by Estela Garcia
Because of Dell’Arte, I know when it’s time to quiet the fear.
Because of Dell’Arte, I brought home a new sense of self, a theatre vocabulary and a tenacity to pave the road on my terms.
Because of Dell’Arte, I now live a version of the life I always wanted but didn’t know I could have.
Because of Dell’Arte…I make a living as a freelance actress, teacher, community engagement specialist and general theatre maker in the big city.
The road to today was as windy as highway 299, but it’s been a wonderful adventure! Bear with me as I take you through a collage of thoughts detailing the road since Dell’Arte, 2005.
The night I arrived in Blue Lake-I cried, and cried and cried myself to sleep. What had I gotten myself into! This place was small, cold and rainy. I was a city girl that appreciated nature, but the redwoods were intimidating. I was homesick and so was my Jeep Cherokee-there were many days I cupped water out of my car from the rain that seeped in overnight. Rain, what was that! I was in culture shock, this was nothing like my beloved L.A. I was a chubby Latina girl from the big city with not a lot of professional theatre experience. I couldn’t find myself in other students, in the teachers or in the community. I feared the unknown and felt massively underprepared for training
I had hang ups. I didn’t feel enough. I could barely do morning warm-ups, let alone tumbling. I had always wanted to be an actor/creator but had allowed my fears and those of my parents dictate my path. In high school I attended a Math and Science Magnet and then went on to receive a BFA was in Chicana/o Studies to avoid a career in the arts. As a 1st generation Latina, I had lots of GUILT. I was poor and educated which clearly meant I was responsible for my community. I had to sacrifice myself and do something less “self-serving”. I took acting and mask classes, blindly started a college theatre group, I interned at a local theatre and was part of ONE professional production all under the guise of “Extra-Curricular Activities”.
My classmates and I were obsessed with being good students and getting it right. This often got in the way of finding “the thing”, of practicing the school motto “Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy!” These four words were so simple independently of each other, but I couldn’t figure out how to practice them mind-body-sprit. I struggled my first year, Joan called me a “hit or miss”. During end of semester evaluations, I found out teachers had had a bet that I would be among the first to quit. They could see through me, my work was invisible, timid, fearful. I didn’t quit, I slowly began to blossom, and eventually transferred into the MFA program which is when my work took off. This would be one of the many times I would prove Ronlin wrong - what sweet pleasure it was to prove him wrong, even when he was the one to orchestrate that discovery. Sometimes these lessons need time - a summer, a couple of years, a lifetime.
Two and half years of training and an internship later I found myself back in LA - a city that was my city and not my city all at once. It was in the middle of the recession. My plan to be a substitute teacher by day and artist by night failed, schools were not hiring. I was living at home with my parents in the outskirts of the city, unemployed, with student loan debt, no theatre community, in the best shape I’d been in AND a brand new physical theatre injury. I had arrived! LA! I’m home! I’ve arrived! Crickets. Fear. Depression. “Stop it, Estela! Quiet. Effort. Risk. Momentum. Joy?”
Now, instead of searching for “the thing” I was searching for a tribe. Eventually I got a very flexible and well payed part time job as a nanny that allowed me the time and money to be an artist. I found fellow Dell’Artians in the city, took physical theatre classes and plugged myself in. I plugged myself in as I searched for a new famiglia. I even found famiglia in unexpected places - a big budget commercial shoot - using the work in secret.
The first couple of years back were “hit and miss” for me. I had days I felt grounded and more confident than ever. I was hundreds of miles away but felt supported by my Blue Lake famiglia. The very people I once couldn’t see myself in, walked with me in smog filled L.A. By exploring what I didn’t know, I got to know myself more deeply. I left Dell’Arte with a poetic voice, a style of storytelling, and skills that made me unique and marketable in the city. On hard days I can hear Ronlin tell me “I believe, with you, anything is possible. If you say, you are going to walk across the stage and make fire appear, I believe flames will engulf the stage.” Those words, my hustle and the support of my parents afforded me the ability to live cheaply and eventually trade in the nanny gig for a life of teaching, creating work with underserved communities and acting.
9 years have passed and I can finally see my career come together. I’ve learned to get out of my own way. Every year it gets easier to balance gigs, life, art making, admin and the fear that goes with the business.
“Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy!”
BIO: A Los Angeles born native, Estela Garcia is an actress, movement coach, deviser, community engagement specialist, mask maker/performer, and teacher. She received her MFA from Dell'Arte in ensemble based physical theatre, is a Movement Professor at CalArts, a Community Liaison for CTG, and a member of LTA/LA. Garcia is best known for her portrayal of surrealist painter REMEDIOS VARO in her one-woman play and Older Esperanza in THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET. Recent film credits include: YOLIS and VALENTINA. Estela has worked with numerous theatre organizations of various sizes, most notably with CTG, SCR and ETC on their community based projects. She loves to cook, dance and make silly faces.