I spend a lot of time talking to other artists and I have noticed that I often hear (as well as say) the phrase: “I wish I knew _______ before I started.” After hearing this over and over for years I realized…why don’t we help those coming after us know the things we wish we knew? In this new blog series titled I Wish I Knew, I will be interviewing people in the theater and on camera business to get some answers. Whether you are an aspiring or working artist, you will find pearls of wisdom in the words of some experts in the field. These words may be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
For my first interview, I reached out to my friend and colleague Stefanée Martin (she/her/hers). She is a brilliant actress who has experience in both the theater and TV/Film worlds. I hope her story inspires you as much as she inspires me!
I met Stefanée Martin in grad school when we were both getting our M.F.A.s in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Stefanée was a year under me and she stood out as a bright light in the program. Grad school is incredibly difficult, so it is such a relief to be around someone who is so positive and passionate about their work.
I finally got to be in a show with Stefanée when I was in my 3rd year; we played Lady Squeamish and Mrs. Dainty Fidget in The Country Wife. Here’s some proof:
We had such a blast on this show, often making funny faces in the background while pretending to be snooty best friends. This is when I discovered that Stefanée was not only kind and easy going, but hysterically funny as well.
You get to see both her humor and power if you watched her play Yolanda Kipling in Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down on Netflix. You can also find her in a new film called Skin in the Game which has been touring the festival circuit. Stefanée knows the camera and stage and has a lot of wisdom to share with anyone interested in the complex world of acting.
Q. When did you first know you wanted to become an actor?
There was no single moment, I don’t think. I didn’t want to go to my neighborhood high school (I was born in Washington, D.C. but grew up mostly in Prince George’s County Maryland), so I looked up other options. I found a local performing arts program at a nearby high school and applied there. I ruled out all the other disciplines (dance, visual art, chorus, etc.) by lack of interest or doubt that I’d be good enough to get in (haha!) – I landed on auditioning for the theatre department because all I needed to apply was me. I did a Lady in Blue monologue from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow Is Enuf. I got in, and instantly fell in love with acting. I fell in love with performing. I never considered doing anything else.
Q. What do you love most about being an actor?
I love that acting isn’t about hiding, but rather about planting your feet firmly on the ground and being completely transparent as you stand in your truth. I like that it’s about existing and allowing others to see you raw. In terms of acting as a profession – I love the myriad of people I get to meet. So many of my professional relationships have blossomed into wonderful friendships.
Q. What is your biggest challenge associated with being an actor?
My biggest challenge with acting is how personal the profession is. When you’re young, and training to be a professional, they tell you, “You have to have thick skin to be in this business. You can’t take any of the disappointments or rejections personally.” And the sentiment of that advice is true, but it’s impossible to not take things personal in the business because the fact is that it is personal. If you’re not cast because of your haircut or a casting associate treats you like s@#t but then you hear from a friend of yours that the same casting associate is just the “nicest, sweetest!” toward your friend – that is personal. It’s not personal in the sense that your haircut is bad or that the casting associate is “out to get you” or that you’re not likable, but it is personal in the sense that it’s you that those situations are happening to. So, it can be difficult to separate those two kinds of “personal” when the whole job is (as I just answered lol) about being vulnerable.
Q. What are some things you wish you knew before you became an actor?
I wish I knew that I didn’t need…
- to major in theatre in undergrad in order to be a professional actor
- to cover up anything about myself in the audition room in order to be appealing as an actor (or as a person)
- to wear “audition clothes” to an audition. My personal style/persona is what casting really needs to/wants to see.
I wish I knew…
- living a full personal life is what inspires the professional art
- investing in learning other non-performance/non-acting skill sets is incredibly valuable to the life and career of an actor
- More about starting my own business
- How to take better pictures
- How to start and run a theatre company
Q. What is a one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?
I’ve gotten so much incredible advice from SO many wonderful artists/teachers/colleagues. Some of the best though probably came from one of my theatre professors in graduate school, Nick Gabriel. Just pick anything he’s ever said to me! Here’s one thing that comes to mind – this isn’t quite advice, but: we did this exercise in his class where we each had to name three actors for ourselves who we thought we were similar to and thenwe’d each gather from our classmates three actors who they thought we were similar to. Basically, exploring the perspectives of how you see yourself versus how others see you. This is an extremely valuable exercise as an actor because that paradox will always be there in some way. I think the more that fact is accepted, wrestled with, and questioned, the better.
Q. Where can people find out more about you?
Best place is my Instagram! @_stefanee_
Here’s a link to an interview I did with Constellation magazine https://www.constellationmag.space/new-york-talent-portfolio-i/#new-york-talent-portfolio-i-1
One I did with W magazine