Updated: Aug 6
Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Grace Shen
Current Location: Los Angeles, Ca
Grace, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
My dream of acting was instilled in me as a young girl but I did not pursue it until I was 26 years old. My family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong and arrived in Vancouver with just our suitcases. Growing up we didn’t have a whole lot, so I, along with my brother and sister would use our imagination and play pretend. I always wanted to act but I was a shy child and being the eldest of four siblings in a traditional Chinese family, it was not a career to pursue but only considered as a hobby. In 11th grade, my high school put on their first theatre production. It was the musical Oliver and I wanted to be a part of it. I sat in the back of the auditorium where the auditions were being held. I watched everyone go on stage to perform their song and I did not have the courage to audition. I went to university and received a Bachelors of Education from the University of British Columbia and then I worked in a Customs Broker’s office for a couple of years.
I finally mustered up the courage to audition for The King and I at the Theatre Under the Stars in Vancouver and much to my delight and amazement, I was cast as one of the wives and I also got to play Little Eva in the ballet portion. I had the time of my life and I was hooked. I proceeded to do theatre, tv and commercials in Vancouver. At this point I knew that acting was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and decided to get formal training. On my 28th birthday, I auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) in Los Angeles and was accepted into the academy.
After graduating from AADA, I was cast as Liat in South Pacific at the California Theatre of the Performing Arts. I have continued to work in theatre and film/tv and have been fortunate to work with wonderfully talented artists.
I am glad that I followed my heart’s desire. It is never too late to do anything.
Can you tell us a little more about what you've been working on recently?
I am currently focused on working in film and tv. Most recently, I worked on a NDA film project which was directed by an Academy Award Winning director. Also, recently I worked on 911: Lone Star, Truth Be Told and an AARP commercial.
The life of a Performing Artist can be challenging, and sometimes the best way to grow is to learn from other people's experiences. Can you tell us about any obstacles or challenges you've faced along your journey?
My biggest obstacle has always been overcoming my self doubt and nervousness during auditions. This is a tough business and it’s the confident actor that will shine through. I saw an interview with Viola Davis, where she was asked if she knew she was talented and without a beat she said “Yes, I knew.” I thought to myself “Wow, I need to get to that.” I have come a long way and am in a good place where I truly believe in myself. It's an ongoing process of awareness and not giving up. If you fall, just get back up and keep going. It takes practice and the more you do it, the better and more confident you get. It takes “knowing thyself,” growing and learning as a person and artist, being prepared, and focusing on the work.
In overcoming those challenges, have there been any lessons learned? Anything you would maybe want to tell your younger self?
What I would tell my younger self is that “You are enough.” It’s about unconditional self-love, and accepting one's self. There is no one else like you, so you already stand out, just be yourself.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
My late father’s motto is: “Just do your best” and that is what I strive to do because truly, why do anything if you don’t put your best foot forward? Also, you hear this one all the time, “Enjoy the journey.”
What would you consider your "proudest" moments?
There have been many moments along my journey, but the proudest moment I have to say was the year I turned 50. I quit my day job and re-dedicated myself to acting and produced and acted in the play Two Rooms by Lee Blessing at the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica. Every performance before I stepped on stage, I thought my heart was going to leap out of my body and I was shaking in my shoes. It was a huge undertaking but so rewarding and I learned so much about myself. Also, Miss Saigon was one of my all time favorite musicals, so when the Rose Center Theater was mounting their production of Miss Saigon, I knew I had to audition. It was a dream come true to be a part of this production.
Where do you draw inspiration from when creating? I draw inspiration from deep within myself, my imagination, as it is limitless. I keep a treasure chest in my mind of unique encounters, sights, smells, stories, books, quotes, music, etc… When I’m working on a character I like to scour the internet and do a lot of research. It’s interesting that the moments in my life will inform and give me inspiration for whatever project I am working on.
What role do you think the Arts and Artists play in today's society?
I believe the role of the artist is to put up a mirror to humanity. To show the good, the bad and the ugly from one’s truth in the hope to educate, evolve and better ourselves.
What are your hopes for the future of the Arts?
The arts will never disappear, we’ve been telling stories for eons. We need it to laugh, cry, escape, uplift, fantasize, motivate, hope, grow and change. It fuels the soul. I hope the industry will better represent all walks of life because representation matters.
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