Interview with Sujana Chand – Professional Actress and Singer

Sujana

Guest background

I am a professional actress and singer with a bachelor’s degree from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world singing with shows such as Cirque’s “Saltimbanco” and the Broadway National tour of “Bombay Dreams”. A few of my favorite roles include The Witch in “Into the Woods”, Crystal (one of the Ronnettes) in “Little Shop of Horrors” and Hodel in “Fiddler on the Roof”. I am also a certified English teacher and when I am not performing for a living, I thoroughly enjoy helping foreign adults accomplish their language goals and follow their dreams.  www.sujanamusic.com

Interview

1. What project are you involved with now?

I am the lead singer for Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

2. What are three things most people don’t know about you?

-I was born in Edison, NJ. Yes, New Jersey. Don’t judge.

-I’ve lived in roughly 25-30 different homes and apartments in my adult life.

-I love stamps. I recently started collecting them.

3. What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day for me is pretty quiet and this is a necessity based on the demands of my job. “O” is one of the few Cirque shows with only one lead singer so the pressure to stay healthy is heavy and sometimes, no matter how carefully I take care of myself, my body has a different plan! Typically, I’ll wake up, do a short workout video followed by some yoga stretches, have my strong cup of coffee and breakfast, run errands if needed, clean a little, do some writing, warm up my voice and take a short rest with a late lunch before heading off to work around 5pm. It’s important for me to strike the right balance between productivity and rest because I need to be at my optimum energy level at 7:30 and 10pm. This is challenging because I am a morning person by nature.

4. What are your thoughts about untrained singers becoming famous from YouTube videos?

The world we live in today allows for instant exposure and people to really put themselves out there based purely on desire and drive and I commend them for it! Journey found their replacement lead singer (Arnel Pineda) on YouTube and he is just phenomenal. However, if they do in fact become famous, it won’t take long before they realize that training is essential to the longevity and maintenance of the voice. The vocal chords are fragile and can only handle so much–understanding breathe control and technique and knowing your limits are all crucial to success.

5. What are some things you do to stay emotionally and physically grounded?

Oh, boy. I’m only human and I’m not going to lie- I struggle with this one! Having said that, I am very aware of my weaknesses and I try many things to stay grounded. I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and there are a few simple meditations that I often use to calm me. I also love to write and keep journals regularly. Writing helps me get out of my head and gain perspective on situations. And of course, my friends. The amount of time I spend alone to maintain my voice can be isolating, so I really look forward to my Mondays which I generally dedicate to surrounding myself with love, friends, conversation and laughter. This is a healing time for me. I am also a spiritual person. I pray every night and I call upon my angels for guidance in times of need. Lastly, eating well and a basic amount of exercise will make anyone feel better on a regular basis. I try to keep these as constants in my life. But don’t get me wrong “eating well” also means splurging at my favorite Italian or Mexican restaurant…a great meal is good for the soul.

6. What are the most used appliances in your home?

At the moment, the air conditioner (it’s summer in Las Vegas- need I say more?), the humidifier (I’m a singer in the desert- need I say more?) and the coffee maker (that one cup in the morning is essential). Of course, the fridge is always stocked as well- I’m a huge fan of Trader Joes and couldn’t live without their pre-cut, pre-washed bags of kale, spinach and power greens!!

7.  If you could sing a duet on the GMA Show, with whom would it be and what would you sing?

I would sing “Endless Love” with the late, great Luther Vandross. I love Lionel Ritchie himself (this was one of the only cassette tapes that lived in my dad’s car growing up) but Luther’s voice was like butter. His music was and continues to be so completely transporting. I can just get lost in it. I am a fan of simple melodies and touching lyrics. I don’t believe that there have to be frills and trills and money notes for a song to be timeless and beautiful.

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An Interview with Nicole Cooper – TV Host and Private Chef

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Background

Nicole Cooper is the host of the TV web series,  A Taste of Nicole.  Nicole’s love of cooking was inherited from her mother at an early age. In 2001, she expanded her career in culinary arts by apprenticing in  New York City with highly trained chefs, who mentored her in classical cooking techniques.  Through hard work and determination, she became involved with the James Beard Foundation as a chef’s assistant. Nicole’s service with the James Beard Foundation provided unparalleled opportunities to work alongside  celebrity  chefs Michael Chiarello, Marcus Samuelsson and Giada DeLaurentiis, too name a few.

Prior to her career in the culinary arts, Nicole worked professionally as a performing artist in Europe and the United States.  Her performing arts credits include Grease das Musical, Jesus Christ Super Star, Porgy and Bess and Hercules. Nicole holds a BS degree  in Speech Communications and Theatre from Murray State University.

Interview

1.  Where did your passion for cooking come from?

My passion for cooking was ignited early …  when my Grandmother would cook breakfast for me and my sister.  Food nourishes my soul.  It’s my gateway to connectedness with family.

 2.  What advice would you give someone who is terrified by cooking?

One step at a time!  Do it anyway!!

3. What dinner would you prepare for the President of the United States? 

My favorite … Chicken Pot Pie with juicy shredded pulled chicken, sweet peas, pearl onions, and diced carrots with white wine and thyme.  For dessert … Bourbon Bread Pudding with a dollop of homemade whipped cream.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your career in the next five years?

Developing and launching healthy cooking demonstration workshops in NYC public schools and further development of my pilot TV web series,  A Taste of Nicole,  with the goal of getting the series aired on the Discovery Cooking Channel.

5. What are five things no one knows about you?

Humm… Don’t laugh!  1) I love the WWF (wrestling).  2) I like fried chicken wings.  3) I love whipped cream on almost everything sweet.  4) I start celebrating Halloween at the end of  September.  5) I love the SYFY and Hallmark channels.

6. What’s the most important thing you’ve done but initially wanted to avoid?

 The Landmark Management Team Leadership Program. Very confronting.

7. What’s the most exciting thing happening for you right now?

I’m challenging myself with a personal development game called “Having it All.”  The aim is  to push beyond what I know and more often override fears that impede personal growth.

An Interview with Emily Lester Cahnmann – Founder and President, EM (Events Management)

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Background

EM (Event Management) is a New York City-based event planning and coordination company with 23 years of experience behind it.  Emily has been in the event management business officially since 2002, unofficially since 1990.  Emily has managed  a wide  variety private and corporate events … different sizes, different cultures and styles, modest to upscale, indoors or outside.  EM’s clients range from the small 2 person wedding couple who wanted to get away to a destination wedding in NYC to a 500 person Indian wedding in the heart of NYC. Regardless of budget, the goal is the same – to create a successful, relaxing, fun and memorable event.  For more information, http://www.EMnyc.com  

Interview

Please explain what you do for a living?

After 20 years making a living as a singer/actress/teacher I changed careers just before my son was born.  For the past 10 years I have had my own business as a wedding coordinator (ok, planner) but I also use the term wedding “stage manager” because I have a theatre background.  That term really does speak to the nature of what I end up doing.  I help my clients in any stage of their event plan – from the beginning, helping out along the way or just putting it all together for the day of.  I also do parties (milestone birthday parties, surprise parties, showers etc…).  I find myself organizing people and their visions, being a bit of a therapist, dealing with difficult people or unforeseen situations, dealing with amazing people, being with people on one of the single most important times of their lives and dealing with nerves and families.  My work can be creative, tedious, exhausting and joyous all at the same time.

What’s the greatest compliment you’ve received?

That is such a hard question; people have been so beautiful to me and have been so generous and kind over all these years.  Compliments or rather encouragements are so special to you for many different reasons.  Getting chosen by a client for their wedding day or getting chosen for a part in a show is always such a compliment because I feel trusted and honored.  I just don’t know…  How’s that for a dodge? I guess though one of the funniest and sweet comments that I got was about 5 hours after the wedding reception was over from the groom who said I was a “rock star and savior” for their wedding (500 guest Indian wedding).  That made me smile!!

I know you’re a parent. Is your parenting style at all like your mom’s?

It is somewhat in the fact that my mother wanted us to be independent or so I thought.  I’m a girl (obviously) and I’m raising a son so I think how I was as a child is different than how my son is – does that make sense?  I feel that I’ve set a more structured life for my son in terms of classes and schooling but then again, that could be a “NYC Thing”.  I structured myself as a child – I remember clearly slating activities for myself (and making my poor mother take me if I couldn’t walk) for every single day of the week.  I was very “aware” that I needed to be “well rounded” – maybe I got this from my Mom?  She is a very well rounded person as an English, Music and Home Ec Major in college – I thought that was awesome to have 3 majors!! I am raising my son a little differently because we want him to not only be raised as a Christian but also knowing fully and experiencing his Jewish heritage and culture, the basis of Christianity.

What were your favorite books as a child?

I was a little driven as a child and only wanted to read things that helped make me better so I tended to like “how to” books or autobiographies or biographies so that I was at least learning something “real”.  I also liked the Laura Ingalls Wilder series “Little House on the Prairie”, “Little House in the Big Wood” etc….

How do you integrate healthy living into your schedule and find the balance between work and home?

One may say I haven’t found the balance but I’m still here and haven’t gone completely insane. I do try to always cook most meals at home and eat naturally – just eat real food.  We don’t usually have bread in our house much and I’ve learned that to use real food is the best way to go.  I cook with olive oil and love garlic, ginger and cinnamon as well as other tasty spices. No matter how late (and many times it’s too late) we always eat dinner together as a family.  My husband and I feel that this is really important. I have been a speed walker for 25 years and really miss it when I don’t take that time for myself physically, mentally and spiritually.  I need to be a bit more selfish with that time for myself.   Working late night helps me catch up when I have family obligations that have taken my day working hours.

What are three things most people don’t know about you?

I have 6 – you can pick the best 3.  I could probably live just fine without ever having cheese or chocolate, don’t like to see movies twice (only the really good ones do I dare watch again), prefer quiet to music sometimes. Was in the top 10 of the 1980 Miss Georgia pageant (I was 18 – ok, just do the math), have a pointed ear, had 2 imaginary friends named Deeda and Gigi (who was obviously the more sophisticated of the two – BTW, they both looked like me…………)

What person in your life makes you laugh like no other?

Such a hard question, I have a gaggle of lady friends who make me laugh a lot: my old roommate Susan, my friend Beverly and this whole group I sang with called “Intermission” from Nashville, theatre friends and friends I worked with at Disney, other long term friends and other moms at my son’s school (those fundraising activities can really get you going)of course my husband, my son and my crazy friend in Alaska named Tiffany.  I laugh a lot with a lot of people – hard question………….  I find a lot of humor in the “every day” of life.

An Interview with Kelly Kinsella – Writer, Actor and Comedian

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Background

Writer, actor, and comedian Kelly Kinsella has finally found a home as an artist, where she will present her body of work, at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea – a stone’s throw away from her home as a human near Penn Station, where she often fantasizes about packing up her murphy bed and running away to the woods where she can read books and plays by her inspirations: Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Martin McDonough. She kissed Martin on TONY night when his play, The Pillowman was nominated. She worked as a dresser on that show on Broadway and is a proud member of the theatrical stage union. Currently she is a dresser with Jersey Boys.

Kelly is taking the slow, cheap path to success- no MFA, no debt, and so far, no big breaks. A Facebook friend recently applauded Kelly for still “chipping away” at her career which she decided to take as a compliment.

Kinsella’s style is unique, personal yet universal and in the vein of storytellers Lily Tomlin, David Sedaris, and John Leguiziamo. She continues to receive positive reviews for her work, including this one from Backstage which she thought for a long time was awesome- “She thrums with the aggressive, ruthless humor of many male comics, but underneath is the touching neurotic charm of a still unmarried woman.”-until her PR pointed out that “thrums” has an annoying connotation.

Kelly kind of wishes she could just do yoga for the rest of her life but she doesnt have a rich husband. She does however find solace and contentment in cooking for her boyfriend, friends and family. Once in awhile, she performs stand up in New York and Los Angeles.

Interview

 1. What are three things most people don’t know about you?

I make myself laugh every day. I taught English in the Czech Republic for a year when I was 23. I’m a bad dish washer.

2. What’s the most exciting thing happening for you right now?

I was invited to create a new one woman show for the tenth annual soloNOVA Festival in NYC at the end of this month. I had a very short deadline and I think I’m going to make it!! Phew! Its the most reputable theatre festival for solo performance artists in the city; my  one woman show, When Thoughts Attack was one of eight shows selected for the ninth annual festival. The artistic director liked it so much she asked me back to do something totally brand new. The show is about that experience. How to create something out of nothing and the pressures and freedom an artist may find in doing that!

3. How do you integrate healthy living into your schedule and find the balance between work and home?

Well, I don’t have a family so the pressure should be less. “Should.” That being said I am very much a do-er and so I sometimes struggle with keeping the house clean, the fridge stocked and my boyfriend happy! I pretty much have two full time jobs but I seem to have more energy now than I did at 20. I am very health conscious. I belong to a CSA and will be getting my first pick up in a few weeks, which is both exciting and overwhelming. I’m constantly cooking to keep up! I like to juice but it takes half an hour with the clean-up and all-ain’t nobody got time for dat! And I tend to be on to some other activity like cycling or yoga by the time I’ve finished the last sip. I cycle to get around the city so that keeps me fit without even trying. Yoga has become a passion; I’ve practiced now for over 20 years. Its the only place I’m able to shut up and keep still.

4. What advice would you give to someone who has the heart for acting and writing but no talent?

I don’t know about that. No talent. That’s a tough one. I don’t know anymore if that is necessarily true. I think its more about passion and less about talent. Are you passionate about something? Enough to sacrifice everything else? Are you blessed with a voice that needs to speak? Through your art? If you are blocked, if you block yourself, then maybe that appears to the outside eye as having no talent. Blocking is different than being conflicted. Being internally conflicted often is the case for many great artists. But those types often just get in the way of their own success. These are two different issues I think.

5. What makes writing alive for you?

Its alive when I simply SIT DOWN AND DO IT! I love to write but I avoid it like the plague! I still struggle with the discipline of it. I talk about sacrifice earlier and that’s hard for me too! I love nature and taking walks- especially in the spring. I’m a painter too and I want to be doing that- especially now when all the flowers are blooming. These things all feed each other and since my writing stems from the experiences I have in my day to day life, I try not to be so hard on myself. A friend gave me great advice and said to put on music that inspires you while you write. It sets the tone for your writing that day- it makes you happy to be there.

6. If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?

I’m obsessed with Tennessee Williams. His plays are poetry in motion on a stage. Wow! What a life he had- what a life he portrayed -in each and every one of his characters. The drama! The humour! The humanity! He had a wild imagination but he had an even wilder truth. I would want to know what made him happy day to day. I would want to know his rituals- with his diet, his writing practice, his socializing, etc…I would want to find a nugget in there of something that would inspire me, and I would steal it and make it my own. And I would feel better about myself as an artist, and hope that maybe- just maybe-I could deliver something so rich and honest as he was able.

 7. How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as a reliable person who made people laugh hard and think harder and who also made a great tiramisu.

An Interview with Christopher Hemmans – Professional Dancer and Yoga Instructor

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Background

Christopher Hayes Hemmans was born in Brooklyn, NY and grew up on Staten Island. In elementary school he sought out activities that put him on the stage. His mother was very supportive of his passion for the arts.

After two years of vocational high school, Christopher transferred to the Julia Richman performing arts school in Manhattan, where he majored in dance. During that time, he won a scholarship to the Martha Graham School and the Nanatette Beardon Contemporary Dance Theater. After graduation, he won a scholarship to the Juilliard School. He studied dance at Julliard and graduated in 1990.

While at Juilliard, he performed with the Avodah Dance Ensemble and other independent choreographers and discovered a love for movement trends in European dance. Months before graduation, he won a contract with the Rebecca Kelly Dance Company, which led to a performance tour through Germany and Poland. His last performance in America was at Lincoln Center “Out of Doors” with Gus Solomons.

In 1992, he started teaching dance in Stuttgart, Germany. Other jobs poured in … TV, print modeling, guest teaching and fashion shows. In 2000, the world of musical theater opened up for him. His musical theater portfolio now includes

The Lion King
Porgy & Bess
Dreamgirls
Hair
West Side Story
The Life
Chicago
Little Shop Of Horrors
Kiss Me Kate
Satchmo-The King Of Jazz
Crazy For You

Christopher is currently appearing in the world premiere of “ROCKY-the MUSICAL” in Hamburg, Germany. In the spring of 2012, he became a certified Bikram Yoga teacher.

Interview

1. Please explain who you are in eight words?

I’m a human being that loves human beings.

 2. What advice would you give someone doing yoga for the first time and which style would you recommend?

My advice for someone doing yoga for the first time would be to ask why you want to start practicing yoga. There are many reason …  to reduce stress, drop some pounds, find peace or make friends. From my experience, I’ve learned that a good yoga practice is also simply a matter of taste. I, for example, love to have hands-on corrections from the teacher. I am also very affected by the voice of the teacher. I have to feel I want to hear what an instructor is saying. I want to be led. For me, Bikram yoga  is still the best place to start if you’re a beginner because the benefits are so amazing. However… it’s a practice that can become addictive. Kundalini is lovely. Sivananda is wonderful. However, the singing could get on your nerves if you’re not into it. Vinyasa flow is a complete yoga. I practice Bikram mainly, but I am open for other forms.
    
3. What’s the most important thing you’ve done but didn’t want to do?

Hmmm…in retrospect, I would say moving to Germany 20 years ago. It was supposed to be a 6 month contract. 😉
 
4. When do you feel most creative?

I feel the most creative when I am cooking!!! That is the best time for me to learn text or work out new choreographies.
 
 5.  If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?

Rhonda Byrne (The Secret – The Power). I would want to know how she feels about influencing so many lives in a positive way.

6. If you were able to spend one hour with a deceased loved one, how would you spend it?

If I were granted that gift, I would spend the hour with my father. Unfortunately, we didn’t hit it off very well. We didn’t really find each other until the end of his life. We have a complicated family history which I blamed on him. Over the years, I’d maintained a very tight relationship with my mother, but deliberately excluded my father.

As we learn, we realize that some things in life simply happen and there is no need to waste time pointing finger. I wasted a good 25 years being angry with my father when I should have just let him into my life, completely. These are issues I still deal with today. I want a perfect world and when it’s not perfect, I freak out!!! We live and learn. We can’t change the past. If I had that hour with him now, I would probably go and rent a boat and do some good ol’ fishing Staten Island Style. We’d talk. I would record the picture of his silhouette in the sunlight with his fishing cap as he watches his reflection in the water. Then, I would put my arm around him and join him. I would stare at our reflection in the water together.
            
7. What legacy do you wish to leave?

I would want people to remember my work as an entertainer and as a wonderful person … someone who helped people and made people happy.
 

An Interview with Mark Rice – Marketing Professional

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Background

I was born and raised in the small town of Kennett, Missouri (same hometown as singers Sheryl Crow, David Nail and Trent Tomlinson… something must be in the water); population around 10,000 people. I studied Theatre and Organizational Communication at Murray State University and promptly left for the big city of Los Angeles after graduation to pursue an acting career. I took several classes, survived the Northridge quake, got an agent, did some plays and commercials. What started out as a temporary job, while acting, quickly became a career in sales with Arc International. After seven years with Arc, I moved on to Los Angeles Opera, where I am today. (Plácido Domingo is my boss.) I act on occasion, work on scripts for stage, TV and film and write music. I’m a member of the Board of Directors of The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank, an intimate theater that develops and produces original works as well as West Coast premieres.

Interview

1.  Please tell us a little about your professional background?

It all began in my grandparent’s store, The Rag Barn, at about age 10. I would count back change, measure and cut upholstery fabric and display the junk, ehr vintage furniture out on the front porch. At 16 I began working part-time at Kmart and honed my voiceover magic announcing the blue light special. Upon graduating from college, I moved to Hollywood and did a short stint as an actor, meanwhile building up a career in the tabletop industry with Arc (J.G. Durand) International, the leading manufacturer of crystal in glassware. By the end of my time with Arc, I was managing a three-state territory – Nevada, Arizona and Southern California – working with high-end department stores, as well as manufacturers. For the past 12 years, I’ve been working with Los Angeles Opera. As Associate Director of Marketing, I am involved in pretty much every area of marketing and have developed good relationships with our Education and Development (Fundraising) departments, collaborating on community outreach, corporate sponsorship and promotional efforts.

2.   What advice would you give a young person wanting to pursue your profession?
My advice to someone pursuing my current profession would be to really have a love for what you’re doing. Even if you’re not 100% sure you’re where you’re supposed to be, find what motivates you and layer it onto every aspect of your job. Learn as much as you can about business, advertising, public relations, and stay in tune with advances in new technology. It’s important to understand what you’re selling and to know your customer, but at the end of the day, it’s about building authentic relationships and nurturing them.

3.  What book had the greatest impact on you and why?
There are several books that have had an impact on me, and for various reasons. But the book that has probably had the greatest impact on me is the Bible. It’s one of the first books I was introduced to as a child, coming from fairly religious Christian roots on my mom’s side. It’s been a source of comfort, inspiration and healing at times, but it has also been a source of conflict and challenge. In the wrong hands, it has been used for manipulation, corruption, greed and malice. That controversy has been a great catalyst for me, sparking an interest in other books on religion, philosophy, science, metaphysics, and history, among other subjects, which have been enlightening and given me a broader perspective on humanity.

4.  If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
The first book that came to mind was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Chances are he’s read it and chances are he’s applied the principals, but for some reason, is still finding it difficult to win over or influence the Republican Party to work together with the Democrats. Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness has an interesting take on how to manage growth, people and infrastructure. Maybe a simpler approach would do the trick.

5.  What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
I’ve been grappling with this for some time. I have this feeling inside, as many do, that I want to leave a meaningful mark in the world. I’ve explored why that is and why it’s so important. Is it for vanity, to serve my ego? The conclusion I’ve come to is that I would feel I didn’t do what I was intended to do. That I somehow failed to achieve my life’s purpose. I’m a bit introspective at times, and when I really think about this question, I think it would be unfortunate to know I was meant to do something and didn’t do it. So, I continue searching for what is to be my legacy. At its simplest, I want to be a responsible citizen (that sound’s so boring), I want to experience and absorb as much as I can from life and do no harm to others. I can at least strive to be and do my best, no matter what I do.

6. What advice would you give yourself, if you could go back to age 16?
Save, save, save so you can retire at 40. Volunteer abroad so you can see the world. Really learn Spanish. Do what you want to do and take risks in your twenties. Love more. Date more. Be fearless. Stay fit. Eat healthy. Drink water. Use sun block. Don’t collect stuff, it becomes clutter. Then again… don’t change a thing. You’re journey is unique to you. No one else in the entire world now or ever, will experience what you have experienced in the way that you have experienced it. That, in and of itself, is truly a gift.

7.  If you could sing backup for an artist, who would it be?       
It would definitely have to be for the band U2. Preferably during the Joshua Tree era, however, now would be good too. Their music, for some reason, has had the most impact on me. Bono’s voice is right in my range (or used to be), so I find it easy to sing along, come karaoke nights. They are amazing in concert and I typically like the messages in their songs. It’s a Beautiful Day…

An Interview with Krystal Kiran Garib – Professional Singer, Dancer and Actress

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Background

Krystal Kiran Garib is a singer, dancer and actress of Punjabi-Canadian heritage. Deemed a “triple threat”, Krystal made her Broadway debut at the age of nineteen in the Andrew Lloyd Webber production of Bombay Dreams in New York City. Along with several film & television appearances (Hairspray, Good Morning America, Live with Regis & Kelly, MTV), she has also since performed in the Mirvish production of the Lord of the Rings in Toronto. In 2010, Krystal toured the world as a featured vocalist with Oscar and Grammy winning composer of  ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, AR Rahman.

An active philanthropist, Krystal founded the House of Kiran, a non-profit performing arts and production company, in 2009. Before the film ‘The King’s Speech’ ever hit film-waves, The House of Kiran helped raise over $40, 000 for Toronto’s Speech and Stuttering Institute with its Shakespeare-based productions, exploring the notion of finding fluency in speech through the rhythmic language of Shakespearean text.

Krystal recently finished filming her first short film which she wrote, produced and directed for Bravo!FACT (The Bravo Network), titled Thy Beauty’s Doom. This was her debut project as a filmmaker.

visit www.krystalkirangarib.com for more info!

Interview

1. What are you most proud of?

Proud is a tough word because you have to sacrifice alot on this path. But I am proud of never giving up! My dream as an 8 year old girl was to work with AR Rahman, and now I can say that I have 3 times. I chose to come into this industry on my own and lacked any real guidance from anyone in “the industry”. I am not a child of nepotism. I feel fortunate to have had opportunities early on in my career where my first professional gig was on Broadway. Now almost a decade later, I feel grateful to give back to my community through my own experiences via my dance studio and House of Kiran (www.houseofkiran.org). Most recently, two arrests were made in the murder of an up and coming talented performer and artist, whom I created a short film in memory of for the Bravo Network. Being able to do this type of work is deeply gratifying and something I am very proud of.

2. What’s the one thing that scares you like crazy, but you do anyway?

Anything with heights! I haven’t been skydiving yet, but when I was in Durban, South Africa while on tour with AR Rahman, I bungee jumped from the roof of the FIFA World Cup Stadium where we had performed the night before. I could see the remnants of the stage from our show as I was hanging there! Jai Ho!

 3. Who is your celebrity crush?

Priyanka Chopra! She rocks!

 4. What inspired you to dance, sing, act and produce?

I think it first started out when my parents would watch Hindi films at home and I would try to copy the dancing in them. From there, my mother put me in ballet classes as those were the only dance classes available in our town at the time. As I was growing up, I began stuttering and slurring my speech, so I suppose dancing was a way for me to express myself when I couldn’t do so verbally. When it came to speech, it was very frustrating for me. Interestingly enough, that’s when I started excelling at dancing. I started to take singing lessons around the age of 15 because a speech therapist I visited recommended them, saying that singing and the breathing associated to it might help me find fluidity in my speech. So I guess you could almost say that these ‘talents’ happened by accident! The acting kind of just happened by accident too. I was asked to understudy the lead role in the musical Bombay Dreams on Broadway. The first time I ever “acted” professionally was when I went on stage to play that role. It was the scariest day of my life up to that point.

In regards to producing, as much as I love helping another artist or production’s vision come to life, it is equally as gratifying to have your own vision and execute that. Producing/writing/directing has given me renewed insight and understanding into my work, life and what drives it. I founded the House of Kiran in 2009 which was started by producing events for the Speech and Stuttering Institute in Toronto. Since then, we have essentially morphed into what has now become a non-profit performing arts and production company. Thy Beauty’s Doom for Bravo!FACT is the first film production from the House of Kiran and is another fundraising project for the memorial fund of a young South Asian woman who was recently murdered at her university campus. Her name was Maple Batalia.

5. Is there a popular food you find disagreeable?

Ice cream. Makes me shudder!

6. What advice would you give to a student with a passion for dancing and singing, but little confidence because of discouraging feedback?

Be honest with yourself about your motivations, why you’re doing what you’re doing and make your decision to pursue this industry from there. It’s not easy and you have to have really thick skin. Don’t let yourself fall victim to other people’s perceptions and opinions. This goes in whatever you decide to pursue, no matter what the field is. If you want to do something, do it. Pursue your passion and learn to enjoy both the ups and the downs. You can’t have the former without the latter, and vice versa. And always remember to keep yourself inspired!! No one can take that away from you. Inspiration can come from the happiest of times or the saddest of times. Although it may be hiding, it’s always in there somewhere! As artists it’s our duty and gift to be able to tune into that.

7. Who in your life makes you laugh like none other?

My family and friends! Usually we laugh at each other expenses… but ain’t that the best?!

 

An Interview with Christine Toy Johnson – Award-Winning Actor, Playwright and Filmmaker

Background

Christine Toy Johnson is an award-winning actor, playwright and filmmaker. She has been featured extensively on Broadway, off-Broadway, in regional theaters, in film, television and concerts worldwide. Highlights include the New York revivals of THE MUSIC MAN, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, PACIFIC OVERTURES, and FALSETTOLAND, the national tours of CATS, FLOWER DRUM SONG and BOMBAY DREAMS, and leading roles at theatres including the New York Shakespeare Festival, Williamstown, the Huntington, Tale Rep, The Denver Center Theatre Company, The Minnesota Opera and New York City Opera. Almost 100 film and television appearances include two years as “Lisa West” on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, 30 ROCK, UGLY BETTY, THE BIG C, ROYAL PAINS, FRINGE, CROSSING JORDON and many episodes of various LAW AND ORDER.

She produced and co-directed (with husband Bruce Johnson) the award-winning documentary feature TRANSCENDING – THE WAT MISAKA STORY, and an anthology of her written work was inducted into the Library of Congress Asian Pacific American Performing Arts Collection in 2010.  As part of the elected leadership of AEA since 1992, Christine is co-chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and is a Board Member/ Officer of the Tony Honored Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts and a founding member of AAPAC, the Asian American Performers Action Coalition.  She was honored by JACL (the country’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization) in 2010 for “exemplary leadership and dedication” Details: www.christinetoyjohnson.com.

Interview

1. What inspired you to become a playwright and filmmaker?

As an Actor (and Asian American person) I was really feeling the sting of not seeing balanced, complex and full-bodied Asian American stories being told on stage and in the media, and started what I called a small “collaborative collective” in 2002. I invited a couple of writers, directors and actors to get together with the purposes of supporting the writers to complete pending projects, providing voices to read or sing their works in progress, and encouraging each other to keep being creative. Though the collective only lasted a few months, the biggest thing that came out of it was the encouragement I received from the group to start writing my own stories (when I had not previously written anything but journalistic pieces). My husband Bruce (who had been to film school and who wanted to get back to filmmaking after going off to have a Broadway acting career) and I ended up making a short film that I wrote, called “All American Eyes” — based on the inadvertently discriminatory things people had said to me throughout the years. I wrote it, we shot it, we entered it into festivals (and even won an award for it)– and then I decided I needed to learn how to write! So I did the Certificate of Screenwriting program at NYU’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies over a period of two years, and I was absolutely hooked! In the past 10 years I have continued my studies and have written 4 full length plays, 1 full length play with dance, 7 one act plays, 1 documentary-style theatre piece, 3 screenplays (one collaboration with the incredible Charles Randolph-Wright), produced/co-directed with Bruce an award-winning documentary about the first non-Caucasian pro-basketball player, Wat Misaka of the 1947 Knicks, and am in the middle of writing my first full-length musical. (All while maintaining my acting career. No wonder I’m tired!)

2. What topics do you feel are important to write about and why?

I tend to gravitate to writing about identity and belonging — often within Asian American story lines (but not always). When I was doing the 1994 New York revival of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, every night the one line that always rang a bell to me (and I wasn’t even writing then, but that’s the power of Stephen Sondheim!) was when Charlie said to Franklin, “Write what you know (touching his heart), not what you know (touching his head).”  My essential wound has always been about not fitting in (as it is for so many of us on a universal level), not being included; especially as an Asian American in this industry — so I suppose I am often trying to work that out and what that means to many different characters in many different circumstances. I am also committed to telling balanced, complex, full-bodied stories of Asian Americans; the ones I was missing when I was inspired to begin writing — so that maybe we and our stories can start to be recognized as part of the American landscape. My family has been here since 1865 and still we are fighting to be thought of as “American”. So — yes! I write about that, too.

3. What is your favorite family vacation memory?

Bruce and I have had so many wonderful vacations together! One that sticks out is a trip we took with my Mom and Dad to Europe a few years ago — we took a cruise from Venice to Lisbon, visiting 8 countries in 10 days! (One of those days was spent exploring Barcelona, which is inspiring the musical I’m currently writing — and it’s fun to be keeping that memory fresh in my mind!) We’re so lucky to have had a chance to travel with my folks and see so many parts of the world together.

Another is a recent trip to Honolulu that Bruce and I took to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. It’s amazing to be in what I call “Asian America”, where I’m in the majority in my own country — and the food is outrageous! Bruce would move there tomorrow! (I’m still a NYC girl at heart, but I know that we will be returning to Hawaii as often as we can!)

4. What thoughts keep you up at night?

Honestly, I am so sleep deprived, I fall asleep about 4 seconds after my head hits the pillow every night. But often I wake up early with characters from the plays I’m working on gently encouraging me to fix their story lines, or just (I know this sounds really corny, but it’s very often true) excitement for what I can accomplish in the new day. I love the morning:  it’s quiet, no one is calling, and my thoughts (after coffee) are clear, un-anxious and inspired. It’s when I do my best writing (from about 7 a.m. – 12 p.m., with a visit to the gym in the middle).

5. What are you most proud of?

On a philosophical level, I am so proud to feel that in small ways, through my work as an advocate for diversity and inclusion in this industry and in writing under told stories, I might be making a difference for the next generation of artists of color. On a more tangible level, I am so proud of the documentary that Bruce and I made, which has helped to acknowledge Wat Misaka’s  accomplishment of breaking the color barrier in pro-basketball on a global level, and in his lifetime. As we have traveled with Wat, screening the film and talking to young people across the country, watching them light up at the sight of a role model that looks like them, I am reminded that telling our own stories, no matter what obstacles stand in the way to tell them, is not only important — it is essential. And worth every second of blood, sweat and tears. The film, TRANSCENDING – THE WAT MISAKA STORY, and a collection of my full-length plays were inducted into the Library of Congress Asian Pacific American Performing Arts Collection in 2010 — and I’m pretty darned proud of that, too!

6. If you could be an olympic  athlete, which sport would you choose?

I think for sure I would be a marathon runner! “Slow and steady wins the race”, right?

7. What’s the best advice you’ve recieved?
One of my first screenwriting mentors, Oscar-nominated writer/composer Jamal Joseph, said, “Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.” I think this is something to truly live by. And, from Reverend Bryant Kirkland, “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.” Something else to live by!

An Interview with Diane Fong – Founder of MommyShape LLC

Background

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being two things: a performer (dancer and singer) and a pediatrician.   So accordingly, when I went to college at the University of California, Berkeley, I studied both Molecular Cell Biology and Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies.  But back then, I never dreamed of where these two specialties would take me. For 10 years, I taught, danced, and performed professionally in shows such as Bombay Dreams and The King and I, and with companies such as SHAPE Magazine, MTV, Joe Goode Performance Group, Adidas, and Redken 5th Ave.  But then, after the life changing experience of a beautiful pregnancy and giving birth naturally to a healthy and vibrant daughter in 2009, I switched tracks and started on a path toward becoming a naturopathic doctor specializing in women’s health and pediatric care. I also became a certified pre/postnatal exercise specialist, DONA trained birth doula and founded the company MommyShape LLC dedicated to the health and wellness of women. Now, I wear many hats and I feel so lucky to be reaching my childhood dreams of not only becoming both performer and naturopathic physician, but also mommy, doula, business owner, and educator.

Interview

1. What advantage will women gain from your MommyShape program, in person or via DVD?

When creating the MommyShape program, I tried to utilize every type of movement, including yoga, sculpting, dance, breathing exercises, massage, and relaxation techniques into a unique prenatal program that would not only relax and prepare women for their pregnancies and labors, but also give them a fun-filled, safe workout.  I focus on strengthening pelvic floor muscles, toning arms, back and legs, easing the normal aches and pains of pregnancy, opening up the pelvic area, learning how to breathe and relax in preparation for labor, and building stamina for the marathon of giving birth. I do a lot of hands-on work with my students to get them to relax and breathe into the tension in their bodies.  My goal is for women to leave my class feeling rejuvenated, relaxed, strengthened and stretched during their pregnancies and postnatally, and to prepare them physically and mentally for their labor, delivery and recovery.  Many of the women who take my class or do my DVD regularly say that they couldn’t have gotten through their pregnancies as relaxed, strengthened, and revitalized as they did, without it!

2. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from what I like to call “mommies who do it all” (which is every mommy I have ever met in my life).  I truly believe that all mommies are “supermommies” because we are in charge of so much.  Historically, we have been in charge of taking care of the home, including care of the children, the house, and the spouse.  But in this day and age, not only are we in charge of the home, but we are also in charge of businesses, classrooms, courtrooms, surgical wards, hospitals, clinics… you name it, we do it.  When I think of all that women do in this world, I get inspired to do my work to help women get educated, healthy and happy.

3. What are your go-to healthy foods?

If you ask my daughter, Tali, what her favorite dish is, she will say, “salmon, avocado, brown rice, and soup!!”  (Mommy tip: I also add vegetables that I cut up finely or put in the blender and mix with her rice so that she doesn’t notice!)  I generally stick to a Mediterranean diet consisting of foods high in Omega-3’s like fish and flaxseeds (anti-inflammatory and great for supporting brain function!), eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, and avoiding red meats, fats, and processed foods.  My go-to for a healthy snack is seaweed with avocado and hummus, and my go-to for a healthy dessert is dairy-free coconut ice cream, mango and sweet sticky rice! Yummy AND healthy!

4. When do you feel most creative?

I feel most creative on the rare occasions that I get some time alone to myself and I can zone out, turn on some music, and let my muse take over.  At times like these, I love to dance, sing, paint, write, come up with new ideas, and create new business plans.

5. Where do you see yourself in five years?

In two years, I plan to open up the first “MommyShape Center” in San Francisco, California which includes a naturopathic clinic for women and children, a studio that offers yoga, pilates, dance, and MommyShape classes, a dispensary of supplements and herbs, a children’s play area and daytime childcare center, and a juice bar and healthy snack counter.  In five years, I hope to open up these centers in the big cities in the United States.  My hope is that women all over the country will be reaping the benefits of the MommyShape program, from prenatal health and wellness with a naturopathic doctor and MommyShape instructor, through labor with the help of a MommyShape doula, all the way to postnatal health and the wellness of their children with their naturopathic pediatrician. My focus is going to be on educating women about their choices in health, so I also hope to develop media tools for doing this, including a MommyShape TV show, DVDs, and workshops nationally and worldwide.

6. Who is your favorite music band right now and why?

I don’t really have favorite band because I love all types of music and find it hard to say that one artist is my “favorite”.  But the artists I am usually drawn to are those who blend different genres of music together, mixing the sounds of pop, rock, reggae, soul, R&B, and hip hop in their music.  If I was going to pick an era of music that was my favorite though, it would be the music of the 90’s, because as my parents used to tell me, “they just don’t make music like they used to when I was a younger!”

An Interview with Sarah Ripard – Actress, Host, Producer

Background

Sarah Ripard Is the creator/executive producer and host of Being Mom with Sarah Ripard, and new television talk show about ‘Conscious Parenting’. Born and raised in Europe, the heart of her family tradition has been rooted in the discipline of television, film and theatre.

A diverse and rich cultural heritage exposed Ripard to many different customs and cultural influences. This has been instrumental in her development as a citizen of the world, an educator and a performing artist.

Never to shy away from challenging topics, Ripard’s body of work behind the scenes and in front of an audience reflects her passion and motivation to continue creating responsible and mind provoking programming.

Ripard’s intention is to open up the audience to think more consciously about how we view our own lives and gain the knowledge to rise to our greatest potential by ‘dreaming bigger’ than we ever imagined.

www.beingmom.tv

Interview

1. Explain what you do?

This is such an illuminating and exciting chapter in my life! My husband and I are the creators and executive producers of a new television talk show called Being Mom with Sarah Ripard, an entirely different talk show that deals with the concerns and lifestyle issues we all face as parents at all stages.

With my life long passion for children and position as host of the show, my mission is to utilize the transformative power of television to inspire and empower the lives of parents and caregivers.  By creating a non-judgmental space Being Mom will open its audience’s to a variety of topics on how we view pregnancy, birth, parenting and the development of our children.

We’ll discover life-changing information so you can enjoy a fuller and richer experience with the children in your lives.

Conscious Parenting! This is what Being Mom with Sarah Ripard is all about.

2. When do you feel most creative?

I feel the most creative when I am in balance and connected with everything around me.  When I pay close attention to my purpose and absorb the beauty of life in every form.

I truly believe when you tap into the miracle that life, in all forms, has to offer and let the idea of that flow, then creativity unfolds.

Creativity doesn’t always manifest itself from a positive experience.  In fact, out of utter sadness and despair I feel immense creativity surge its way forward. So whether it’s listening to sounds in nature, or smelling the fragrance of a flower as I walk with my dog or see the pure joy in my child’s eyes as she succeeds in a new task, I am inspired to create.

I mean think about it, we come into existence from a creative source, we see creation (positive or destructive) all around us.  It’s truly jaw-opening.

When I am in an awakened state, creativity seems to seep from so many places.  I almost feel like a little kid in a candy store wondering where it’s going to come from next.

3. What is the most used appliance in your home?

Umm! Interesting question? Had to think about that one for a bit.

I would have to say our electric kettle. We are connected to our international lifestyle on this one. There is a comfort in lots of cups of tea throughout the day!

4. What is the most important thing you’re ever done that you didn’t want to do?

 There have been a few pivotal moments in my life that have struck me deeply, but the one that forced me to take major action was when I had to consciously separate myself from a close family member (I’d rather not say who exactly).

The situation finally exploded and there was no going back. In order to create some healthy boundaries in our relationship I had to distance myself to gain some clarity.

In the beginning I spent many days crying and mourning the loss of that relationship, though it had been extremely emotionally toxic for years.

What added salt to the wound was the fact that I was at the top of my career on Broadway at the time and I knew this family member was not going to be a part of that joy and journey with me.

By way of that experience, (it lasted about a year) I grew into the most spiritually awakened and psychologically healthy ME I had always wanted. It was the first time in my life I stood up for myself in an authentic way.

From that time forward I was resolved to never allow myself to enter into a relationship like that again.  It was also a wonderful chance for me to see what my ‘mirror’ had been in the relationship. How my thinking had shaped what happened and take ownership of my responses to the past, re-examine my belief system and start anew.

The best decision I ever made!  I am so happy to announce that today my relationship with this family member is in a healthy place; not perfect but healthy for both sides.

5. At the end of the day, what do you do to make yourself happy?

Have Gratitude! And tell my husband and my baby girl how much I love them and just be silly with laughter. I always say out loud, “these are the moments we’ll never get back! Enjoy! Rejoice! Renew!” Simple pleasures that burrow deep to the core of my being.

6. What do you day dream about?

So many many wonderful dreams run through my head all the time.  I prefer to call them ‘dream it into reality dreams’. One dream I have is for the ‘positive collective consciousness’ to spread into the hearts of every single person at lightening speed and reach every crevice across this magical planet.

I day dream of a place where we can live in an ever expanding field of possibility NOW and not believe it’s a fairy tale book for the future. Where we see just how amazingly powerful and beautiful we are, inside and out, and transcend in ways that boggle the mind indeed!

7. What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind?

That I cared to make a difference in the lives of others in a positive way.