SPOTLIGHT: Actor Minerva Garcia

How did you become an actor? My first experiences as an actor were entertaining my family with little stories and jokes because it was my way of gaining my parent’s attention. I’m one of 7 kids so I had to do something!  In junior high school I was a drama geek, and in drama club in middle school and high school. I also competed in U.I.L. which is an organization run by the University of Texas in Austin that holds state wide competitions in everything from sports to theater. I also attended university on a theater scholarship. This is what I’ve always wanted to do with my life, and I have had an  acting career for 20 years now.

Are you interested in creating in any other art forms? Most definitely, I am interested in other art forms. I have directed several shows at the Frida Kahlo Theater.  I no longer teach it, but it was a great training ground to develop my directing chops. Also, I am in the process of writing several projects both in theater and for television. If I make time, I also want to learn to paint. Since I have played Frida Kahlo in the past, I think she’s the one behind this new notion in my head.

Did you get a degree in theatre? Yes, I have two degrees in theater, a B.F.A from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.F.A. from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

When did you move to Los Angeles? I moved to Los Angeles sixteen years ago. It was the proverbial cliche, where I literally got off the Greyhound bus station at 7th and Alameda and I knew maybe two people here. Mine was a very typical case of getting acclimated that first year, it was tough, but then once I found my bearings, I fell in love with LA. It’s home now.

What have been some of your successes as an actor in the industry? My successes have been many, among them being working with Culture Clash my theater heroes at the Mark Taper Forum, and I was able to work there again, this time having the opportunity to play the lead in Luis Alfaro’s award winning adaptation of Electra, ELECTRICIDAD. I was the understudy and I performed for a whole week of shows, having no rehearsal. I went in cold. Thank goodness I had originated the part out of town about two years prior. I still remembered my lines. That helped! Also, my first huge film break came when Mike Nichols, director of the seminal THE GRADUATE gave me my first union job in WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? working with Annette Benning, Gary Shandling, and John Goodman. I felt like I won the lottery! I have worked steadily, and with some truly great people, but nothing compares to the first time one works with such heavy hitters.

Have there been any struggles? There have been many, but honestly they have been made grander in my head than they actually are. Yes, there are lean years in this industry and I have had many part-time jobs to pay the bills sometimes yet, I have been one of the lucky ones that can truly say this is my profession. I’ve earned a decent living from it. A well known actor I worked with told me that I should make friends with adversity and disillusionment for it was part of the journey. It took lots of experience for me to truly hear this and I’m glad I did.

Do you prefer theatre or TV and film? All mediums have their own draws. Theater of course is the actor’s medium because truly you can only depend on your instrument, meaning your body and your voice. If the acting isn’t great in theater, no amount of effects or tricks will make people want to pay top dollar to see you perform. Television allows an actor a decent pay check if it’s a union job. Not that you can’t find art in doing television, but many of us journeymen actors have done the one, two or three line parts that are the bread and butter of the industry for many. Sometimes it’s hard to see how one or two or three line roles help tell the story, but each job is an opportunity to learn something, or meet someone who you might like to work with in the future. A different opportunity might present itself on set for you so it’s all good!  I love film, love making movies and watching them.  It depends on the project, the director and the idea. The bottom-line is that stories are stories in any medium and if we are lucky as actors we’ll have a great team behind us to help us tell them.

What are you working on now? Right now I am fortunate to be working with a very talented group of women called TONGUE IN CHIC’ANA, it consists of the triumvirate of Selene Santiago de Nasseri, Ramona Pilar and Michelle Zamora. Ramona wrote this great play called SANTA CHATA AND HER FANTASTIC FAILURES. Selene is directing and Michelle is creating the puppet that is one of the stars of the show.  I play Santa Chata. The premise of the show is based on the Mexican vaudeville circuit of the 1930s, and a performer named la Chata Noelesca who was the proprietress of her own theater troupe! She played all over the southwest and she was especially popular here in Los Angeles, where she and her troupe of mostly women performers played at the Million Dollar Theater. The ladies of TONGUE IN CHIC’ANA have re-imagined her story for the purposes of our play. On top of this I am also working on my writing for my own project, and lastly, I’m part of this show called THE CIRCLE written by Tina Lifford. It is based on her own experiences working with survivors of sexual abuse and emotional abuse. We will be performing this play on Oct. 22nd at the Odyssey Theater (which is sold out) and Oct. 29th at the Marriot Hotel at LAX. Marianne Williamson will be joining us for that performance.

Is your work with Tongue in Chic’ana different from anything you’ve ever done before? Yes, it’s different in that I have never had a puppet be my leading man! Also, I have never had a Chicana director, writer and producer all at once. So far it’s been a very easy and collaborative process. Girl geniuses all of them.

What would be your dream project? As an actress I have several and as a writer/producer I want to develop several projects I have in mind. I want to say them out loud but I am a bit superstitious when it comes to that, so you’ll know they happened when I invite you to the premieres!

Do you have any advice for young artists who are coming into the industry? I liked what Robert Altman once said, “The best advice I can give is don’t follow anybody’s advice.”Ultimately, it’s your life and you know how best to lead it. Perhaps it would be to say yes, keep motivated and positive. Persevere. Don’t let anybody steal your dreams because they are precious, and lastly, TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN. As actor’s of color we are always judged twice as hard, and we have to be twice as good, so show them you deserve to be included. Lastly, have a good WORK ETHIC. No one owes you anything and this industry will eat you up very quickly if you don’t get this at a young age and at the start of your career. Be a good worker, be on time, keep complaints and gossip to nothing, and you will have a wonderful career.

Santa Chata and her Fantastic Failures at the New Casa 0101 Theatre Nov. 11 – 27, 2011. $20 tickets. Previews Nov. 9 & 10 at 8 pm