Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Kristin Henry
Current Location: Mission Viejo, CA
Kristin, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I’ve always loved performing, even though I was a fairly shy child; well, shy but also extremely mischievous and sassy, so I guess that it makes sense I would gravitate towards the arts in some way. I began dancing as a little girl, and fell in love with being on stage, the emotions I was able to portray through dance, and the exhilaration and rush which came with performing in front of a live audience. There was nothing quite like it!
When I got into high school, I was dancing both on my high school’s dance team as well as in a studio. Dance was my life and I never thought anything else could or would replace it. I had been singing since I was a child through various choirs as well, but at that time, singing didn’t quite give me the same feeling as dance did. Things changed my junior year of high school when I was encouraged to audition for The Crucible at the local teen theatre company, The Young Artist’s Ensemble. I hadn’t really done any true acting onstage at that time, but since I was a voracious reader and frequently found myself wandering through other’s lives, I decided to give it a try. I read and was called back for the lead female role, but unfortunately was not cast. Although I was heartbroken, as I had just discovered a passion I did not know I had, I did not let that deter me from trying the next time. The next audition was for Beauty and the Beast, and shockingly, I was cast as Belle. That show, and the amazing experience I had being a part of it, of discovering that I could do so much more than I had ever imagined, ignited a fire in me which is still burning brightly today.
In college, I was in every show I could be in. I got into the directing program and for three years my resume grew in both acting and directing. I was also on the college’s Speech and Debate/Forensics team. I did the interpretive side of Speech and Debate - Drama, Prose, Poetry, Reader’s Theatre - which included a cappella singing, and became a National Champion with that first national competition. It was a time of great personal growth; of discovering what I believed in, and discovering what and how I could change the world through the arts. I was fortunate enough to go to college with two of the grandsons of everyone’s favorite Disney chimney-sweep, Dick VanDyke. We were cast in many of the same shows and had a great working relationship through the years. My last year at school, I was asked to play the lead female role in a duo of one-act plays, Laundry and Bourbon, and Lonestar, that was being produced by Dick Van Dyke himself. They rented out the Malibu Stage Co. theatre, and we performed to sold out audiences for a couple of weeks. It was an incredible experience and one I hold very dear to my heart. Because of the family’s connections to Hollywood, many agents came to see all of our young, up-and-coming talent in the show, and that exposure led me to finding my first commercial and theatrical agent in Hollywood.
I worked in film and TV for a few years, and while I added quite a few good television, commercial, and film/video credits to my resumé, ultimately, I found that that life wasn’t as rewarding for me as I had hoped it would be. I found myself in a career as a high-end event planner in the Hollywood area, so I kept myself close to the industry, just in a different, and more fulfilling capacity. After many successful years, I left that career for marriage and to raise a family. Unfortunately, as so many stories go, my marriage did not last, but as I began to find myself again, I rediscovered that passion of performing, and found my home at the Rose Center Theater. Although I had taken a 14-year hiatus from any type of performing, being back on stage has brought back a spark, and excitement to my life. It has allowed me to once again begin to explore myself, my emotions, and what I can bring to the stage. Taking as long a hiatus as I did has certainly given me the opportunity to slowly rediscover where my talent lies and where it can grow, and to push myself to become a better and more honest performer and supportive scene partner each time I take the stage.
Can you tell us a little more about what you've been working on recently?
The arts, along with everything else, has been severely impacted due to Covid, and every artist has felt it deep in their soul - this loss of doing what we love so much. However, the Rose Center Theater, and its Managing Director, Tim Nelson, have created something quite beautiful during this time that I have been so blessed to be a part of. We’ve been doing an outdoor concert series to sold out audiences; the first series in the last few months of 2020, and another series which began in February. I’ve had the pleasure of playing Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly!, singing from Rogers and Hammerstein, and the concert versions of Sweeney Todd, The Music Man, Cinderella, and Evita. I was also a part of Tim Nelson’s The Living Last Supper over Easter weekend this past April. The ability to perform during this time, to have this creative outlet, to leave my heart once again on the stage, and to create a living experience for others to enjoy has been so beneficial and necessary. Sometimes we take for granted what is right in front of us; we get too caught up in life to see the beauty and the experiences just waiting for us. Covid has- hopefully- taught us that nothing is guaranteed in life and when the opportunity presents itself, we have to hold on tight and appreciate everything we have been given.
What challenges have you had to overcome on your journey as an artist?
The path of an artist is never easy and is filled with more obstacles than you could ever imagine. Sometimes that obstacle is yourself. I can say with a lot of certainty that this has been my biggest challenge throughout all of the years of being a performer. Because I was trained as a director as well as a performer, it is often difficult for me to stay out of my own head and allow the honesty of the moment to come through. It is a constant struggle to not critique myself as a director would in the middle of a scene or song: “You missed your mark,” “You were a tad sharp on that note,” “Your reading of that scene was all wrong,” “Commit to and stay in the moment.” Instead of being present in the scene, which every actor strives for every time they are on the stage, sometimes I find myself directing or correcting myself, which takes me from the authenticity of the moment and replaces that with something less sincere than was desired. As I have returned to the stage, I do find that it is easier to surrender to the moment, the emotion, and my fellow actors, than it was when I was younger. However, old habits die hard. It is the nature of the beast - we are all incredibly critical of our own work. I remind myself of how it feels to be in the audience, and what I want to see when I am watching a performance - honesty. Being in the moment, being authentic, giving and leaving your entire heart and soul on that stage is what we all want to be able to do. And moments of wonder and magic do happen - sometimes when you least expect it. This is what I work for each time I am up there on the stage. Sometimes I succeed beautifully, and sometimes I fall flat on my face. What can I say, I am a work in progress!
What are some lessons you've learned by working to overcome those obstacles?
Oh goodness, how much time do you have? LOL I’ve learned so many lessons along the way. But I think that if I could go back and tell my younger self anything, it would be that no one and nothing defines you, except you yourself. I would make sure that she understood that she is a person of her own making, made by the culmination of all of her experiences: love, loss, regret, hurt; that through the fire we are sculpted and refined; that she has control over no one other than herself, and that no one can or should control her. We become the people we are by every moment we live, and no one should tell you who, what, or how to be. Happiness and contentment are found when you truly know yourself and do what is best for the health of you. And when you are true to yourself, this bleeds over to every aspect of your life! Consider when you perform, whether you are dancing, acting, singing, playing an instrument, etc., if you are not true to yourself, if you do not know who you are, how can you authentically walk in someone else’s shoes, or evoke the emotion intended by the composer? As performers, we do this as much for the audience as we do for ourselves. Becoming someone else is a lot of hard work, a lot of time and effort is put into our characterizations. But if you don’t understand your own person, how can you possibly understand someone else? Sometimes you have to do the hard work on yourself before you can be anyone else.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
Know who you are, who you want to be, and how far you are willing to go to get there. Do not compromise and do not accept anything less than what is right for you. As performers we are oftentimes put into positions which do not match our own moral compass. Stay true to yourself no matter what. Respect is earned not given, and when you stand up for what is right, that respect will come in spades. And only do things in life which make you happy and bring happiness to others. Life is too short to be doing anything less.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
I have had many proud moments throughout my life… nailing the perfect fouetté in ballet en pointe, being cast as Belle in Beauty and the Beast having never done a show before, my choice to go back to school in my 40s and get my BFA in Graphic Design… so many. But if I look from the lens of a performer, an artist, the most proud I have ever been was my performance in a two-person play called Crystal Clear in college. The play, this role, was the most difficult, and most rewarding, I have ever had the pleasure to portray. The play centers around a man, Richard, who is losing his sight. He is in a relationship with a blind woman, Thomasina, the character I played. The play was an intense examination of their crumbling relationship as he loses his sight. She was particularly difficult to play as not only did I have to learn what it was like to be sightless, I also had to portray her eroding confidence in not only her partner, Richard, who could no longer take care of her, but also in herself as she realized the limitations she put on herself as a sightless woman. It was a gut-wrenching show, and one I would perform everyday for the rest of my life if given the opportunity. The rehearsal process was grueling, but incredible. I studied at the Braille Institute in L.A., observing the way men and women without sight moved, conversed, and listened. I learned how to walk with a white-tipped cane, and I learned how to convince others that I was sightless. But I think the most important part of the process was discovering just how vulnerable I could become on the stage. Laying your soul bare for the world- or in this case, your audience- to see is no easy task. The level of commitment I gave to this role, to my partner, my director, and the audience is something that I will always cherish, and an experience which I will be incredibly proud of for the rest of my life.
What inspires you as an artist?
I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing actors and directors throughout my life - people who gave as much- and sometimes more- as I did, and who met me halfway each and every time. I have been extremely blessed, as you’re not always that fortunate as an actor. Of course, I have had my share of those who have taken more than they gave, and the performance suffered because of it, but thankfully those have been few and far between. However, I think my biggest inspiration comes from my good friend, Rolland Petrello. Rolland was my Speech and Debate team coach in college. He was also the one who directed my most proud moment, Crystal Clear, and many other shows. He was my acting coach, my mentor, and perhaps most importantly, my biggest cheerleader. Rolland was big on honest acting. If you couldn’t do it honestly, then you didn’t need to do it at all. He fostered greatness because he was IS great! He taught me how to dig deep, to search through the muck and the mud until you find that one grain of truth to hold on tight to. He showed me that through the support and lifting up of your actors, rather than tearing them down with criticism, you create a safe space, and environment filled with trust, a soft space to land where he would be right there to pull you back up and ask you to try again. I learned more about myself as an actor through him than I have through anyone else I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He was, and still to this day is, my biggest inspiration, and I thank him with all that I am for helping me find my voice and to always use it honestly and with integrity everyday of my life.
What role do you think the the Arts and Artists play in our society? What are your hopes for the future of the arts?
The role of the arts and artists is so incredibly important, especially in this day and age. I think we all have found out just how much we depend on the arts daily through this pandemic. Since we have basically been home-bound for the past year, think honestly of what you have done: probably watched A LOT of movies and tv, read a lot of books and magazines, listened to music, etc. ALL of that is art. Every day we look to art and artists to fill our souls with beauty and joy. Art causes you to consider life, to look at something from many different sides and viewpoints. What you may think is beautiful, someone else may think ugly. What you may dislike, another loves. That is art - the ability to express an opinion and to give others an experience. Not everyone will love it, but it will cause everyone to ask questions and to ponder the meaning behind it. One of my favorite things I learned in college in my advanced directing class was this: When your audience leaves the theatre, museum, concert hall, etc., if they are talking about what they just saw, you’ve done your job well. If they walk out and say, “Hey, where should we get dinner?” you have failed to do your job. Art evokes emotion - whether good or bad - you have challenged someone else to look at the world, for a small moment in time, and see it through your eyes. How inspiring is that? Think of the change we can make in this world if we each consider life from another perspective… it’s pretty awe-inspiring.
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