Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Olivia Leyva
Current Location: Pasadena, CA
Olivia, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I was raised in the San Gabriel Valley and in 2018 I got my BFA from California Lutheran University in English, with a Theatre Arts Minor. I am currently a Disneyland Cast Member, a substitute teacher, and a high school soccer and softball coach.
Initially, my effort and time was put into sports- specifically soccer and softball- and I was planning on playing professionally my whole life. I played both sports for all four years while in college and received accolades, but it was no longer fulfilling me in the way that it used to. In fact, I always felt this unbridled joy watching people perform in any art form; especially when I heard good music, witnessed someone give their soul to a song, or dance their heart away.
I realized growing up that there were these habits I couldn't hold back, such as singing at the top of my lungs to my favorite songs in the car, or being unable to sit still when I would watch choreographed dances. I watched any movie I could get my hands on. I simply loved watching people perform, and wondered what that could be like for me. In college, I decided to give acting, singing, and dancing a try.
I loved what it felt like to do something on stage. In a way, it was similar to a soccer game. While there were always nerves, I was excited, and looked forward to any theatre class I had from then on. I was able to be in a couple of productions, as well as write a one-act play, and direct a different one-act play, that were both produced. From then on, I have been in productions from Westminster to Hollywood to Oxnard. I'll go anywhere for a chance to perform. It has made me so happy to find such a supportive, encouraging, and talented community that I'm so lucky to be a part of!
Can you tell us about what you've been working on recently?
I'm going to be in the latest Rose production, The Wiz in Concert. I will be playing the role of Evillene in the outdoor concert, and the Sunday performance will be on my 24th birthday! What a gift to have an event like this. I am so unbelievably excited and I can't wait to see it all come together with everyone from this outstanding cast!
I am also involved in a modern, female-led adaptation of Titus Andronicus, aptly named Tita Andronicus, at the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard. I will be playing the role of Demetrius in what's deemed "Shakespeare's bloodiest play." The production is on a hiatus at the moment due to COVID-19, but we will hopefully be able to perform, in some fashion, soon.
Lastly, I recently finished writing a play for the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse in a playwriting competition called Voices Not Heard, which features stories specifically told and written from BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ perspectives. The play I'm writing is based on some tough conversations that have taken place due to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, while also discussing racial identity. Fingers crossed it gets chosen!
What are some struggles you've faced along the way, and how have you overcome them?
It took me about twenty years to gather up the courage to put myself out there just to try acting, singing, and dancing. Many my age have been practicing and honing their skills since they were very young, so it sometimes feels like I am behind. I've learned that it's ok! In my experience, being around others who are beyond talented and hardworking only makes you want to be a better performer because you learn from their determination and passion!
Fear has mainly been at the center of these struggles. You want to be a part of projects and future endeavors, but you worry if you're good enough- or worthy- for their attention. I experienced something similar when trying to get recruited for college sports. It's a long process that hopefully results in college coaches coming to see you play- like an audition. I've come to realize that I should simply do my absolute best and not worry about what happens, or doesn't happen, after. If you know you gave it your all, there is no use in worrying about it afterwards. And if you did not give it your all, then you learn from your mistakes and you'll get better.
Are there any lessons that you've learned that you would want your younger self to know?
The lessons I've learned and things I would tell my younger self go hand in hand. Simply, it is to try and do everything I have interest in, no matter how difficult it looks, or how impossible it seems. There was once a time where I thought it would be impossible for me to get over the fear of singing in public, or that a play I had written would be performed. We all have these ideas we think are impossible, but they are really just restrictions we put on ourselves. So even if you're afraid, just go for it!
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
To never stop trying to achieve what you want in the world. Never stop persevering through the adversity. While words or actions may get to you, use it as fuel. Never stop learning because the moment you stop learning, you become stagnant and unteachable. Most importantly, never stop believing in your own abilities, or in your worth.
Can you tell us about an inspiring life event that started you on the path of a career in the arts? Where do you find inspiration?
It was when I was watching my sister perform. She has been doing theatre and background television work since she was little. She was in a children's version of The Lion King where she played the role of Nala for the first half of the show. She got to sing the song "Shadowland."I had heard her sing many times, but when she sang that song, I felt very proud to be her sister. She sang with her whole being for that song and it was absolutely beautiful! I cried acknowledging how talented she was, and I looked over at our mom who was doing the same. It was at that moment that I made the decision to really invest in the arts as a career because I wanted to make people feel the essence of a song like she had, and didn't want to waste another second not doing something I enjoy.
My sister is my inspiration. Not only is she my best friend, but her unwavering beliefs and courage never ceases to amaze me. Being the youngest of three, she has learned to stand up for herself and to never accept less than what she deserves. Even as the eldest, I constantly go to her for her opinion on issues, decisions, or any feedback on my performances- no matter how brutally honest. I always run my ideas by her because I respect the drive and creativity she has. I love her, and she's my favorite person in the world.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
I would say the proudest moment would be when I saw the play I wrote in college performed for the first time. It was called Mandated Reporter, a short, one-act play written for one of my classes, about a challenging student and an overworked teacher. Writing has been an outlet for me since I was young. I used to write letters to everyone I know, and I filled many a journal with stories I would create from scratch. I loved writing so much I got my degree in English!
Writing has always been my first love before anything- sports and theatre included- and it was always a dream of mine to have work published and performed. The minute a friend of mine decided to put Mandated Reporter on for her Senior project, I was ecstatic! I cannot describe how it felt to see it all put together in the final rehearsals. I was overwhelmed with fear and pride. Simply seeing it produced was good enough for me, but my peers and professors also awarded me with the departmental playwriting award for it as well! It really cemented that I am meant to share these stories with the world and that people could respond positively to it.
The mission of The Rose is to make the arts accessible in the community. What purpose do you think the arts play in today's society?
In my opinion, it is very similar to the purpose of English or writing; to examine what it means to be human. However, the arts go beyond that. The arts not only describe, but embody emotions and explore the conditions of everyday life and fantasy. I also firmly believe it is meant to convey new ideas in ways that people will likely understand, and reflect the good and bad parts of our current society in hopes that we continue to better ourselves. Lastly, it is meant to simply provide escapism from the sometimes harsh realities we face everyday, so that we may be able to come back and face them with renewed strength and inspiration.
With funding to the arts under attack, what are your hopes for the future of the arts?
My hope is that the arts and artists will be treated as necessary and essential. We consume so much art we don't even recognize it, and the significance it has in our lives. I think we have proven this through the pandemic because the one thing we have turned to in these times of crisis, is various forms of art. This could be a new television show, movie, music, or even puzzles we've resulted to putting together. Art has been something that we have come to rely on to entertain us and help us find meaning or understanding. In the future, I would hope that we are seen as less expendable- especially in schools- and more as necessary. I would also hope that marginalized people are pigeonholed less in roles that are stereotypically given to them and are allowed to expand into other roles. I can only hope that also having more Black people and people of color on the production side of things will encourage this diversity to become more accessible.
What does unity mean to you, and how do you think the arts have played a part in unifying people?
Unity is the connection felt between those who share a similar mission. The arts is meant to create a community for those involved, where there is love and support exuded amongst most, if not all. For many, including myself, it is a way to find peace from adversity and acceptance. As an audience, there is an unspoken unity in experiencing the same emotions evoked by the same piece of art at the same time. It's an understanding acknowledged amongst the audience that they have all been on the same emotional journey that hopefully conjures empathy for similar situations in life.
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