. She grew up in Morocco divided between two different cultures with a very rich artistic history, French and Moroccan. At a young age Rania started to develop a passion for Music, Cinema and Photography which pushed her to pursue playing the piano for 10 years. Even though her academic journey diverted towards science she never stopped exploring her artistic side and started creating graphic illustrations.
FEATURES Briana Lane Ainae Nielsen Meredith Oâ€™Connor Arieh Berl Briana Roy Jenasha Roy Archangela Chelsea Yusuf Kristy Sparow Noelle Bercy Sofie Sund Sarati Trinitee Stokes Jessica Pietrak Behzad Dabu
CONTRIBUTORS Raissa Sapardan Julia Kropiewnicki Sofie Sund
EDITOR’S LETTER I’m excited to introduce our very first ‘Art is Life’ issue. A quote that perfectly sums up why we wanted this issue to happen is “the earth without art is just eh” by Demetri Martin. Even though we’re constantly hearing about funding for arts programs being slashed and the trope of the “starving” artist is thrown in everyone’s face, we at Nyota know that art is vital to life. It’s one of the best ways to express yourself and show off your creative side. Each person featured in this issue can thank their love of art for getting them where they are in their careers and I think you’ll be inspired by their interviews. We also are featuring illustrations from artist Jessica Pietrak, which you will see throughout the issue, and you can find out more about her in her interview in the culture section. I’m also excited to introduce three new team members, Rania Lamouri and Bella Wattles, who are our new graphic designers and Naa Lamptey-Mills Nyota’s very first intern. At Nyota, we are always focused on growth and I can’t wait to see how our team continues to grow. I have to personally thank our previous Art Director, Haley Bowcutt for helping us bring the magazine to the next level. Haley has graduated from college and is taking the next steps in her career, but we’ll never forget the great work she’s done for us. Anyway, I will let you all dig into the newest issue. As usual, I hope Nyota inspires you to go after your dreams no matter the circumstances and you all continue to shine like the stars you are. Carol Wright Editor in Chief @_carol_wright
Art is life Curated by Briana Lane
Creature Comfort / Arcade Fire American Dream / LCD Soundsystem The Less I know The Better / Tame Impala Half Light / Rostam Ivy / Frank Ocean My Enemy / Chvrches feat. Matt Berninger Mystery of Love / Sufjan Stevens Laser Gun / M83 J-Boy / Phoenix Love Interest / Dear Boy The Wave / Miner Three Rings / Grizzly Bear
Briana Lane Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Benjo Arwas Since you were a kid did you have a feeling you would be a performer? I did, yeah. I’d perform in front of the mirror, make homemade music videos with friends, did all the school plays--- the whole deal. I think growing up in Los Angeles also contributed to my desire to be an actress. Being surrounded by the industry throughout my childhood made it feel a bit more accessible so starting a career felt like a familiar territory and a natural transition. You are also a writer. Did any books or scripts in particular spark your love for writing? Mostly TV shows that I grew up on influenced me: SNL, Sex and the City, 30Rock. They all have smart writing. Building a story can be easy but to create one that is providing commentary on something that is in the zeitgeist paired with perfected timed punchlines? That’s where genius trickles in. I think great writing shines in that little sliver between honesty and great rhythm. You graduated from UCLA, how did their theatre program help shape you as an actress? What was your favorite piece that you worked on during that time? The program actually did the opposite of what I think it intended! UCLA is a wonderful school and has an incredible theater program but the connection between school and real life job opportunities was limited so it forced me to take matters into my own hands and seek out representation while in school. I did a series of plays there but the biggest takeaway I had was the community I was a part of. I still work with and collaborate with a lot of my college friends which, to me, is invaluable because it makes this industry feel a whole lot smaller and safer. You had the opportunity to work at E! News. What was that experience like? Did it help you with becoming comfortable in front of the camera? I really enjoyed my time hosting. It taught me everything I know about professionalism, how press works, but most of all, how much it was actually not right for me! I’ll still host from time to time if the project feels right. In 2015, I hosted a spoof news show called “The Desk” that felt more like Weekend Update on SNL than a real entertainment news show. A show like that brings me so much artistic joy but the rest of the hosting world is really no longer in line with my end goal. I think that’s the beauty of evolving and growing into your own skin. You realize what sticks and what doesn’t. At companies like E!, I realized that hosting was no longer serving my purpose and so I just focused on acting from that point on. 11
I read that you are a big ‘Saturday Night Live’ fan (same here!). Who are some of your favorite writers from the show? Do you ever pull inspiration from SNL sketches when you are working on your own projects? I love this question!! Two of my favorite writers from SNL were Tina Fey and John Mulaney (for obvious reasons). Watching SNL changed my life. It inspired me to start doing impersonations at a young age and it honestly gave me the confidence to pursue acting and writing. It also got me my first job at CBS. I was 21 at the time and still in college, and I auditioned a whole stand-up act with a string of characters. They were looking for fresh, young minds who could write well for an animated show so they needed great voices and punch lines. I got the job and ended up writing for them for a bit then they asked if I could host… And I said yes! (lies) and stumbled my way through a year and a half there hosting multiple shows and writing for CBS interactive. It was incredible!! How did the opportunity to work on the show “9-1-1” come about? What is it like working with the cast? I got the audition through my reps and had the most fun working on it. I love everything Ryan Murphy does. I had the opportunity to recur on one of his other shows, NBC’s “The New Normal”, and the one thing I notice that all of his shows have in common is there is always, no matter how dramatic the show is, some kind of metaphorical wink buried in each episode. Cheekiness and drama on television to me is the best combination. And the cast of 9-1-1? Dreamboat gentlemen. My scenes were with Peter Krause and Oliver Stark who are equally kind, intelligent, respectful and insanely talented men. What about the film ‘One Nation Under God’ stuck out to you? Do you think it is a needed conversation to be having considering today’s political climate? Absolutely. What drew me in initially when I read the script was the message it represented: stand up for what you believe in even if it
means going against the grain. Not to dive too deep into our country’s political state, but in a time of such severe party division, I think coming together as a country with an open and accepting mind is so necessary. The way in which my character Emma was written also struck a chord with me when I read the script. She’s a feisty, strong willed and sarcastic journalist who rises up in a very male centric news studio. I admired her tenacity and persistence in the storyline and it felt like another necessary story to tell in this dawn of female empowerment. Can you tell us a bit about your band, Winslow, and what we can expect from your upcoming album release? Yes! Kate Miner (of the band Miner) and I have been collaborating and writing together for the past year and are releasing our EP this month (June). The songs are a set of stories about love and heartbreak centering in and around Los Angeles. The sound is a mix of synth heavy soundscapes, modern indie beats and has echoes of Kate’s folk roots. Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? With art, I can work towards fulfilling my purpose, fully express myself and tell the stories that I think need telling. It started out as just an outlet for me at a young age but now, has become a part of my daily life and a huge part of my adult identity. Art hasn’t so much changed my life as it simply just is my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. What advice do you have for aspiring actors and writers? Practice, practice, practice and when you think you’re done, practice more!
Ainae Nielsen Interview by Carol Wright When did you develop a passion for singing? When did you start writing songs? I’ve always loved to sing since I was young. I started writing sappy love songs when I was about eight years old. Who are some of your music inspirations? Two of my favorite musical inspirations would have to be Amy Winehouse and Jazmine Sullivan. Which part of the song making process is your favorite? The best part of the song making process is sitting down and writing. That’s where all the fun happens. Tell us a bit about your EP “Contort.” How long did it take to put the entire EP together? Where did you pull inspiration? “Contort” was a project that I had been dreaming of for about two years. The idea behind it is the fact that I felt like I was contorting in and out of spaces, relationships, experiences that didn’t feel like home to me, and now I’m in a point in my life where I feel close to home, or at least comfortable in the journey to finding it. I wanted to name the journey that I continue to walk unaware of what the future holds and feeling vulnerable and valuing that. Hence the name “Contort.” I began the project in late summer of 2017, I was writing music almost every day and finding beats that I would fall in love with. It took roughly eight months to complete the project. I pulled inspiration from my life experiences as well as ideas that I’ve always played around in my head, like the crazy
“girlfriend” or being trapped on mars to find a temporary love, and even reworking music to look into different perspectives like in my song “Jolene.” What is your favorite song off of your EP? My favorite song would have to be Mixed Signals, because it’s really fun to perform. You also create events to help promote young artists. Who are some of your favorite up and coming artists? How do you discover artists in the DMV area? My favorite up, and coming artists would have to be HYPE, Mahalia, Eliza, and FLOWZ. I’m always looking for new people to listen to, across all platforms. I go to concerts and open mics and reach out to people I’d love to work with. Our Theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? Art is an expression for me. We breathe and create in the ways we communicate, dress, express ourselves, and think. Art is what we are. I’ve been singing for a long time, but I found myself interested in many mediums of art. I love photography, graphic design, screen-printing, and writing they’re the realist ways I can let go and be myself and relate to others. What advice would you have for aspiring artists? Enjoy the process of creating your art and most importantly fall in love with your work before expecting others too.
Meredith O’Connor Interview by Carol Wright Meredith O’Connor is a teen pop star and anti bullying icon whose radio hit songs are loved by millions. Her positive message has had fans claim its changed and even saved their lives, and has been a driving force in the music industry. Meredith O’Connor is also the Celebrity Youth Advocate at for the NGOCSD-NY with the United Nations for anti-bullying, naming her iconic in her positive impact on fans and youth with self esteem. Her music has been featured on Radio Disney, Teen Nick, NBC and MTV, and has sold out headlining concerts all over the world. She has been recognized by Congress, the Senate, and the California State Legislature for her international impact and influence on her fans.
When did you first become interested in music? I first became interested when I realized that dancing wasn’t my strongpoint! I actually tried ballet for many years since age five but finally at eight realized I was better suited for musical theater. From there, I began to realize that was a talent I had and even through the years to come it was what got me through the hardest of times. It led me to my first modeling contract, which from there introduced me to my manager Rick Galvin (who was the philanthropist behind a fashion show I was walking for) and connected me with the first label that helped to make ‘Celebrity’ go on the radio and become a viral music video. What was it like performing in front of a live audience for the first time? Terrifying because although I did musical theater having ‘my own script’ to follow centered around the direction of my team for songs I wrote at first made me feel vulnerable. I remember the first packed out crowd we had was right after my debut single went viral at the Highline Ballroom in New York. But once I saw the crowd of fans who knew the words and sang along it became one of the best moments of my life and so much fun. There’s nothing like singing along with a crowd of people who are having a great time as well. Now I am a lot less nervous when performing for those types of crowds, it’s just fun. What advice do you have for those that are being bullied and can’t see a way out? I’m honestly most driven in my career by the encounters with people experiencing that, because I know
how scary the feeling is. There are so many things I wish I knew and I feel honored to be able to have a platform to be the role model that I wish I had growing up. With that being said I like to use myself as an example, and even other fans who have talked to me at meet and greets or through messages/letters with stories on how alone the bullying has made them feel. After hearing hundred of thousands, and millions out there who all feel alone I’ve realized that we are in fact the opposite.We are all survivors of something that will make us stronger simply by living through it, and that the damage it causes can be fixed by talking to those we trust. For me coming to terms with my childhood to the public after my first song came out taught me that the best and the brightest are targeted as well, and none of us should ever let it damage our self image. That is why I (as well as my Advisor argo LaZarzo) have launched ‘Empower Yourself, Write Your Story’ with the United Nation’s NGOSCDNY to let people know that there are ways to solve the problem. How did it feel to become a UN celebrity youth leader? What has that experience been like for you? It’s been a dream come true and incredible to be around such like minded passionate people, youth as well, getting involved in creating positive change. I am the Honorary Advisor and Celebrity Youth Activist for anti-bullying with the UN’s NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY as well as recently announced on the board for Montessori United Nations. We are working on a fundraising project with them which I cannot wait to announce titled ‘You are Not Alone’ with fellow activists from Disney, Teen
Nick and many more who I cannot wait to announce. What inspired the music video for ‘Just the thing’? What was it like seeing the final product? Before they casted it with Luke Bilyk and had it on Teen Nick’s Top Ten etc-- my manager Rick Galvin brainstormed a concept inspired by an old tv episode from The Twilight Zone to show that ‘normal’ and ‘weird’ are relative terms. My interpretation of the video as well as my message in the song is reshaping the idea that we all must fit in with certain types of people we feel we need to gain approval from but instead recognize that our differences are the very things that will lead to success.
career happened I used art and my niche so to speak to keep my hopes up that things will get better. I highly recommend embracing the power of art be it music, painting or what have you to help get you through the darkest of times when you feel alone. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? I would say that if it’s what they love, to not take no for an answer.
You’ve grown a very loyal fanbase. What is it like interacting with fans, and how does it feel to know you’ve made a genuine impact on their lives? It’s honestly my favorite part of the job. The more fans I meet who tell me how its impacted them or even just as much as challenges that they had to overcome that the music may have helped makes me grow even more passionate about the message as I truly believe as I have seen it myself that some of the worlds best, brightest and most gifted are experiencing or have experienced bullying and its so important to me for them to see that what they claim is not at all true. Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? I really never knew I would be signed or even on the radio- I had no relatives in the industry luckily just an incredible team behind me, but even more my music
Arieh Berl Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Shabnam Ferdowsi Growing up did you always want to be a musician? I was into lots of things growing up, but I really sunk my teeth into music when I was around 10 or 11. I got into the drums, and then the movie School Of Rock with Jack Black was really a turning point that made me want to be a guitarist. My friend Chopper had a bass, and we used to play together when we were like 10 playing AC/DC and Ramones covers and stuff like that. I’ve probably played most days of my life since then, and haven’t really ever super seriously considered doing anything else really just because I’m so attracted to music naturally. What is your song writing process? That’s a really good question. My process really varies on a per song basis, but I’ve noticed I usually come up with my best ideas when I’m in motion in some way. Maybe I’m walking or hiking or driving. But usually doing something where my mind is totally clear. I use my voice memos religiously to record all my ideas and then try and get to the studio as quickly as possible to get the idea down while it is still super fresh. When I was making this EP, I was also writing a song every single day and then going back and flushing out the production later. I also really try and have no phones in the studio while I am working because I see them as a major distraction which I don’t think is good for my creativity or focus. I guess the last part of my process is that I always make sure to play the song all the way through on a piano or an acoustic instrument, because I think that the song needs to sound good like that before going in deep on the production side of things. What inspires the sound of your music? I definitely got some Tame Impala vibes from the song ‘Just To Get By’. Tons of things inspire me musically. I’m predominately a guitarist and a songwriter, and am used to playing in bands and jamming so I think that lots of the grooves and tons can be said to be inspired by coming from that background. I also try to listen to 2 albums every single day when I have time; one older classic album and one new album. These are also the first songs that I really produced all the way out on my own, so I was kind of just going with what felt right. I was definitely learning a lot as I was going, and definitely lost track of however much time I spent working on tones and things like that. 21
How did you feel when you got signed to Huh What & Where? How has that already changed your music career? I wasn’t ever planning on making Pink Skies a full-blown project, or even releasing these songs. But I ended up showing the demos to some friends who I really trust especially JT Gagarin, my brother for life. He was really the one who even put it out there to release these songs. So obviously, I was super surprised when HW&W got in touch. But it was really exciting, and still is crazy to think about. I think that the main way it’s really changed my music career is to just have a group of people who really believe in you that are backing whatever you do has been big for me. In other ways though, it hasn’t really changed anything. I’m still just me, and just doing what I’ve always done. Living and breathing, making music and walking my dog. It’s all just part of the journey. Who are some of your music inspirations? So many musical inspirations...I’d have to say the Red Hot Chili Peppers are probably the biggest for me. They symbolize so much freedom to me in their music and style. I love John Frusciante, he is probably my biggest inspiration as a guitarist. Growing up Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead were pretty huge to me. My parents listened to a ton of the Dead, ‘Workingman’s Dead’ was probably one of the first things I remember hearing. I also love punk music which has alway been a large inspiration of freedom, and not caring what other people think about what I’m making. Some of my all-time favorite producers/musicians that are super inspiring to me are people like Devonte Hynes, Pharrell, and Kevin Parker (Tame Impala). I listen to way too much music though to really keep track of my inspirations properly. Where can our readers check out your music? Spotify:https://open.spotify.com/artist/52 hSI2C4N5tiTqSRIvWfyV?si=PiSj8CUVSQNzdWcqKzMew Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/ pinkskiesmusic
Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? Art has made my life what it is. Sound is the decoration of time, and vision is the decoration of space. Art has helped me see the universe in a completely new perspective. I think that nature is art in it’s own way which is why I love doing lots of things outside like backpacking and surfing and camping. The main way that art has really changed my life though is that it has given me a real way for me to express myself and get out what I see and hear in my head so that it is real. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians? I would say to try and stay away from trends. Don’t try and chase a sound that is popular at the moment, just kind of do your own thing. Make music like no one is ever going to hear it. Make your music an honest expression of how you are feeling at that moment in time. The moment you stop trying to impress people with your music is when people will start listening. Don’t listen to music industry people trying to somehow make money off of your work. It also helps me to remember that I am a little pea, a tiny little speck on this planet and nothing that I do really matters in the greater picture of the universe. These are things that helped me free myself. Don’t think, just create. What are you waiting for? The universe awaits.
Briana Roy Interview by Carol Wright Photos courtesy of Larry Brownstein and Coachella Magazine When did you first become interested in acting? I started as a child model at the age of five doing print ads in Miami which by the way is my hometown. I have done print ads for companies such as Blue Cross Blue shield, Walmart, Target etc. Then I booked my first local commercial following multiple ones. My first acting job was a short film called “Bad English” then two years later I booked a lead role “Nina” in the SAG film (Reclaim) alongside John Cusack, Ryan Phillippe, Rachelle Lefevre, Luis Guzman and two time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver. The film was distributed by Lionsgate and also on Netflix. Since then I’ve been acting and it has become one of my passions and I’m going to keep on growing in the acting department and I really enjoy it. What was it like filming the movie Reclaim? Can you tell us a bit about your character ? My character Nina in the movie Reclaim was really about child trafficking. Hmmm, who is Nina? Nina is a little girl from Haiti who after her parents passed away after the earthquake that happened in Haiti in 2010, got conducted to Puerto Rico by an adoption agent (played by Jacki Weaver) in a hope to find a better life and that’s when a lot of things got twisted when Benjamin (Played by John Cusack) stepped in. Did you get any advice from the veteran actors on set? They taught me so much and I really appreciate all the tips they gave me. Working with all those experienced actors like John Cusack, Ryan Phillippe, Jacki Weaver, Luis Guzman and Rachelle Lefevre was truly awesome.
What is your favorite memory from on set? I have got to say my favorite memory on set so far was in Puerto Rico n the last day of filming Reclaim. My on screen adopted parents (Played by Ryan Phillippe & Rachelle Lefevre) surprised me with a card full of kind and welcoming words and some nice gifts. It was Awesome! As a young, black girl in the industry. How important has it been for you to stay true to yourself and show diversity on screen? As a young black girl in the industry, it is very important to me to show and spread my diversity on screen especially right now when diversity is very in demand. I am a proud afro carrier and working hard to make an impact on young black girls like me in a way to encourage them to rock their natural hair wherever they are. For example, I always ask to wear my hair in an Afro while shooting a project, and every chance I get. By the way, so many people reach out to me on a daily basis on social media about my hair / Afro which is my signature look & yaaasss I got to do it, show my FRO cause I rock #AfroPrincess “oui c’est moi Briana Roy.” Are there particular actors you hope to work with in the future? I have a long list of Actors/Actresses I would like to work with, for example, Morgan Freeman, Vin Diesel, Taraji P Henson, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Hart,
Gabrielle Union, Kerry Washington,Viola Davis, Matt Damon,Will Smith, Adam Sandler, Danny Glover, Samuel L Jackson and the list goes on and on. Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? Huh what a coincidence this issue is based on art and I’m part of this specific issue where in real life I did attend Art classes in Miami at the“ Little Haiti Cultural Center” for three years and Miami times wrote an article about the art school and it happened to be my picture while I was painting something. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? My advice for aspiring actors is to be you, stay focused and have your eyes on the prize. If that’s what you choose and love then go for it and please don’t focus on the negativity keep growing and glowing while doing what you enjoy.
Jenasha Roy Interview by Carol Wright Photos courtesy of Coachella Magazine, Brownstein Photo and theCelebatographer
You started modeling at the age of seven. As you got older what made you continue modeling? As I got older I discovered more and more that I have a big passion for modeling and yasss that’s what I’m going to continue to do as well as acting and I enjoy it. Which models do you look up to in the industry? I would say Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Giselle Bündchen and of course Janice Dickinson who claimed the title as the ( First Supermodel ) and I believe I can become a Supermodel. Do you have a dream designer you’d love to work with? There are so many fabulous Designers I would love to work with! But let me say a few right now: Versace, Moschino, Emilio pucci, Ralph Lauren etc. You also are into fashion design. Describe your personal style In three words. As a fashionista I would describe myself as fashion forward, a risk taker and street style combined with class. You and your sister plan to launch a clothing brand called “JB ROY COLLECTION” can you tell us anything about it? Actually we have plans to launch our clothing brand which we’re going to call “JB ROY COLLECTION: it’s going to be a collection straight from our hearts. Pieces that young girls will fall in love with. Affordable, com-
fortable, stylish and everyone will enjoy wand want to rock! You proudly wear your hair in an Afro on the runway and off. How important is it to show other black models that they can proudly wear their natural hair? My fro is everywhere and that’s the first thing that makes people stop and say “I love your fro, you’re bringing the 60s back.” It makes me even prouder to see that my fro attracts and inspires all genders and races. I want to make an impact on young black girls like me to feel free to be able to carry their hair natural more & more that’s why it’s very important to me. Our theme for this issue is “Art is life”. How has art changed your life? Art changed my life in so many ways it makes me feel free about my emotions /feelings, and it’s my way to see others through whatever they’re going through. In other words, art brings me happiness. What advice do you have for aspiring models? My advice to aspiring models is that you don’t have to be like everyone else just be yourself and enjoy it.
Archangela Chelsea Yusuf Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Adi Nugroho Santoso What initially got you interested in becoming a makeup artist? I have been doing this ever since I was 15 years old. My older sister introduced me to makeup and after that I fell in love with it! What was your first big job as a makeup artist and how did that help you shape your career? My first big client was the French singer Aria Crescendo. She loved what I did for her and she introduced me to a couple of her celebrity friends. Working with her really helped build my portfolio because of the connections I made. Being that you are originally from Indonesia, do you ever bring beauty trends you see there to your clients based in the US? Of course! We have different trends in Indonesia but it’s fun to be able to adjust and mix the Indonesian and US trends together to create beautiful art. You are currently a brand ambassador for Lakme Cosmetics. What has that experience been like? Which of their products is your favorite?
great brand to be connected with. My favorite products are the Moonlit Highlighter and the Lakme Argan Oil Lip Color. What’s a makeup trend you wish would disappear? Nothing! I see makeup as art and I appreciate all the trends and looks that makeup artists come up with. We should be able to follow trends and adjust to whatever differences come our way! What are beauty products you swear by? Lucas Papaw Ointment, Lakme Moonlit Highlighter, and Koh Gen Do Foundation. Can’t live without them. Our theme for this issue is “Art is Life”. How has art changed your life? Art has made my life so colorful. It shapes me and made me who I am. I literally work with it everyday. What advice do you have for aspiring makeup artists? Do it while you can and believe in your dream. You can’t rely on someone else believing in your dream.
Amazing! To be a brand ambassador at such a young age is a huge blessing for me. Lakme Cosmetics is a
Words of Wisdom
Kristy Sparow Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Kristy Sparow
When did you first fall in love with photography? When I was really young actually. I started taking photos in my early teenage years and I would say by the time I was 16 I knew I’d have a career in it. My career started to take off when I moved to Paris in 2009. What made you move to Paris and start your career there? Everything was very serendipitous around my move overseas. I’m from Santa Cruz and I had gone to Los Angeles in my early twenties and I lived there for about seven years, and I really liked it but I wanted to see more of the world I think. Whether I had the big picture in my mind at that point or not, and it was one little decision after the next and then everything just started falling into place. I had planned a trip to Paris just to kind of see it. I hadn’t been to Europe yet and a few days before I left-(I had been working for Getty Images as an editor in Los Angeles for big events)and a couple days before I left I ended up doing one last job, and it was during that job that I ended up talking to who ended up being a bigger boss at Getty -telling him I was coming to France and how excited I was and he had just come back from the Cannes film festival so he was talking about how much he loved it and by the end of the conversation he offered to hook me up with the Getty office in Paris. My small vacation of six weeks ended up getting longer, and longer and longer, and within six months of being in Paris I started shooting fashion during Paris Fashion week and it stuck from there, and that was in 2009. In June this year, it’ll be nine years. Who are some photographers you admire? There’s so many at this point. Some of the classics, my style doesn’t emulate them at all I don’t think, but of course Helmut Newton and Sally Mann. Those were 36
the initial photographers that I started to follow that I absolutely loved what they were doing. Have you had any personal failures within your photography career? If so how did you motivate yourself to push past those and keep making photos? I think photography as a career as a whole is difficult because there’s no defined path. You can talk to 100 photographers and they’re all going to tell you they arrived at where they are in completely different circumstances. So I’ll say the struggle is always there you always have to to be looking at what you want to be doing next, how you can grow, what would be an interesting evolution for myself as an individual, and I think that all photographers go through that on a very consistent basis. The failures and the triumphs. I feel like that’s a back and forth through the whole career. How do I stay motivated? It’s trips like going to Saudi Arabia that give you that energy back of ‘wow I got into this so that I can see the world and take beautiful pictures and meet interesting people.’ When you get jobs like that it refreshes the whole mood and really helps me keep going. You often shoot events such as fashion shows in Paris. Do you see yourself delving into more fashion editorials or staying with covering fashion events? I have wanted to branch out and do something that’s a little bit more produced and goes through the process of working with people and storyboards, and yes I do think that at this point I will start to edge in that direction. Just to be able to create something that’s really coming from my mind and the minds of the other artists that I’m working with, whether it’s hair and makeup or stylists, and even the models.
You were the only photographer at Saudi Arabia fashion week. How empowering was it to be a female photographer in that space? It’s fantastic! I didn’t know that I was the only photographer until I got there. It was like “oh no pressure”. For me that was a big win. I’ve reached a point where I’m really trusted and they know that they can rely on me and that felt really nice. This (being a female photographer) was one of the points surrounding this trip that I absolutely loved being a part of. In Paris at any fashion show out of 50 photographers there’s maybe four women, and it’s been that way since I started here. To know that it was really a women only event was fantastic. It’s a different mood. It’s a little hard to put into words but it’s like having your girls night except it’s the entire event. Do you have a certain photo or body of work you’re most proud of? I really love fashion week, and I think the reason that I like fashion week is because you kind of get to be a fly on the wall. Just observing and to just kind of be almost a shadow at these events but still capturing the vitality and the mood and the energy that’s happening during these huge events. I’ve always really loved that because you are able to sneak around and grab moments that then transfer to whoever gets to see the photos. How do you feel social media has changed the photography industry? I love Instagram. I think it’s fantastic and when it first came on the market there were really mixed emotions in the professional world about how that was going to play out. It gives you such a huge access to what people are doing, and even though there has definitely been a theme in the last two years where
a lot of things have become similar. I hate to admit it but I spend at least an hour on Instagram every day just looking at photos. It’s almost addictive. I think the whole social media world just speaking personally, has given me an entirely new platform to share with people I know or don’t know. Like what I’m up to and how I’m working and points of interest, and I think that’s been really cool. You all of a sudden are connected to photographers from different places from all over the world, and to see what people are doing for example in Ukraine or South Africa. There are amazing photographers everywhere and before social media, unless someone was getting published you didn’t have access to their work. I think the people that aren’t necessarily globally published are doing great things and you can find that on Instagram. Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? Just being able to live off of being creative has been an extraordinary experience. It has taken me to places around the world that I would have never necessarily gone to without it. It has given me access to people that are brilliant in their special way and you get to access that energy and those conversations. Art has given me a full life so far and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon. What advice do you have for aspiring photographers? Teach yourself. Don’t ever stop searching for information that can make you better. With photography and all the apps and websites I feel like there is photography everywhere, but what I’ve seen so many times is just because you have an expensive camera doesn’t mean you’re producing something that’s from your heart and that’s actually your vision. To develop that is the most important.
Noëlle Renée Bercy Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Claud TopNotch Charles
When did you first become interested in acting? I’ve always been an entertainer since I was little girl. After I took my first steps, I began dancing. Each holiday I would force my siblings and cousins to put on dance shows s or plays with me to perform in front of our family. I attended performing arts schools growing up and specifically concentrated on dance where I technically trained in ballet, tap, jazz, modern, African and hip-hop. Dance led me to my love for performing onstage, which led to my passion for acting. How did the opportunity to be on “Cloak and Dagger” come about? I received an audition tape request for an Untitled Freeform Pilot. Initially, I had no idea that it was for Marvel’s “Cloak and Dagger.” After using my superior cyber stalking skills to research the production team, I was able to piece it together. Once I discovered that geniuses Joe Pokaski and Gina Prince Bythewood were involved, I knew I had to fly in to meet with them in person. What was your reaction when you found out you were cast in the show? Sheer excitement! I dropped to my knees and thanked God. My knees are actually a little darker these days from all of the prayers of thanks. I flew back to Los Angeles after my chemistry read with Aubrey, Joe and Gina on Monday. I got the call that I booked it on Tuesday. I flew back to New Orleans on Wednesday and officially starting filming as a member of the Marvel Universe on Thursday. It happened so fast! How does it feel to be a part of the Marvel universe? Like what?? Is this even real?! Are you a comic book fan? I used to tag along to the shop with my brother when he went to buy his Dragon Ball Z figurines. I would read as many comics as I could while he shopped because I knew he spent all the money on Goku.
What is your favorite memory from on set? I was chatting with a group of background actors and they were wondering who the director was. I asked them to guess and watched as they all pointed to this white man, and that white man. I pointed to Gina and said “The black woman in the hoodie.” Their faces were priceless. Some of them felt guilty for not assuming a minority, some were in complete shock, and some were beyond excited and inspired. In that moment everyone’s eyes were opened to the reality that a deserving, talented, black female was running the show. It was such a proud moment that I’ll never forget. What has it been like getting more involved in the industry at a time when there is more diversity on screen? Even though we have a long way to go, I’m proud of the progress the entertainment industry has made thus far in terms of representation. I did not see many faces that looked like me on television when I was a child which led to me think some of my physical features were undesirable to mainstream. Being able to see people that look like you, that come from where you come from, that speak how you speak in positions of power and influence is inspiration to reach farther. I get so excited thinking about where the next generation will go knowing from a young age that there’s a world out there that wants them to be seen. How is that landscape influencing the roles you audition for? In just the last few years I’ve seen a shift in my auditions. They have gone from the token black friend that offers comedic relief, to real life layered characters in lead roles that have something to offer. And I’ve noticed that many of the roles I have auditioned for recently are open ethnicity. I’ll be sitting in the room with Asian, White and Hispanic girls all auditioning for the same role. It’s beautiful. You often post comedy videos on your Instagram. Is sketch comedy something you’d like to explore as you take on more acting roles?
continue to explore both and everything in between. I’m still working on my craft and currently enrolled in classes to sharpen my skill set. What other creative outlets do you have besides acting? Dance is my first love, and whenever I go too long outside of the studio, my mind, body and soul is like “uhh uhh, Noey get it together.” I am technically trained in ballet, tap, jazz, modern, african and hip hop, so I try to take as many classes as I can. I also love writing! It’s so therapeutic. Not only for the writer but for all of those that enjoy their work. What are some of your favorite tv shows? This is Us, Insecure, American Crime Story, How to Get Away With Murder, American Crime, Atlanta, Stranger Things, The OA, Orange is the New Black, and so many for! Ugh, there’s just so much great television out right now. Especially Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, (Both a shameless plug, and the truth). Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? The Earth wouldn’t even be Earth without art. It would just be Ehhhhhh. Art is one of the best ways we as humans can express ourselves, because let’s be real: words are hard sometimes. I am blessed to be able to have found a career in my art of choice, I wish everyone the ability to do the same. Attending Performing Arts programs instilled the belief that a career in the arts is not only possible, but probable if you constantly and consistently work to improve your craft. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? Never give up on your dreams, ever! 100% of people that have reached their dreams have one thing in common, and that one thing is they didn’t quit. The odds are in your favor, keep going! I never had a Plan B, I think Plan B’s distract you from your Plan A. Although as I was pursuing my dream, I did have a Plan A minus. Find something that can keep you financially float WHILE you pursue your dreams, not instead of.
Definitely! I love comedy. I also love drama. I plan to
Sofie Sund Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Jonas Guddal Wilhelmsen
Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s a normal day in your life like? My name is Sofie Sund and I’m a freelance photographer from Norway. I’m currently studying photography at «Norwegian school of photography» in Trondheim. No day is the same for me, but at the moment my days consists of school, photography, and hanging out with my boyfriend. I’m graduating in June, and moving in to a new apartment, but I still don’t know exactly what I want to do after that, but I know photography will be a big part of it. When did you fall in love with photography? I have loved photography for as long as I can remember, but it was at the age of 12 when I tried my dad ́s camera for the first time that I realized that this is what I ́m supposed to do. This is my thing. Since then my passion for photography has just kept growing, and I don’t think it will ever stop. Your older work is mostly landscape and portraits, but recently your photos have been more abstract and vibrant. What has inspired your recent photographs? I think my style has evolved as I’ve gotten older. I started experimenting with photography at a young age, and I have changed and grown a lot since then. So I think it’s just natural that my art changes with me. I think I’m now finally finding myself and my own style. It finally feels right. My photography has always been inspired by my own feelings and memories, but honestly, a big part of why I photographed some years ago was basically just so that I had something to post on my Instagram. It was so important to me what everyone thought of me, so I posted photos I knew everyone wanted to see, but now it’s so much more 46
than that. I want to create something I’m proud of, art that means something to me, but at the same time inspires others. If there was one photographer you could spend the day with, dead or alive. Who would it be and why? That is such a hard question! There are so many photographers that inspire me, both well known photographers and photographers around my age that I have met through the internet. At the moment I would really like to meet Anne Schwalbe. I recently discovered her book “Blindschleiche und Riesenblatt”, and I just cannot stop looking at all her beautiful, dreamy photographs. Her pictures are a little different from what I’m creating right now, but they inspire me so so much, and I’d love to talk to her about her projects, art exhibitions and film photography. Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? I have never been good with words, so art has been the perfect way for me to express my thoughts and feelings. It has always felt so natural to use photography as a way of showing my feeling. It has helped me get through a lot of things in life, especially the difficult parts of life. What advice do you have for aspiring photographers? Create. Create. Create. Never stop photographing. Taking pictures as often as you can, every day if possible, is one of the best ways to grow as a photographer. It is something all photographers I have met has told me, and I know they’re right.
Sarati Interview by Carol Wright
When were you first bit by the acting bug? I first wanted to pursue entertainment (acting, dancing, singing) when I was 12. I was watching an episode of Hannah Montana and all of a sudden it hit me that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I sat my parents down and let them know that it was my dream…and 10 years later, here I am. Are there any particular tv shows that you would like to work on? I would love to work on a Marvel show. I have always wanted to play a superhero, so that is my ultimate goal. You’re also a dancer. Do you hope to tie your love of dance into a role one day? Honestly, I tie my dance background into everything I do. Dance has crafted my body, mind, and soul. I would love to have a role one day where dancing is involved, but if/when I play a superhero, the stunts alone will use much of my dance training. You also have a Youtube channel where you vlog and show an inside look at your life. Has this been a great way to connect with fans? It has. I have always wanted to show people a little behind the scenes of what it’s like to audition and try to make your name known in Hollywood. I notice that everyone shows off on social media, but I want to do the opposite. I want to show people how much I get turned down, how unglamorous it really is. Then once I get my big break, all that hard work will pay off. And I want people to feel like they’ve lived through it with me. I also don’t want to be seen as just another Instagram model. There’s enough of them to go around.
How did the opportunity to be a part of Eminem and Ed Sheeran’s “River” music video come about? I went to an audition that my agent sent me on. I had no idea what to expect, who it was for, or what was going on. They had me fight with another actor in the audition. I remember feeling so good when I left because I let that poor guy have it. Then I got a call 2 days later that I booked the job! What is your favorite memory from working on the video? I have so many amazing memories from the shoot. I think the scene where I am fighting with Eminem in the destroyed room topped them all though. When you act and do intense scenes, music is never playing. Well since it was for a Music Video, they played music over us screaming at each other which heightened everything. There was so much adrenaline going through my body. I was so happy to be doing what I loved. What are some of the differences in acting in a music video versus a tv show? I was lucky to work on such a creatively run shoot. I don’t know if all of them are like this, but there was so much freedom on the music video. It wasn’t a scripted and “by the book kind” of shoot. When an idea popped up, we did it, and it worked. On tv shows, there is a specific script that you follow for the most part and they shoot each scene at a certain time. The ‘River’ video was nothing like that, but it was mainly due to how genius the Director, his team, and Em’s team were. It was just a great collaboration on all sides. How did you feel when you got to watch the final product? I was shaking with excitement. I woke up early because it was released at 9am PST. I had my coffee and breakfast at 6am and was just trying to keep myself busy until it came out. I LOVED it. I was glued to the screen and I didn’t recognize myself really. They dyed my hair brown so it was as if I was watching some other actress. I was really honored that I got to be a part of something so incredible. Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How did art change your life? 56
I never thought of myself as an “artist” because I always thought they were eccentric and unique. Then I hear people talk about how much music, movies, tv shows, etc changes their life or gets them through a tragedy. Whatever it is, being a part of something that reaches the whole world no matter what language you speak, is so humbling. I realized that I am an artist because I think differently. I don’t have a 9 to 5 and do the same thing every day. Every tomorrow holds a new opportunity and adventure. Art is my whole being. When I have bad days with acting, I play my guitar or dance in my living room to my favorite song. I am surrounded by art when I am sad, when I am happy, when I am bored, Art is LIFE. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? You will get so many people telling you NO. Saying you’re not good enough, you’re not the right look, blah blah blah. Let it fuel you. Don’t do what everyone else does. Find what works for you. Respect yourself. Don’t let anyone stop your dreams just because they were having a bad day and took it out on you. Anything can happen. Anything worth having is going to take a big risk and a lot of heartbreak.
Beyond the Realm of Minimalism
have always had a passion for art. Beginning in elementary school, whether I was doodling during school or taking pottery classes in my free time, I was always interested in exploring art through different mediums and forms of expression. It wasn’t until high school, however, that I finally picked up a camera. I began by taking dry and uninteresting photos (although I can’t deny that my 14-year old self wholeheartedly believed they were magnificent works of art) around my house. Nevertheless, I was hooked on the joy that I received from capturing brief moments of time through photography, no matter how important or lacklust the moments may be. It became a passion of mine and something I plan to pursue for many years to come. This series is an exploration of shadows, line work, and texture within the larger concept of minimalism. I’m drawn to minimalism because of the unexpected and underlying complications of a seemingly simple photo. Minimalistic photography is typically associated with lifeless and bland works of art, but I strive to break that stigma through my artwork. Each piece, although it may not appear complex to the eye, requires an extensive amount of set up and follow-up editing. The purpose of this series was to capture the outward simplicity of photos while enlightening the complexities hidden within them. I wanted each photo to have layers: the more you look at a photo, the more you see.
Trinitee Stokes Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Bobby Quillard
What was the audition process like for K.C. Undercover? The audition process for me was fun and nerve wrecking at the same time. I think the first audition was more relaxed for me than the ones that followed. After the first couple of auditions, I had a chemistry read with Zendaya. I was SO nervous that day because I loved Zendaya and didnâ€™t want to be star struck and bomb out on my audition. But she was very cool and laid back, so I was able to really relax. After the read, I went back home, prayed, fasted and waited. Three days later while I was filming a commercial, my mom got the call that I booked the show! When I found out that I booked the role of Judy, I was screaming, jumping, and crying tears of joy! God had answered my prayer. What was it like working with Zendaya? Did she give you any good advice? It was a great experience working with Zendaya. She was a lot of fun and she worked really hard. Z was truly like an older sister to me. She always encouraged me to use the voice that I have for good. Zendaya showed me that if you work hard, you can play hard too. K.C. Undercover brought a lot of diversity to Disney Channel and truly connected with children across the country. What has it been like interacting with fans of the show? It has been life changing interacting with fans of K.C. UNDERCOVER. It is so rewarding when I get to meet the people who love and support the show. And one of my all time favorite parts is making the kids smile and bringing them joy. Our supporters are not just one ethnicity, but they are very diverse and come from every walk of life.
You’re releasing a book titled “Bold & Blessed”. Can you tell us a little bit about it? In my new book “Bold & Blessed’ I take you on a behind the scenes journey into my life. I share my faith, struggles, dreams, rejection, and so much more. One way I have found to be bold and blessed is by knowing your self worth. Once you know your true value, you can stand boldly and accomplish anything. I also talk about body image, self- esteem, friendship, and confidence. Bold & Blessed also includes never seen before pictures. I give real life advice on how to walk in faith to obtain everything that God has promised you! Pre-order link: https://www.amazon.com/Bold-Blessed-Yourself-Stand-Crowd/dp/0310766427 How has your faith helped you navigate through the industry? My faith has been by far the most important thing in the industry. I have to have faith every step of the way because nothing is promised or guaranteed. There are times when I might be uncertain or things might not look like I want them too, but it is my faith that reassures me that God will never fail and that He is faithful that promised. My faith helps me to stay grounded, and also to keep my head on straight. Without my faith in this industry, I would not be able to have and maintain my peace and joy. What are some of your other creative outlets besides acting? I absolutely love writing! I am sometimes amazed with what I end up with once I get all of my thoughts out on paper. I have a pretty wild imagination. Singing is my next creative outlet. I love to sing because I just love music. But singing is also a way for me to express myself and I sing everywhere. Coloring, which is one of my top 5 ways to wind down because of all the possibilities. I color every chance I get. It helps me to relax and to clear my mind. Then there is knitting, which I have only been doing a few months but it is very challenging for me. Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’ How has art changed your life? Art has changed my life because it has given me multiple avenues not only to express my emotions,
but for others to enjoy it while I do it. The arts give us so many options to tap into our creativity. Art has been so influential in my family’s home life especially. We create plays and skits at home and act them out, which is really a lot of fun. Without the arts of any kind in my life, I would definitely feel as though I would be missing something. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? My advice is that even though you may face a lot of rejection or hear the word no many times. I encourage you to never give up and to keep going after your dreams. It only takes that one YES to make your dream come true.
Interview by Niara Wright
Please tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Jessica Pietrak? Hello! My name is Jessica Pietrak, also known as Jessitrak. I’m an illustrator, stationery designer, and all around kooky creative gal based in Philadelphia. My friends would describe me as ambitious and always down for an adventure. I like to think of myself as someone draws things that make people smile. When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist? I’ve pretty much always known! As a kid I loved being creative and making things with my hands. I would dive into so many different artistic directions, such as music, photography, cinematography, and obviously drawing. Whenever I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, it was pretty much make art or bust. What lead you on the path of becoming an illustrator? I discovered the magical world of illustration when I was a teenager touring colleges. Initially I wanted to train to be a symphony musician after graduating high school, but since I had a wide variety of creative endeavors I looked into all sorts of creative programs. I wandered into the illustration department at Moore College of Art and Design and immediately knew illustration was what I wanted to do. The illustration field is constantly intriguing to me, there are so many projects to work on that all fall under the category of illustration. Since I like to dabble in bit of everything, and being an illustrator allows me that creative freedom. How did you develop your illustration style? A secret regarding developing an illustrative style is that it’s never actually done developing! The key is staying true to what makes you different from everyone else, and letting people see things that inspire you through your eyes. Practice and time is a big part of it too, lots and lots of it. What is your biggest inspiration for your art? As someone who is optimistic to a fault, I see endless beauty in everyday routines and love to celebrate 78
them. The subject of my work are typically things that are easily recognizable, such as household objects or bits of nature. If I can change the perspective of someone to see the everyday in a bright and beautiful light, even for just a moment, then I consider my work a success. Who inspires you? I love to surround myself with quality people who ignite inspiration in me, and vice versa. I know not everyone is innately creative in an obvious way, but I encourage my friends and family to embrace creativity in any form they see fit. From cooking a good meal to sharing a move they deeply enjoyed, there are endless ways to tap into that creative side. How was it designing NYOTA? It was an opportunity I immediately knew I had to jump on! This is my first time doing editorial illustration and design, but I was so excited by the entire project. The ideation process seamlessly fell in place, and by the time we were in the thick of it I was thoroughly enjoying myself. The whole creative team has been a joy to work with, and I’m exceptionally proud of the results. I hope readers are enjoying the fresh take too! What’s next for the ‘Jessitrak’ brand? How did you come up with that name? Currently I’m working on devolving a wider variety of products to sell both in my online shop and stationery shops in the Philadelphia area. I love supporting small businesses as well as being one, so local collaboration is always on my mind! The name is actually a nickname I got as a teenager, obviously a combination of my first and last name. Some of my oldest friends still exclusively call me Jessitrak! Where can we find you and your product? I’m on all forms of social media as @jessitrak. Products can be found on my Etsy shop, also fittingly named Jessitrak. Keep an eye out for my new and improved online shop, I’m planning on making some huge moves and am unbelievably excited to watch my line grow! I hope you’ll join me on this crazy and inspiring adventure too.
Words of Wisdom
Behzad Dabu Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Irvin Rivera
What sparked your interest in acting? I always loved telling stories, and not just telling stories... but reenacting them. There were a few times in my life where watching a narrative changed the way I think about things and how I approach life, and I want to do that for others. I think the only way people will truly change is if they go through crap, but people don’t like going through crap. So what if an actor could go through the crap for you? I see acting as a true service profession…. and it’s fun. Do you ever take what you learned from theater and bring into your tv roles? Theatre is sacred to me. I feel powerful on stage. In the theatre, the audience has a choice on what to look at, since there is no camera focusing on what we want them to see. Therefore, the story is told in the energy BETWEEN the actors. It is a living and breathing thing with a communal element that includes a little bit of magic. We’re all breathing the same air. I think acting is acting, but the medium changes how we focus the energy, and I learned the craft on stage. So, yes, I bring what I learn on stage with me every time I am doing a role, but I am learning more and more everytime I take on a new project. What was the audition process like for ‘How To Get Away With Murder’? How did you react when you got the role? I was doing a play in Los Angeles called DISGRACED, that I have done all over the country, some of the producers of HTGAWM saw the play and called me in for an audition later that week. I prepped it really well and went from there! I was thrilled at the chance to work with Viola, of course... but I was also so excited because of the broad range of perspectives and backgrounds shown. Such positive representation to see on Network TV for the masses to enjoy. It is a show that is simultaneously heightened and relatable at the same time. What I love about Simon, is that he shows a perspective of the other students outside of the Keating 5, that was previously unseen the first two seasons. 81
Simon is hyper-intelligent and passionate and obnoxious, but has an inner vulnerable side. I like playing complex characters. What is it like working with Viola Davis? Does she ever give you advice on set? It’s a dream. A true dream. She is a masterclass in acting everyday. She is also a lesson in professionalism and grace and I feel lucky to have this experience to work with her. I treasure it. I learn so much just from watching and observing a master work. Here’s a funny story though: One time she told me she had two very important pieces of advice to tell me...it had to do with doing the best you can in everything you do, since that is one of the few things you can control, and to learn to feel good is knowing that you’ve done the absolute best you can. so, after the first one, we got to talking... and then I said, “so what’s the second piece of advice...?” and she said, “oh, I forget” haha It was Hilarious! What has it been like working on ‘The Chi’? It was so surreal to return to Chicago with a TV show. As a Chicago actor... still deeply entrenched in the Chicago Theatre Scene, I always thought I would return with a play, but to return on a show was awesome. I loved that it was with Chicago writers and creators and mannnn watching this show? It’s SO GOOD. I LOVE the show. Amir represents the non-black person of color in the community. Groups that are bound by oppression but separated by culture. It is a fascinating dichotomy to play. It was important to me that Amir is fully assimilated and has a bit of swag that he can relate well to the locals in the neighborhood. I love Amir... he’s actually quite similar to me in a lot of ways. What types of projects do you hope to pursue in the future? I want to keep playing complex characters. Characters that are outwardly vulnerable with an inner strength, or characters that are outwardly strong, with an inner vulnerability. Dark characters who use humor, and vice versa. I want to keep pushing for diverse and inclusive
stories being represented on screen. How did you become involved with the Chicago Inclusion Project? I am a founding member of the Chicago Inclusion Project which was created to help level the playing field for women, people of color, LGBTQ communities and people with disabilities; in the performing arts. We serve as a resource for theatre companies across the country who wish to diversify their audiences and the artists they work with in order to truly mirror the communities they are in. If we aren’t actively helping to fix the corrupt and unfair systems in place, then we are a part of the problem. And with the little tiny platform I have, I feel it is a responsibility to “send the elevator back down” and also to speak up when and where I can. Our theme for this issue is ‘Art is Life’. How has art changed your life? ART is LIFE. Because I think that we work all day to make money, but then books and music and fashion and movies and plays and shows is what we spend our money on. Our lives are fun and interesting and tolerable and unique because of the culture. Culture is quite literally, what we live for, and Artists? We create that culture. We are the culture creators. We have the ability to shape the society. We have the responsibility to do it in a meaningful and inclusive way. I take that very seriously. What we do is very valuable. It’s important work. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? Get trained! Acting is a craft, like anything else. It is a mistake to think that you can be a great actor without some sort of training. Of course -- there are exceptions, but I think it’s important to take the craft itself seriously, by learning about it and studying it deeply. Also, respect the business part of it too. This industry is filled with a lot of the background business stuff, and I would suggest to aspiring actors that they learn about that and find a way to enjoy that part of it too.
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