Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Sheila Tejada
Current Location: Los Angeles, CA
Sheila, thank you for taking the time to talk about your journey as an artist. Before we get started, can you tell us a little about yourself?
When I was born, I almost died. I came out of my mother with such a powerful cry that I popped a hole in my right lung and turned blue. They called me the "blue baby." My high school acting teacher, Jodi Improta said it's because I was born with a strong set of pipes for a singer. Luckily, I survived. Ever since then, I have felt like I had a purpose. Otherwise, why else would I be given a second shot at life? I had a feeling of that purpose early in life. Being the only child for 7 years- until my younger brother was born- I would entertain myself by creating and living in imaginary worlds. Then when my grandparents from the Philippines- who moved in with me and my family- were feeling homesick, I felt like it was my duty to put on shows for them to make them happy. These events laid the foundation to my endless pursuit to bring imagined stories to life, and make a positive impact on others with my art. From there I never stopped acting, singing, and dancing. Whether it was in theatre, TV, film, choirs, special performances, even performing for my family's parties; performing fulfilled me and gave me joy. It was, and still is, my life's work.
Can you tell us about what you're currently working on ?
Currently, I have a short film, Did You Say No, directed by Raeshib Aggerwhil, that I starred in, wrote, and co-produced with a phenomenal team. And it recently became a semi-finalist for the Oscar-qualifying, Flickers' Rhode Island International Film Festival. We are still awaiting the results from other festivals our film was submitted to. In this time of Covid-19, I have taken the time to work on my craft by taking classes, rehearsing with colleagues, and coaching for auditions. I am also involved in a book club where we dig into The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. On top of all that, I am also working on getting my acting material- reel, clips, and acting sites- in tip-top shape and attending virtual workshops with casting directors to make sure that I am prepared for when the industry fully opens up. As the Roman philosopher Seneca said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
Overall, has it been a smooth road? If not, what are some of the struggles you've experienced along the way and how have you overcome them?
The road I ventured on was never completely smooth. That's what makes the journey exciting, right? There were lots of twists, turns, roadblocks, bumps, and hills; but a straight, smooth, and unobstructed road would have been boring. I think the biggest struggle I faced and still face, to some degree, is balancing my hierarchy of needs. When I started out pursuing acting professionally, I did the typical actor jobs, waiting tables, or other hourly jobs where I was working, hand to mouth. I did not feel safe and I felt desperate when I got into the audition rooms. Not to say that I'm 100% self-actualized and have fulfilled all my needs now, but I have come a long way in better providing for my most basic physiological and safety needs. How did I do it you ask? I made sacrifices to save money. I got a full-time job that allowed flexibility and security. It gave me enough funds to invest into myself and my business. I also made sure that I was happy and healthy first, and decided to not pursue my dreams in misery and suffering. I used to think that you had to be a starving artist to be a true artist. Now I know, you need to first be safe, happy, and healthy before you can fully tap into your creativity and intuition and flourish as an artist.
Are there any lessons that you have learned along the way?
It's easy to feel out of touch or "not an actor" when you're not on-set or on the stage so it's important to always plug-in by doing the work, constantly creating. It's also important to understand that there is no endgame to this journey. When I was younger I used to imagine I'd grow up to be this famous mega star, but along the way I realized that I do not need to be famous to be successful, or fulfilled, as an actress. My goals shifted and I realized that being able to work as a full-time actress, doing good work would be success to me, even if I wasn't recognized. Therefore, the focus should be on the work and not on fame and fortune.
Has there been any advice you've been given that has stuck with you?
"Outproduce the negativity," my first acting teacher in Hollywood would always say. This phrase has always lifted me out of any doubts and depressed feelings that I have encountered along my journey. Anytime I feel "not good enough" or "I should just give up" I fight those feelings by being productive for my career. Once I'm so busy with actions towards achieving my goals, my focus shifts to the things I can control and I feel less helpless and negative.
Tell us about something that inspires you.
I am most inspired by my parents. They came to America from the Philippines with one suitcase to their name, and worked hard to achieve the American dream. They taught me that taking risks, hard work, and perseverance are the ingredients to success.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
My proudest moment was when I got to share the red carpet at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, with my mom and dad for the premiere screening of the first feature film I acted in, Driving While Black. Not only was the premiere sold out but I got to watch the film for the first time with my loved ones, as well as total strangers. The energy in that theatre was just electric and it was a dream come true.
Given the current events of today, what role do you think the arts plays in society?
The arts and artists have an important role in society. We provide the world with entertainment, interaction- audiences in a theatre with a shared experience-, inspiration, hope, and empathy. We are also vehicles that pass down stories and hold a mirror up to society by providing a thoughtful critique to our political, economic, and social systems.
With the arts industry seemingly at a standstill, what are your hopes for the future of the arts?
I hope for a more inclusive entertainment industry. Our industry is opening up more and more but there are still stereotypes present and more writing is needed to give voice to people of color, women, older actors, and disabled actors.
What role do you think the arts have played in unifying people?
To me, unity means different parts coming together to become one. Art binds. It brings people together physically, such as in an audience at a theatre. It carries a singular story to multitudes of people, and brings them together despite their differences. I also find that when I watch a movie about a person who is totally different from me I gain empathy for that person instead of judgment.
Image Credit: Shandon Photography
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