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featuring

Megan Stott Issue 19


CONTENTS

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Music March Playlist MALKA Andria Rose

07 09 13

Fashion Sasha Anne’s Top Picks

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Culture Lidya Jewett Megan Stott Samantha Gangal Thomas Barbusca Merit Leighton 5 Vegan Recipes to Try Jacob Laval

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Gabriel Darku Graham Verchere Praneet Akilla Meredith Dabney Zahra Bentham Words of Wisdom: Kimberly-Sue Murray

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THE

TEAM

Editor in Chief Carol Wright is a Senior 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.

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Assistant Editor Arielle Ostry is a writer and dancer originally from Green Brook, New Jersey, studying dance as well as journalism and mass communication at The George Washington University. She has written reviews for danceviewtimes.com and DC Theatre Scene, covering dance performances in the DC Metro Area. She has also covered a variety of artistic and cultural events as a culture reporter for the GW Hatchet. This past spring, Arielle interned at the Kennedy Center in editorial communications and currently works at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. She is thrilled to be utilizing her knowledge of writing and style as assistant editor for Nyota Magazine. In addition to writing and dancing, Arielle is an avid knitter, aspiring yogi and is completely obsessed with coffee!

Art Director

Nicole Cox is currently a Senior, 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.

Writer

Alyssa is a first-year Film & Media Arts student at American University, originally from a small town in Massachusetts. She is passionate about visual storytelling and the power it holds. Alyssa is especially interested in telling the stories of others and using other people’s unique perspectives of the world to effect positive change. Besides working at Nyota, Alyssa can be found at the gym, watching Spike Jonze films, or on an adventure with her friends.

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FEATURES MALKA Andria Rose Lidya Jewett Megan Stott Samantha Gangal Thomas Barbusca Merit Leighton Jacob Laval Gabriel Darku Graham Verchere Praneet Akilla Meredith Dabney Zahra Bentham Kimberly-Sue Murray

CONTRIBUTORS Sophie Sachar Sasha Anne Ella Titus

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EDITOR’S LETTER Since creating Nyota my greatest joy has been seeing the different musicians, actors, and creatives that we’re able to highlight in our issues. When times become tough and uncertain as they are now, it’s nice to know that Nyota can still continue to highlight those creatives and hopefully bring joy into our readers’ lives. Outside of showing you which rising talent should be on your radar, we also have some bonus content for those interested in health and beauty. I hope you enjoy our March issue, and most of all I hope you all are taking care of yourselves. With Love, Carol Wright Editor in Chief @_carol_wright


March

Playlist Playlist curated by Sophie Sachar

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2ETz5WV9L97H6ciEVdZx98?si=et_ OWNHXQ32pTr8toRE4Ng

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Self // Noname Surrender // Suicide Get Well // Jay Som Restless // Kevin Krauter Time Will Tell // Blood Orange Mellow My Mind // Neil Young No More Runnin // Animal Collective Borderline (An Ode to Self Care) // Solange I Found a Reason // The Velvet Underground Ella Megalast Burls Forever // Cocteau Twins

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MALKA Interview by Carol Wright

When did creating music go from a hobby to something you could see yourself doing as a career? I first started singing when I was studying a degree in fashion. I would sing on other people’s beats or cover versions of songs. But I soon began writing my own music. I was offered a small record deal very early on in my career and I knew then that it was something that I wanted to do for my job. What is your songwriting process? I have changed the way I write a lot over the years. I used to always write the lyrics first and then pick up an instrument and create the melody line last. Now I create beats and melodies first and work on the instrumentation later. Changing the way I write means I develop as a writer and I don’t always go for the same style as previous releases. Tell us a bit about your new album, I’m Not Your Soldier. What inspired the name of the record and the tone? The title came from the first line in one of the songs on the album called Don’t Believe It. The record is a really honest depiction of where I am in my life right now. I am not trying to please anyone or conform or fit in, and I feel that I know myself. The idea of not being a soldier — being my own person and not falling in line — felt appropriate as a title, as that theme 9

runs throughout the record. What is your favorite song on the record? It changes all the time, but I think at the moment it is probably ‘Hardly Sleep’. It is more on the experimental side of things, but still has a really catchy chorus. I feel like it really captures that mania of not getting enough to sleep, it’s a little wonky and wild in the chorus and then calmer in the verses. Why did ‘Taking it Back’ seem like the right fit as the lead single for I’m Not Your Soldier? Why did you want that song to introduce listeners to this new album? ‘Taking It Back’ showcases the record really well. It shows all the intricacies of the music but also has a killer chorus that gets stuck in your head. It was the obvious choice for the lead single for me as it is pop — but also left of centre - and that is the sound of the album sewn into one song. As a musician, you’re constantly evolving and that can be seen through your new record. What did you learn about yourself while creating I’m Not Your Soldier? I have definitely grown in confidence with my own production skills from working on this record. Paul Savage produced the album, and when I came into the


“... be yourself — don’t rush your music - take your time, grow your sound, and then let everyone hear it when you have something really solid and exciting.” studio I had lots of my own home recordings to play to him. I think most producers would have suggested that we re-record it all, but Paul loved the sounds that I had created and instead suggested that we build on them. That has certainly given me a confidence in my own skills with production. I was also more relaxed than previously with the record as a whole. I didn’t spend as long worrying about the little things and in turn that has lead to a more organic sound. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians? Don’t try and emulate anyone, be yourself — don’t rush your music - take your time, grow your sound, and then let everyone hear it when you have something really solid and exciting. The industry is really saturated at the moment so you want to make the most of your music and make sure that you can get people to stop and pay attention. But mostly, enjoy it. Enjoy the little moments and don’t take them for granted.

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Andria Rose Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Bryan Austin

When did singing go from a passion to something you saw yourself doing as a career?

in mind. So it only felt right to name the EP after that feeling—Electric.

I feel like I came out of the womb wanting to be a singer—it’s never really been anything else for me. Every family gathering or big event involved me wanting to sing for everyone at one point or another. I picked up the guitar at twelve and started doing open mic nights and performing covers. At sixteen, I began gigging with original songs only, and seeing the positive response to my art was like a high. I knew I always wanted to feel like that.

Which song from your Electric EP was the hardest to write?

What usually inspires your lyrics? I would say imagery inspires my lyrics. The more beautiful a picture I can paint with words, the better. I also am very inspired by love and romance and sensuality. My goal is to transport my listener into a dream with really descriptive words and emotions. I want them to step into my idea of a beautiful painting, and understand why it’s beautiful to me. Your EP is called Electric. Why did that name seem fitting for the EP? The word ‘electric’ has always been beautiful to me. It was always the first word that would pop into my head when describing someone or something that made me feel happy and magical. So to me, ‘electric’ is more of a feeling; a really wonderful feeling that a person, a place, or even art could make you feel. When writing all six songs on the EP, I had that feeling

Definitely ‘Pretty Baby Heaven’. That’s because there probably have been a dozen versions of that song from different bands I’ve been in and they all have had different vibes. I wrote that song five years ago, so it took years to land on the current version it is today. Funny thing is, producing that version didn’t take very long; my boyfriend and I produced it in a couple of hours after we were a little under the influence. Which song is your favorite from the EP? Naturally, all of them have a special place in my heart. I suppose if I were to pick my favorite one to sing live, it would probably be ‘Prelude’. That one is very personal to me. I wrote it when I was in a very vulnerable place, and feeling very low. It’s also special because I’ve been told a lot of people relate to the lyrics. It’s always very rewarding when I get told people feel comforted by the song because it’s comforting to me too. You’ve had the opportunity to tour with or open for numerous artists. What have you learned from those experiences? I’ve learned that if you want something, all you really 14


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“Be humble and sweet, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you.” have to do is ask. And the worst that people can say is no. And if they say no, you don’t take it personally, and try again. There is a lot of rejection that accompanies the music industry, and I think if you realize that early on, you won’t be hurt by it, because it’s normal in the beginning. I am so grateful to have played shows with artists who I am very inspired by. Though I am actually a bit of a shy person sometimes, I always make it a point to talk to the artist after the show and hang out and make a connection. The networking aspect is just as important as the performance you give on stage. And because of putting myself out there, I have some really great new friends now. Who are some artists that inspire you? I am a huge fan of The Strokes/Julian Casablancas. I love the different genres he’s experimented in and I love his lyrics and melodies. I also love Selena; I used to live in Corpus for the first seven years of my life. So living there, everywhere I’d turn would be her art, and I fell in love with her. Amy Winehouse is a big one as well. I’m a huge fan of jazz and I think the way she incorporated it with her music was just brilliant. Chet Baker was a genius. I love how dreamy the early years of Mazzy Star were. I kind of pull inspiration from all over the place. My new obsession at the moment is Alexandra Savior. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Just get out there as soon as you can. Be humble and sweet, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you. It gets hard, sometimes, finding friends in the local scene who make music as well because a good chunk of them will see you as competition, even though it isn’t. With billions of people in the world who listen to music, there is room for everybody. It will get very discouraging at times, but that’s when you surround yourself with a great circle of friends who support you. Look for inspiration in everything. Watch artsy movies, read books that make you think, and don’t stop creating. Something’s got to give soon.

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Sasha Anne’s Top Picks Words and Photos Courtesy of Sasha Anne

It is now almost the end of March, almost spring. I definitely have everyday go-to products, but I also switch up other beauty products according to the season. In the spring, I love to wear a very lightweight, full coverage, long-lasting dewy foundation since it is getting warmer out. I love a beautiful, glowy but natural look for my everyday makeup. Some days I go au natural, and on those days I am particularly happy that my face has its own natural glow from my skincare routine.

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Eyebrows

Face

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One of my fave go-to products is my Anastasia Beverly Hills dip brow. I do my brows and I don’t even need to put anything else on my face. I always say that brows shape the face. I’ve been using this product for years and I never get tired of it.

I don’t normally wear foundation on an everyday basis - mostly when I go to an event or interview. I usually wear either my Tarte Cosmetics Shape Tape Concealer or my Bounce Airbrush Liquid Whip Concealer. I set that with my Too Faced Born This Way Pressed Powder.

Lips

I have different lip products I use every day. One day I will use my Kylie Cosmetics Nude Lip Liner in Dolce K and my Charlotte Tilbury Collagen Lip Bath Gloss in Refresh Rose - sheer pink. The next day I will use my Charlotte Tilbury Lip Liner in Pillow Talk and my Dior Princess Lip Gloss. Both give a very natural and beautiful finish. I love how they both apply smoothly.

Eyes

For years and still, now, I’ve been using my Too Faced Better Than Sex mascara and these days I’ve been using the Too Faced Damn Girl! Mascara. It gives the illusion of false lashes. I love this mascara because it separates the lashes, it’s not clumpy and it gives my lashes volume.


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Lidya Jewett Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Benny Hadid

When did you get bit by the acting bug? I find this question very interesting because I was so young when I started and I hate to say “it just sort of happened” but in a way because I was so young, it did happen in a very natural way. I started with print modeling and commercials when I was about six or seven years old, so I really don’t remember much of a time when I wasn’t doing this. So I like to look at that question as, why do I CONTINUE to act? And that is easy! Because I absolutely love it. I love the whole process. I love breaking down scenes for an audition and finding what the connections are and then most of all, I love meeting people. So even if I am not the right person for the role, I still love that I got to meet new people from casting and maybe even producers and directors. What initially got you interested in ‘Good Girls’? Good Girls was always one of my favorite auditions because young Sara Hill was a super-strong force. Even in her physical illness, she was strong in who she was towards women’s rights. Her parents could see her strength and are great cheerleaders for her. Obviously, I was a huge fan of some of the strong actors. Mae Whitman, Christina Hendricks and of course Retta, are role models for me. Now in season 3, we are huge supporters of these strong women and I can’t wait to see what else the writers continue to write for us all. In season 3, Sara starts to get suspicious of her mom. How did it feel to go head to head with Retta for those scenes? Retta is amazing. I admire her so much. I really try to protect her space. I think we can totally laugh after a take and then we can totally be in our own quiet space and be thinking of our scene. I know I can ask Retta 22


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“... be who you are. What you bring to a role is hopefully going to be different than what other people will bring to the role. That is the way it is supposed to be. Keep being yourself!” anything but I also know that we both know our lines, we both know the scene and then she lets me bring Sara to it. I love seeing how professional she is and how important it is for her to see me be professional also. When we both do a scene together, I think we catch each other’s wavelength really well. I think the connection between me and Retta is pretty strong. You’ve been playing Sara for three seasons now. How has she grown as a character since you started? As the audience has seen in season 1 and 2, Sara has mostly recovered with her physical illness. She had a kidney transplant and has taken some time to heal. At the same time, Sara is going through adolescence and all the things that girls in their teens/tweens typically go through. I love this part of Sara because I also just turned 13 years old and Sara and I are both going through some of the same things normal kids go through at this age. It is true not every parent is hiding a life of crime to protect their family members, there are definitely people who are pushing the envelope and making choices that may not be the best as far as the law is concerned, but they think they are doing the things they need to do for their kids like Sara. But Sara is super smart and she pays attention a lot. She is noticing small details about her mom. 24


How have you grown as an actress? I really love recognizing areas I have grown as an actress and I love that our writers of ‘Good Girls’ continue to trust me to be Sara Hill. I would say I have grown so much in the last year or so in understanding connections with characters and scenes. Sometimes, when you have a lot going on as I do with advanced classes, it’s challenging to get everything done well. With acting, I work hard not to stay in my head with the lines and the scenes, but to bring my heart. I have also grown by recognizing the hard work all the other departments put into a project. I love watching the directors and talking with the writers. I plan on doing it all. You’re also set to be in ‘Feel The Beat’. Can you tell us anything about that project? Oh my goodness!! Everyone is going to LOVE this fun movie for Netflix. I think it is due to come out this summer. It stars Sofia Carson and we have an ensemble cast of sort of misfit girls. Sofia’s character becomes our dance teacher after not making it on Broadway. I know most everyone will see some part of themselves among our little dance troop. We have diversity and representation and that is super important to me. And dance! We have a lot of dance!! We were on location in Toronto for 3 months and can’t wait for everyone to meet these girls! Outside of acting what do you enjoy doing? Well, I admit I do way too much school! But I love it as much as I love acting. I started at a new school in New York, and we have global campuses in Dubai, London, Shanghai, and New York. I was nervous at first because of the rigorous schedule, but so far I have raised myself to another level of learning and academics. So school and reading are two of my favorite things to do. When my mom and I travel, we like to find local bookstores, libraries and coffee shops. Aside from that, I enjoy running and cooking Ethiopian food with my dad. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? My advice is the same as most actors pass on: don’t ever give up. Keep going. And fall in love and enjoy the process. And work on the parts of the process you might not be strong in. For instance, if you struggle with meeting new people, then make a point of prac25

ticing that. The more you do it the better you will be at it. And other than taking on a character, be who you are. What you bring to a role is hopefully going to be different than what other people will bring to the role. That is the way it is supposed to be. Keep being yourself!


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Megan Stott Interview by Carol Wright Photography by Brooklin Rosenstock

When did you know you wanted to be an actress? I never understood why I was different. I just knew that I was meant to do something in performing. Once I started singing, acting came into play and it became my passion. I was fully committed and have worked hard to be a part of this beautiful process. I love telling stories while using myself as the vessel to bring out my character’s soul and emotions, with a goal to truly touch and affect others. What drew you to the show Little Fires Everywhere? I was drawn initially to Little Fires because one of my role models, Reese Witherspoon, was a part of it. However, I also read the book and it was truly inspiring to see these families go through the challenges of life and find their truths. It reminded me that the small things people say or do can really affect someone in ways we never imagine. I was also drawn to it because of how many talented, hard-working and incredible artists were a part of it. Did you read the book to prepare for the role? When I started reading the book, I highlighted what spoke to me. I came away knowing that Izzy had the depth that I wanted to be a part of. I would play the scenes in my head to envision a clear image of how I could prepare those scenes to an in-depth level. I was so in touch with the heart of Izzy before I ever went to audition. Izzy is such an interesting character because she feels trapped within her family and coddled because she was born prematurely. What was it like getting into the headspace of that character? It was very complicated to get into the headspace in the beginning because it forces one to look at all things within yourself you are afraid to see. Izzy looks often into herself to find those pieces and what they mean


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to her. I would listen to songs like “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne, “Mama” by My Chemical Romance and Alanis Morissette on full volume and rock out. Each day I would go through the script and journal as Izzy; what happened during that day, how she felt and how it applied to her story. Before a scene, I would review what she had written so that I could get into that headspace. She is a very complicated person who is always thinking even when she is silent. She has a lot of emotions and rebels to the things that she finds to lack meaningfulness. You’re lucky because your character has a close bond with Mia (Kerry Washington) but also is parented by Mrs. Richardson (Reese Witherspoon). What did you learn from working with them?

tion it took and felt like the writers collaborated to bring Izzy to this profound place which translated the book in the best possible way. What do you hope audiences take away from the show? I hope the audience takes away that Izzy is a young 14-year-old girl who wants to be accepted and loved by her family and those around her. She accomplishes this by staying true to herself above all things and that others can do this as well. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? My advice is to do what you love and never give up. I tell myself that some famous actors started at 10 but

“My favorite lesson from Kerry was you ‘should bring your best to the table even when it’s not your coverage or when you are just practicing.’” It was something extraordinary, they are both so iconic and are amazing individuals. They taught me so many things along the way. My favorite lesson from Kerry was you “should bring your best to the table even when it’s not your coverage or when you are just practicing.” Reese taught me that even if the character feels out of your wheelhouse, they are still a part of you and you just need to bring yourself to the scene and everything else will fall into place. They inspired me endlessly!

only got their first job when they were 20 or even 30. It is a craft and you have to keep working at it. Every character is different and our unique selves are what we should bring to the table every time.

All of Izzy’s frustrations come to a boiling point and that results in a big moment in the end. Were you surprised by the direction your character took in the show? I think Izzy developed into this truth-teller for herself and for others. She knew who she was in the end and wasn’t willing to make compromises to help others feel more comfortable or accepting. I loved the direc30


Samantha Gangal Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Sagaj

When did you get bit by the acting bug?

What is your songwriting process?

When I was 8 years old, I was cast in a musical production of Annie. I knew then this was exactly what I wanted to do.

I’m very much a beginner when it comes to songwriting. I try to imagine the melody first and then build around that. Lyrics usually come afterward.

Who are some of your acting inspirations?

Are there any projects you have coming up that you can share?

When I was younger, I admired the casts from my favorite Disney and Nickelodeon shows. Currently, I’m inspired by people like Natalie Portman and Benedict Cumberbatch. What about the television series OMG! stuck out to you and made you want to be involved? I loved the chance to play several different characters. What is your favorite thing about sketch comedy? The chance to improve something is something I’ve always enjoyed. Outside of acting, you also sing. Do you hope to incorporate your music into your acting? Yes, definitely. I have been singing since I was 5, so it’s truly a passion of mine.

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I’m in the process of writing and recording an EP which should be completed by summer. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? I know it seems cliché, but my advice would be to never give up. Keep working hard and ignore anyone that tells you that you can’t do it!


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Thomas Barbusca Interview by Carol Wright Photography by Luke Fontana

When did you know acting was what you wanted to do as a career?

what you take away from it. I’m just happy to see that people are loving it.

I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life when I was working on Wet Hot American Summer. It was the most fun I ever had on-set and I started looking at it from a different perspective. It didn’t feel like a job and I loved everything about it. There’s nothing like it.

What was it like on-set? Considering you had Pete Davidson, Machine Gun Kelly, and Griffin Luck, I’m sure there were some funny moments.

Why did you want to be involved in Big Time Adolescence? I wanted to be involved the second I read the first page of the script. By the first page alone, it was something that I’ve never seen before. As I read the rest of the script, I realized this entire movie is structured and curated differently than every other movie. It’s grounded and real. It’s down to earth. What really got me was the last page. Zeke asks Mo if he wants to hang out tomorrow and Mo doesn’t give a straight answer. The following shot is kind of poetic in a way. Mo’s driving off and leaving Zeke in the distance. I don’t really know where their relationship goes, but to me, that’s another way of saying it’s over. Big Time Adolescence is all about growing up, male friendship and the pitfalls of peer pressure. Could you relate to the topics covered in the film? I think watching back, everyone can relate. We all have or had that older friend that was an awful influence. Sometimes it might seem like someone is your best friend but sadly they’re just your poison. What do you want people to take away after watching the film? I want people to watch this movie and love it for what it is or however they make of it. It’s not up to me on

Griffin said in a recent interview that it felt like summer camp and I agree. Being around great people and coming together to make a sick movie. Everyone did their part and it made something great. Tell us a bit about your upcoming project Chad and the character you play. TBS’ Chad is a comedy about a 14-year-old Persian boy played by SNL alumna Nasim Pedrad; trying to navigate his way through high school, his own culture and wanting to be cool. I play this kid Reid, who happens to be a popular kid and Chad is desperately trying to impress and befriend him. The series will premiere this year. Do you hope to get involved in other areas of the film industry such as directing or writing? 100%. That’s what I’m currently working on and have been for a while. My heart is really wanting to go in those directions, but right now, I’ve just been keeping myself busy with acting. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? I think you should keep your feet on the ground and keep going. Find ways to improve yourself every day and after that, try to find ways to improve yourself as an actor. Big Time Adolescence came out on March 13th and is available to watch on Hulu now. 34


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Merit Leighton Interview by Carol Wright Photography by Suzette Troche-Stapp

Were you a performative child? Yes! One of my favorite living room performances was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” I always acted out the scene where Snow White bites into the poison apple, and then I’d dramatically fall on the floor or the couch. Haha! I also directed it all and cast my sister and parents in roles! What about Alexa & Katie interested you? Alexa and Katie has such a unique storyline. At first, I wasn’t sure how they would handle the mixture of cancer and comedy. The writers, of course, brilliantly wrote a beautiful story, where laughter and friendship are the best medicine. In Alexa & Katie, you play Hannah who is quirky and unapologetically herself. Is it fun to play someone who does not care about other people’s opinions? It’s great! Hannah is such a distinct personality who wears and says pretty much whatever she wants. In high school, expressing yourself like that can be hard. The writers made it ok for Hannah to be Hannah. She has two Moms, wears crazy clothes, and states her own often unfiltered opinions, all while having a close group of friends who accept her. (Also, if you look closely in season three, you will see that she wears two different shoes in one of the episodes!) Can you relate to Hannah? Yes absolutely. Hannah is very relatable to a lot of girls that feel a bit different and don’t fit in perfectly. I have had A LOT of socially awkward moments in my own life where I feel a bit out of step with people my own age, but that’s ok because I really love being who I am. It’s great to have characters that embrace differences in such a positive way. 36


“I have had A LOT of socially awkward moments in my own life where I feel a bit out of step with people my own age, but that’s ok because I really love being who I am. It’s great to have characters that embrace differences in such a positive way.” Alexa & Katie covers so much more than just Alexa’s cancer, but when you first joined the series did you have to do any research on cancer and being a friend to someone who is going through that? Alexa & Katie came at a perfect time. My amazing, magical, and sparkly acting coach Cheryl Faye, who was a massive part of my booking the show was battling two kinds of cancer. It was a challenging time, and she would coach me from her bed via taped notes. Unfortunately, she lost her fight with cancer during season two. Cheryl was such an important part of my life from the age of 8. She was a mentor, friend, and coach. Booking this show, she said, was one of the best gifts that she could have ever received, and I will always be grateful to Alexa & Katie for that. Is there a topic in Alexa & Katie that hasn’t been covered that you would like to see the writers tackle? This season I am so happy they are addressing the “mental health” aspect of being ill or having a loved one that is ill. I hope to see that continue because talking about these difficult subjects is essential for people struggling. 37

You also do voiceover work. Do you have a preference between voiceover and face to face acting? They are so different! I loved every day on-set of Alexa & Katie; it became a second home. In voiceover you don’t always have that experience as you often record alone. The magical part of VO is that you can also be a tree or a fish, so I love the fantasy aspect of animation. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? Everyone has a unique journey in this business. I auditioned and worked on small projects for 10 years before booking Alexa & Katie and She-ra and the Princesses of Power. If this is truly your path, keep going, and never give up.


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5

Vegan Recipes to Try

Words and Photos by Ella Titus

I’m Ella, a college student, vegan recipe developer, and the content creator behind my blog, Splurge with Ella. My goal is to provide you with a variety of easy and plant-based recipes that you can feel good about splurging on. Here are five of my favorite vegan recipes that you can make and enjoy from the comfort of your kitchen:

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Vegan Mac and Cheese This Vegan Mac and Cheese is creamy, flavorful, and so easy to make! Plus, this recipe only requires a handful of healthy ingredients and less than 20 minutes. Ingredients: •

1 cup of sliced carrot about 1 large

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small/medium golden potato diced

1 tablespoon of cornstarch

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

1 ¼ cups of unsweetened almond milk

¼ teaspoon of onion powder

1 ¾ teaspoons of salt

¼ teaspoon of garlic powder

Pinch of cayenne, pinch of nutmeg, black pepper to taste

1 box desired pasta (I like to use chickpea pasta)

Instructions: 1. Steam the carrots and potatoes about 10 minutes until soft. Remove from heat when a fork can easily pierce potatoes and carrots. Allow to cool for a few minutes before adding to your food processor.

3. Heat pot over medium heat and add mixture, stirring constantly for 5-10 minutes until it begins to thicken to desired consistency. 4. Pour warm sauce over cooked pasta and enjoy!

2. Add all ingredients into a food processor and blend on high until very smooth. 40


Healthy Banana Oat Cookies These Healthy Banana Oat Cookies are thick, chewy, filled with chocolate chips, and perfectly sweetened with a touch of maple syrup. No one would ever guess that these cookies are also vegan, gluten-free, and made without any refined sugar or flour.

Ingredients: •

1 ½ cups of old fashioned oats (gluten-free if desired)

4-5 tablespoons maple syrup depending on desired sweetness

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon of oat flour made by blending whole oats in a blender or food processor until flour consistency is reached

⅓ cup chocolate chips (I like to use mini and vegan if desired)

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons melted coconut oil

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 overripe mashed banana

¼ cup of peanut butter (can be substituted with preferred nut or seed butter, but the flavor of the cookies may change)

Instructions: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 2. Whisk the first 5 dry ingredients in a medium bowl until combined. 3. Add in the rest of the ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. 41

4. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheet and press down slightly to flatten (these cookies do not spread a lot in the oven). 5. Bake for 7-8 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!


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The Best Granola This healthy and delicious granola will be your new favorite recipe. It is filled with good-for-you ingredients, naturally sweetened, and is so easy to make. I promise you will never want to reach for store-bought again!

Ingredients: •

2 ¼ cups old fashioned rolled oats (use glutenfree oats for gluten-free granola)

¾ cups chopped or sliced almonds and/or pecans (I like to use ½ cup of almonds and ¼ cup of pecans)

3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds or pepitas

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons melted coconut oil (canola oil can also be used to replace the coconut oil)

4-5 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

A pinch of salt

Instructions: 1. Preheat oven to 315 degrees. 2. Stir the first 5 dry ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined. 3. Add the wet ingredients and salt and stir until well incorporated and all ingredients are evenly coated (you may add extra honey or maple syrup if mixture seems too dry).

Storing method: Place granola into a large zip-lock bag or container and store it in the freezer for optimum freshness.

4. Evenly spread granola onto a nonstick baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes in preheated oven until light golden brown. 5. Allow granola to cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes before serving. Eat warm, in a bowl with milk, with yogurt or however you desire! Enjoy!

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Healthy Edible Cookie Dough This Healthy Edible Cookie Dough is rich, sweet, vegan, gluten-free, and can be made in just a few minutes!

Ingredients: •

1 15oz can of chickpeas drained and rinsed

¾ teaspoon of vanilla

½ cup of peanut butter

¼ teaspoon of salt

⅓ cup of maple syrup (you may add more depending on desired sweetness)

⅓ - ½ cup of vegan chocolate chips

Instructions: 1. Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until well combined and the dough has reached a thick and creamy consistency. 43

2. Add desired amount of chocolate chips and mix in by hand. Serve and enjoy immediately. 3. Store in fridge.


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Peanut Butter Swirl Banana Nice Cream This vegan version of banana ice cream is healthy, creamy, only requires three simple ingredients.

Ingredients: •

2 overripe bananas sliced

1–2 tablespoons of peanut butter

1–2 tablespoons of nondairy milk (ex: almond milk or soy milk)

Optional: chocolate chips

Instructions: 1. Place banana slices in a zip-lock bag and place in freezer until frozen (about 3 hours). 2. Remove frozen bananas from freezer and place in a high powered blender or food processor along with nondairy milk and blend until completely smooth (if your ice cream is not reaching a smooth consistency, try adding a little more milk). 3. Serve immediately with optional chocolate chips or any other desired toppings. 4. To store: transfer your nice cream into a container and swirl in desired amount of peanut butter and optional chocolate chips. Cover and store in the freezer.

Connect with Ella: Website: splurgewithella.com

YouTube: @splurgewithella

Instagram: @splurgewithella

Pinterest: @splurgewithella

Facebook: @splurgewithella

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Jacob Laval Interview by Carol Wright

You’re only 11 but have already started your career. What made you want to try your hand at acting? So when I was young, like 2 years old, I always wanted a job. I used to go places with my mom and cry because I wanted to work wherever we went. I wanted to work at the grocery store as a cashier and I once got really upset at the DMV because I wanted an application to get a job. But my parents told me that I would have to wait until I was much older to get one. Then, when I was around 8 years old, they found out that I could do extra work for movies and TV. And the rest is history. You’ve done work on Broadway and television. Do you have a preference? Being on Broadway is amazing - because it’s you know, Broadway! I am trying to stay focused on TV and film because being on Broadway is a really hard schedule. I give a lot of credit to the people who are on Broadway because it’s tiring! You showed your comedic chops in John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch. What was that experience like? That experience was amazing! It was like being paid to go to summer camp. I made 14 new friends and I got to meet a lot of other awesome people. Working with John was one of the greatest experiences I ever had and David Byrne was nice and fun to work with! In your next project, The Plot Against America, you’ll be playing Seldon Wishnow. Tell us a bit about your character. Seldon is very smart but quiet and doesn’t have a lot of friends. He considers his best friend to be Philip, but Philip doesn’t necessarily like Seldon. I’m not sure that Seldon realizes that Philip doesn’t like him, but that doesn’t stop Seldon from always trying to play with him. Seldon 46


“... when I was young, like 2 years old, I always wanted a job. I used to go places with my mom and cry because I wanted to work wherever we went.” likes chess. Also, Seldon doesn’t seem to be aware of what’s going on around him in his family or the world but at the same time, it’s hard to tell. You’ll see as you watch that Seldon has a hard life. There is a fantastic cast for this show. Did any of your castmates ever give you advice on set? Everyone I worked with was amazing and had different acting styles. I worked mostly with Azhy Robertson who plays Philip Levin and Caleb Malis who plays Philip’s brother Sandy. I learned a lot about getting into character, especially for emotional scenes. Taking a page out of The Plot Against America’s book, if there was one event in American history that you could alter what would it be? That’s easy - 9/11 and the Holocaust. Outside of acting, what do you like to do for fun? I like to do a lot of things outside of the acting world. I like to play baseball. I play little league every year. I like to play with my Golden Retriever, Michelle. I play flute in my school band. I can do the Rubik’s cube in around a minute thanks to my Broadway guardian Vanessa Brown at The Rose Tattoo. I like to go on vacation and I want to visit all the US States someday. I also love going to Disney and going to Yankee games! And like my character Seldon, I like to play chess when I can! What advice do you have for kids who want to become actors? Well, acting is a lot of work. You have to go on a lot of 47

auditions which means studying a lot of scripts. And when you are lucky enough to book work, you will probably miss a lot of kid things like school, field trips, friend’s bday parties, play dates, special events and even having to skip vacations. So you need to think about all of those things before you start.


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Gabriel Darku Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Megan Vincent

Before you had the opportunity to be in the McDonald’s commercial did you have any interest in acting?

Reboot: The Guardian Code was your first major role. Do you have a favorite episode from the series?

Almost none! There was a point in high school where I expressed an interest in taking drama, but I was already so busy with music and athletics, and those were my real passions at the time. I didn’t want to overload myself or take time away from what I already knew I enjoyed doing.

“Mainframe Mayhem” was definitely my favorite episode to watch. We get to see characters from the original series make cameos, and Hexadecimal is thrown into the mix as well. It was cool to actually see the characters I watched as a kid join us on the screen!

Your acting career is still in its early stages considering you started in 2012. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in these formative years? Oh man, I’ve definitely learned a lot in the relatively short amount of time I’ve been in the industry. One of the biggest lessons you learn is that rejection is unavoidable, and so you have to find a way to deal with that. Everybody is different and it affects everyone differently, but what we all have in common is our passion for what we do and allowing that to continue driving us forward. On a more personal note, acting has taught me how to open up and further understand not only my own emotions but the emotions of others. It’s taught me what true empathy feels like, and it’s taught me to always take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You can’t possibly know what’s happening in someone else’s life or how certain things make them feel unless you truly step into their shoes. 49

Your newest project is October Faction. How did you find out about the project? Via audition notice! The typical process; my agent received the breakdown and submitted me for the audition. I didn’t know about it until I got that email saying I had the audition. That’s usually how it works unless you’re involved in the earlier stages of pre-production, or if you’re an actor getting offers instead of auditions. Although the show takes place in a universe where monster hunting is a normal occurrence, it still manages to touch on real-life topics such as identity, family and not fitting in. Did the mix between fantasy and reality interest you? Without a doubt. In my opinion, this is what makes the show so intriguing. I think when you start watching something in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy, you don’t always expect to see the kind of grounded and socially relevant material that you’ll see in October


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“... acting has taught me how to open up and further understand not only my own emotions but the emotions of others. It’s taught me what true empathy feels like, and it’s taught me to always take a step back and look at the bigger picture.” Faction. Despite being set in a world of fantasy, the characters remain not only relatable but believable. It really is captivating. Tell us about your character Geoff. Can you relate to him at all? Geoff is a very fun character to play. He’s charismatic, witty, brainy. He’s a handful, that’s for sure! Geoff is actually pretty far from me as a person, which is always great as an actor to get to do that. But of course, I managed to find ways to relate and connect with him, like through his honesty. He lives a life of honesty, not only by being upfront to those around him but by being upfront with himself. He won’t put on an act for people’s approval. He knows who he is, and he’s comfortable within his own skin. I definitely relate to that. Outside of acting, do you hope to get involved in other areas of the industry? I’ve actually found that I have a strong appreciation for cinematography and a pretty big interest in camera operating. It would be great to learn more about cameras and eventually try my hand at shooting a film. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? 51

Make your own content! We live in an age where you can make a quality film with the camera on our smartphones. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to offer you a job, get out there and create! And of course, never give up. This industry has no shortage of rejection, and you can’t let it get to you. You will eventually get that “Yes”, you just have to keep grinding and never stop.


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Graham Verchere Interview by Carol Wright Photography by Erich Saide

You started acting at the same time as your twin brother. Although he stopped acting, you continued. What made you want to continue to act? We both really enjoyed it, but he also started diving pretty soon after. Eventually, he stopped to spend more time diving and I, being extremely unathletic, did not. You’ve worked on great projects such as Fargo, The Good Doctor and now Stargirl. What about a show or movie has to stand out in order for you to want to audition for it? I’ll do most of the auditions I receive, but I really love being able to audition for a movie or show that I know I want to watch when it eventually comes out, whether I’m involved or not! I remember reading Stargirl in middle school and feeling very connected to it for a lot of reasons. Was the relatability of it part of the reason you wanted to be involved in the project? Absolutely. I loved reading both the book and the script. I know a lot of the elements discussed are something that most, if not everyone, can relate to. I hope the movie can have the same effect on people watching for the first time, but knowing the story and how effective it is in the book, I think it will. One large part of the story is that Leo is struggling to accept himself and be happy with who he is. Was it fun to play a character who was going through a pivotal time in their life? Yes!! Playing roles of kids usually means that your character is either a 54


plot device for a parent character, or you have no depth at all. It’s wonderful being able to play such a three dimensional, flawed, and real character Leo is someone who wants to stay in the shadows and be liked by everyone while Stargirl is someone who isn’t afraid to be who she is, which is a confidence everyone should strive to have. What did you learn about yourself while working on this film? Unfortunately, I know a fair amount about how Leo feels due to my own history. The lessons he learns from Stargirl are things that not only everyone needs to learn at some point, but things that I specifically dealt with while learning about myself! It was really interesting seeing the plot laid out so clearly and just understanding every little bit Leo feels. Through this, I got to figure out quite a bit about my own past experiences!

messages most. Entering high school, or around that age, figuring out who you are is one of the hardest times in a lot of people’s lives. If we can use Stargirl to teach them how to stay true to themselves and to find good friends for their true selves, it could make a lot of people’s experiences a lot better. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? Make sure you’re having fun!! I consider myself so lucky to be able to do the things I get to do because of my job, but it’s easy to forget how much comes down to luck and how you look. Don’t beat yourself up about if a role doesn’t happen, so much is just out of your control. Just enjoy it when it does!!

“Make sure you’re having fun!!...Don’t beat yourself up about if a role doesn’t happen, so much is just out of your control. Just enjoy it when it does!!” What was it like working with Grace VanderWaal? Since you both sing and play instruments were there a lot of music sessions on-set? Of course!!! There was almost always a ukulele on-set somewhere. She’s absurdly talented. This is her only experience as an actor and if you didn’t know that you’d never be able to tell. Her ability to just settle right in and play such a big role in a movie with no other experience was just crazy. Considering Stargirl will be on Disney+ it should bring in a lot of younger viewers. What do you hope they learn after watching the film? I absolutely love that younger people will be able to watch the movie. They’re the people that need those 55


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Praneet Akilla Interview by Carol Wright Photography by Noah Asanias

When did you know you wanted to be an actor? I knew I wanted to be an actor from the moment I saw my first Bollywood movie in theatres. My parents let me watch a lot of movies and theatre growing up and I instantly fell in love with the song, dance, and the fearless abandon of performance Bollywood movies showed. While other kids played outside or played video games, I would watch behind the scenes videos of how movies were made or pretend I was the action hero of my own movie in front of a mirror. Eventually, that transitioned into watching and learning about North American content and then I grew up performing my whole life throughout high school and university. Who are some of your acting inspirations? I love anything Jake Gyllenhaal and Oscar Isaac are doing right now. They are at the top of their game both on stage and on screen. From musical theatre to Shakespeare to leading roles in incredible films — I love the nuance and detail they bring to their characters. They also pick great projects to be a part of. As someone who does a lot of stage work and is transitioning into more opportunities in the film/TV world, I hope to emulate their career path You can currently be seen in October Faction. Did you read the comics before working on the show? I honestly didn’t know about the October Faction comics before I got the script for this show. It was during the auditioning process where I did my

research and read four of the comics. I instantly fell in love with the material and illustrations from Steve Niles/Damien Worm. It was a hyper-stylized world with these really well-developed characters and witty, dry humor. I loved how it explored so many relevant social issues but without a heavy-handed approach as well. Not to mention, I’m a huge science fiction/fantasy geek, so when I found out about October Faction I was over the moon. October Faction is your television debut. What did you learn from this experience? It was my first time being on a major set so I learned a lot. Not only did I learn how to conduct myself on camera, how to hit my marks, and all of the logistical technicalities of it, but also how to work with other actors in physically/emotionally intimate scenes. I learned how to deliver on heightened emotional scenes in the world of television where everything is fast-paced and you don’t necessarily have the time to do as many retakes as you want. I also had the luxury of job shadowing several writers and directors of the show on my off-days. Each of them took me under their wing and showed me the ropes about how a TV show is developed and then executed on set. I can’t thank Damian Kindler (October Faction Showrunner) for the opportunity. Your character Phillip is the Alpha at his high school and he doesn’t want anyone to threaten that status. Was it fun playing a character who is a bit egotistical? 58


“I learned how to deliver on heightened emotional scenes in the world of television where everything is fastpaced and you don’t necessarily have the time to do as many retakes as you want.” It’s always fun playing someone who is so different from you. I was never the alpha at my school nor do I have any real-life experience playing a character that could bully someone and be filled with ego. I always want to be challenged as an actor — to do my research, to really analyze the script and try to get into the headspace of a character like Phillip. I also had a lot of insight from the writers and directors of the show which helped. It was a blast to portray someone with so many layers. Throughout the series, you learn that there’s more to Phillip than the bravado he portrays. Did you learn a lot from having to play a complex character? I think playing Phillip was so good as a young actor because every day on set was a challenge. You can’t really rest on your laurels. All of the scenes Phillip was in were so well written and had so much detail, that I had to internalize every bit of it and think of his through-line in the show. His character arc was so well developed, but on set, I had to execute the vision the creators of the show had in mind. So over the months of shooting, I was able to understand his complexity and portray it with subtlety, especially considering a character like Phillip wouldn’t necessarily show his emotions so openly right away. That’s what I learned to do from playing a complex character.

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You also produce projects. How do you go about choosing the projects you want to produce? It’s mainly in collaboration with my fellow director/writer/producer friends. It can be a simple idea from one of our late-night funny conversations or a lot of the times the ideas come from the way we were raised, the immigrant experience, and our interactions growing up in a country foreign to us. These are the stories that interest me right now and we are developing a web-series and a feature film based on some of these ideas. I also go off of my instincts. I love anything from musical theatre to high concept sci-fi/fantasy genre films. I always get ideas from these features and try and execute them in my own way on the page. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? Study the craft and practice as much as possible. Once you are auditioning professionally — control what you can control. It’s a hard business filled with lots of rejection, but remember why you are doing this. It’s for the love of performing — so enjoy the process and don’t get attached to the outcome. I know. It’s easier said than done, but if you need to say it out loud every day to make it true — then do it! I do all the time.


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Meredith Dabney Interview by Carol Wright Photography by Sheldon Botler

You act and write, is creativity something that was encouraged in your home growing up? Yes! I remember that for a long time “imaginary play” was my favorite part of the day. Since I was homeschooled, I had flexibility in my day and I would do a chunk of math, then play, science, then play…You get the idea. As I got older, I began to write my “play” ideas down and loved to create and develop characters and even whole worlds of my own. I think having a parent with a musical background definitely helped as well and I was encouraged to begin an instrument at a young age (cello, piano) and supported in my curiosity to try and experiment with different artistic formats (drawing, art, creative writing, drama, theatre). As it turned out, I first found a love in imaginary play, then on paper, and now paper to stage to filmmaking, all the arts coming together! How did the idea for Here Today come about? Well, the short answer is I feel like every experience and action/reaction that has happened in my life thus far has propelled me forward and eventually came out on the page. A more complex response would be that HERE TODAY is a culmination of both my own struggles and those of my interaction with many friends who have endured the challenges brought to light in HERE TODAY. As we have shared our truth with one another, a system of mutual compassion has been created and now we are sharing it with the world. In other words, the emotional and physical battles that have attempted to bring us down have instead made us stronger and more vocal, and that voice of strength, hope, and vulnerability needs to 62


“I think one of my goals is that conversations are started about these and other topics. Mental Health. Identity. Friendship. These are all such powerful topics that so often are swept under the rug because they are complicated items to deal with head-on. ” be heard. My goal with HERE TODAY and creating, in general, is to encourage opportunities to talk, grow, and share through the voices of many while fulfilling my need to “tell and share stories that need to be told” which has become the mission of my production company, ASTRABETA CREATIONS. What was the hardest part of bringing Here Today from script to screen? Hmm, throughout the process, different parts have been tricky, for a variety of reasons, but always ending in a positive way, in spite of the challenges. At first, making the commitment to even pursue this project from page to screen was difficult. Since it is such a personal and important story, I was both passionate and terrified about doing the topic justice and telling the story in a way that it would be both truthful to those who it represented, while also helping others by sharing in a positive way. It took a lot of courage and digging deep as well as prompting and encouragement from others to believe confidently that I was capable of creating this film. More recently, post-production has been a wild ride for a completely different set of reasons… but definitely worth the determination and perseverance to finish strong. The common thread in working through all of the challenges has been to build a strong creative team to support and 63

aid the process. I was extremely fortunate to work with a great director (Erica Arvold), incredible cinematographer (Isaac Deitz), and to have a fabulous coach and mentor (Erik Lingvall) who, along with many other cast and crew, came together to make this project what it has become. A HUGE THANK YOU to all for their personal and collective commitment to each step of the process! Here Today deals with a lot of big themes such as mental health, identity, and friendship. What do you hope audiences take away from the film? Well, you put it a great way. I think one of my goals is that conversations are started about these and other topics. Mental Health. Identity. Friendship. These are all such powerful topics that so often are swept under the rug because they are complicated items to deal with head-on. However, since we all experience these items on some level, I see this as an amazing opportunity to bring unity and connectedness, and my hope is to find a way to capitalize on our similarities rather than our differences. Was it fun to play a main character in a story that you wrote? How did that impact the filming experience?


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Yes! The idea of different paths that we can go down as complex people is one that is near and dear to me, and as such was a special component of this film. In fact, each of the characters represents a different part of me, and I felt both extremely vulnerable and incredibly honored to watch the amazing cast and crew bring my thoughts, characters and ultimately this creative vision to life in the form of the film, HERE TODAY. It was definitely a challenge to be both writer and actor and I often had to work hard to separate the two in order to get outside my own head and be most effective in the role I was playing at the time. So, to answer your question, yes, it was definitely fun, but also very challenging and oh so worth it in the end! You’ve been going through the festival circuit with Here Today. What has that experience been like? Exciting. Crazy. Special. And I’m pretty sure this incredible ride has just begun, so stay tuned! What other projects do you have on the horizon? I’m currently in production for a film I wrote titled, “BLINK!” which is part of a trilogy. This work addresses important topics such as family dynamics, internal emotions, nature vs nurture, and accepting change. My production company, ASTRABETA CREATIONS is producing this film while working hard to stay true to our mission of “telling and sharing stories that need to be told.” What advice do you have for aspiring film-makers? Please, please share YOUR truth! It’s scary as hell, but so empowering, touching, and impactful to see works of art overflowing with identity, truth, and love. Don’t be afraid to stick to what you believe in, no matter what the outside voices are saying. It’s hard, especially if you’re young because others may have more experience and a stronger and more influential voice, but if you are writing/creating truth, NO ONE can share your truth better than you!

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Zahra Bentham Interview by Carol Wright Photos by Elle Edwards

Was there a certain TV show or movie that got you interested in acting? Yes! The one movie that really inspired me was Colombiana with Zoe Saldana. Man, that movie inspired the woman badass, special agent, undercover spy type movies that I love and one day would be so thrilled to play. I’ve yet to play a darker character so it would be a real treat. What did you learn during your time at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts that you apply to your career today? Wexford CSA helped ground me and created a secure foundation on my work ethic and views on life. I’ve learned many lessons that I’ve carried with me but one I stand by so strongly when it comes to acting and/or being in the professional world is: “It’s never about you. Get your job done because you’re only a piece of the puzzle to the masterpiece.” Another great one was, “It’s all about the team.” So often Anna Marriam — the Artistic Director of the Performing Arts program at Wexford CSA - would tell us this, to the point where we would finish the slogan. But looking back, how much that got instilled into my brain has created this discipline and looking outside of myself for the great purpose and reason I do what I do. Thank God for Wexford and my amazing teachers. What initially got you interested in the show ‘Spinning Out’? When I first got the audition I was so excited because I thought I’d be getting back on the ice, but sadly 65

that was not the case. Hahaha! But understanding what the actual story was about made it that much more significant to be a part of it. ‘Spinning Out’ follows the subjects of depression and mental illness but told honestly and compassionately. Specifically, we highlight Bipolar disorder and the struggles of dealing with that and the everyday lives we choose. Mental health has been such an important topic and it is becoming more normal to discuss these issues within our households and amongst our friends. I mean, the fact that Netflix gave us a platform to talk about this is huge. That in itself shows the progression and how far we can take the information we are learning to heal and get the proper tools we need for ourselves. All in all, it has major drama and cattiness that makes any binge-watchable show entertaining. Hopefully, we get a second season and somehow I can be on the ice. I’d be the happiest person. Your character Alana is very determined and hardworking. Do you see aspects of yourself in her? Oh yes! I love Alana. I found myself consistently drawing comparisons to homegirl. She takes no sh*t, speaks her mind, but loves hard. It never really clicked for me until filming my second episode who she really, really was. Her hard-working attitude towards life really anchors who she is…because well, that’s all she had to be. Growing up with her mom in a single-parent household obviously has its challenges and struggles but she is super determined to get good grades and of course win Marcus’ heart, all while keeping true to herself. I think anyone who’s watched can pull realistic qualities from Alana and see themselves in her.


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“I love Alana. I found myself consistently drawing comparisons to homegirl. She takes no sh*t, speaks her mind, but loves hard.” Another project you can be seen in this year is the limited series ‘Madam CJ Walker’. What did you learn about Madam CJ Walker through working on the project? Before getting the actual audition, I didn’t know anything about Sarah Breedlove at all (shame on our school systems for not teaching us about her). But once I had done some research on who she was and how monumental she was in history, it allowed me to even push further in one, wanting the role and two, wanting to be a part of telling her story. It means a lot to me to help tell her story and allow her legacy to live on. She was a powerhouse woman. I learned that a lot of her own community wasn’t in support of her in the beginning. She faced a lot of hatred even from the closest people she thought had her back. Regardless of how many times this woman got knocked down, she kept trying. Once Madam CJ’s business took off, she hired all women. In between the years 1912 to 1919 she trained around 20,000 women. Those are just a few things she accomplished, but the information I learned about it was mind-blowing. Learning about her truly inspired me to be undeniable. I hope this story will give all the necessary missing information for people and encourage other black women and men who are entrepreneurs, who have their own businesses or starting out or even just motivate anyone who is striving for greatness. Everything you want is on the other side of dedication and discipline. Madam CJ Walker will show you that. Tell us about your character Nettie. What was her relationship with Madam CJ Walker? In ‘Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam CJ Walker’, I play a woman by the name of Nettie Ransom. Nettie is a highly educated, very sweet, intelligent, proper wife of ‘Ransom’ played by Kevin Carrol. She

is a member of the Indiana Coloured Woman’s Club where she helps Sarah Breedlove, played by Octavia Spencer start her business. Madam CJ Walker was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, political and social activist. Being the wealthiest African-American businesswoman and wealthiest self-made woman in America around 1912, the story takes you on the ride of Madam CJ Walker’s life, her struggles, and her many blessings she encountered. The series is written by Nicole Jefferson Asher and A’Lelia Bundles, who is Madam CJ Walker’s great-great-granddaughter (wild!). I hope this series is a history lesson for everyone! Outside of acting, you’re involved in Black Women Film! Canada. What type of work is done through that organization? Before we closed out 2019, I had the opportunity to work alongside the Black Woman Film! Canada at the Canadian Film Center grounds (where I was a part of the Actors Conservatory back in 2015). I was asked to join by CFC on helping the directors and writers with the material they had created. The whole purpose was to get them out of their heads and see their material on actors. It was really dope to see my people create stories or direct me in such a way that felt familiar. We had a shorthand, an understanding. With Black Woman Film! Canada being dedicated to helping to push the careers and skills of filmmakers who are Black female identified of the Canadian African diaspora, I will forever and always support my own and my sisters. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? Don’t wait for people to get you work (like your agent or manager). Get up and create your own work. Create a life you want. Get your friends together and make some dope sh*t. I promise it’s super rewarding. 68


Words of Wisdom

Kimberly-Sue Murray Interview by Carol Wright Photography by Kourosh Keshiri

What initially got you interested in acting? The idea that I could do anything, be anyone, anywhere at any time was thrilling. Actors get to travel in time and space and that was always so appealing to me, especially as a 9-year-old. I’ve always loved telling stories, often exaggerated for shock value, to make people laugh. I had a gynecology story, my first kiss story and an embarrassing concealer story that I would perform at family dinners. As a kid, my mom would tuck me into bed and we would take turns rehearsing our death scenes. Morbid, I know, but I was practicing for my Oscar-winning performance. I would pretend to be dead, I would stare out blankly and hold my breath, as my mom “wept" over my still body and then it would be my turn to shed tears. It was so dramatic. I used to be able to cry on command but not so much anymore. The transformative and boundless nature of acting is what interests me.

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vampires are fighting to survive, to maintain their humanity. There’s nothing glamorous about our show and I really love that. It’s an entirely different take on the vampire genre. Danika is definitely a character that has many sides to her. Was it fun to get into the headspace of Danika? It was a lot of fun, but I didn’t always know where it was heading. It was originally a 5 episode arc, but the writers kept writing Danika in (thank you!!!). I really tapped into her while shooting episode 5. It took me a minute to own her, to fully embody her sexual and primal nature. She’s the kind of person who is willing to pretty much do anything to save her own skin. She’s manipulative and conniving. Danika loves being bad, so it was fun letting loose and leaning into that.

You can be seen in the Netflix show V-Wars. What was it about the show that made you want to be involved?

Even though it is a show about vampires, V-Wars touches on real-life topics. Did it help to ground the show a bit more in reality since it covered timely issues?

Vampires. I’m a huge fan of the genre. I grew up watching True Blood, the Twilight Saga, and The Vampire Diaries. With my fair skin, it was only a matter of time before I got to play one hahaha. But, what I also love about the show is how relevant it is to what’s happening right now. I get chills when I watch the news; the fear around COVID-19, borders shutting down, thousands of people in quarantine, no known cure… Other relevant issues that the show explores are climate change, fear, and discrimination. These

Absolutely! It was part of my preparation for the role. I would just sit there and imagine it actually happening to me in real life; a virus spreading globally that mutates its victims. It’s not too far-fetched. That’s how I was able to justify a lot of Danika’s actions. She has no control over what’s happening to hear, nor does Michael Fayne. When she first turns and Mila is standing in front of her, she’s not seeing her sister, she’s seeing food and this unknown urge takes over. The world we created on the show is grounded in reality,


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“The idea that I could do anything, be anyone, anywhere at any time was thrilling. Actors get to travel in time and space and that was always so appealing to me, especially as a 9-year-old.” it was easy for us to believe, to raise the stakes and commit to the circumstances. In real life, if you had to be any supernatural creature would you choose to be a vampire? Well, now that I’ve played a vampire, I feel like I got that out of my system. I would want to be an elf, like in Lord of The Rings, like Arwen or Galadriel. Wait, no! I want to be a witch! Definitely, a witch. I have dreams of going to Hogwarts and flying on a broomstick. I’m 31, but I’m still hoping for my letter from Hogwarts. No joke, my partner took me to Universal in Orlando just to go to the, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and I teared up when I walked into Hogsmeade. Tell us a bit about your project The Wedding Planners. What is it about? The Wedding Planners is a new original series for City TV about a family of wedding planners. I play Paige, the eldest of three siblings, whose mother suddenly passes away and leaves them in charge of the family business. The siblings are thrown into the intense industry of wedding planning while navigating their own personal struggles and mourning the loss of their mother. It premieres March 27th at 8 pm ET/PT on City TV. If you can’t tune in, you can watch it on citytv. com and CityTv NOW.

work for myself as an actor. When things weren’t happening for me, I would team up with friends and collaborate on a project. I created and produced a web series pilot called Werewoman, and two shorts: She Came Knocking and Purl. I will 100% produce again. I love the creative process from start to finish. Actors rarely get to be involved in pre and post-production. I have so much respect and admiration for actors who have been creating opportunities for themselves; Brit Marling (Another Earth, The OA), Jessica Biel (Limetown, The Sinner) and of course, Reese Witherspoon (The Wild, Big Little Lies, and The Morning Show). You get to choose what stories you want to tell and how you want to tell them. It’s powerful. What advice do you have for aspiring actors? It’s a weeding out process, so if you love what you do, then persevere and stay focused.

You’re also a producer. What’s your process for deciding on which projects to produce? I’ve only ever produced projects as a way of creating 72


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Nyota Issue 19