Good afternoon, YouthMundees! At YouthMundus, we aim to not only be a platform for music, film and global change, but for the artists and global changemakers who create them. Our Artist Spotlight series aims to create a space for discovery of new, budding global talent, while simultaneously offering you an exclusive glimpse into their creative process. In this week’s edition, we’re beyond ecstatic to introduce CJ DiOrio, an emerging expermental theatremaker based out of NYC!
Growing up in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, CJ DiOrio recognizes that his childhood was infused with both privilege and opportunity, yet his acute awareness of his economical advantages only fueled his ambition to create challenging art that mattered socially and politically. A bit of a defiant personality, “I’m the youngest of two kids and I'm very much the younger child who is slightly rebellious, but not too much, so it's still fun and quirky!”, CJ has never shied away from admitting his own inner uniqueness: “I’m definitely the strangest person I know.”
CJ’s self-proclaimed “strangeness” only aided him in advancing further in his artistic career, as he recently graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Musical Theatre. Yet despite his recent departure from NYU’s Musical Theatre program, CJ has become less inspired by traditional theatre, and grown more attracted to less structured forms of storytelling: ”I think I like the fusion of movement and story telling more than anything else. Not necessarily musical theatre anymore, but not quite traditional plays.” However, as CJ explores the gray area of the art he’s inspired by, he is aware of the distinct shift of social perspective both he and his art has embodied throughout the years: “I think growing aware of the world and seeing how my family’s perspective grew with me really inspired me to believe change is possible. We need to find a way to articulate and communicate about what needs changing and why we need to change it. I think that inspires the art I want to make and how I approach a lot of things.”
CJ recently began working on a theatrical project with a coterie of his peers, trying to recapture the last six months from a variety of different outlooks.
What inspires you and your creative process?
I originally liked doing theatre because it was a community that I could be a member of. It's where I felt safe and protected. I could be weird, crazy, and fully myself. Since originally starting in the arts, I've now come to realize that community is still just as important to me. However, I want to make art that speaks to people and brings them together. I want to direct projects that share the experiences of characters that are so common, but too often go untold.
Right now, I find it really hard to find inspiration. We are in a pandemic, a recession, and living under what may very well become a dictatorial regime. I gave up hope and I gave up fighting at some points. What got me back on track to being an artist that can respond to the world around them was looking to my peers. To me, finding voices and blending them together- refining them- into a tangible piece with meaning has been my new goal. I'm starting a new project right now that I have no idea what it will become; however, I'm tapping into the experiences of my peers during 2020 to figure out what our generation wants to say. How do we communicate what we need? Why aren't our voices being heard? How can I use my voice to fight for those who are more vulnerable? What does it look like to amplify activists and platforms in real time? What happens if we stop fighting? Am I complicit?
What is the connection between your art and social justice?
When acting, I like telling stories that matter to me. I love exploring and connecting with my own identity as a gay man in stories that aren't just about one dimensional supporting sidekicks or a leading man with health issues. Although these stories are so important and paved the way for me to have the opportunities to openly exist in theatrical/film spaces, I think I now am more inspired than ever to push for more. I'm currently so inspired by the fight for what is wrong in the world. I think during my teenage years and pre-2016 election, I thought the world was a perfect place. We had LGBTQ+ rights, we had a Black president, we had the ACA.
These last four years have taught me that the world is not okay. We need to fight more than ever. If I can use my voice, which is more palatable and marketable in spaces due to the luxury of my gender and race, then I want to use it to amplify what needs to be seen. I do not want fluffy art; life as we know it cannot afford empty art. We must articulate what needs to be said while fighting to change perspectives and bring people together on the right side of history and issues. I am my art; my art, my voice. If I'm not using all of me to stand firm in my beliefs, what am I even doing? That is not adding any value to society or the causes and peoples I care about.
What inspired you to pursue experimental theatremaking? What were the challenges you overcame in this? I was inspired by my love of community to do acting. I loved how people could gather to watch a play or a movie for two hours and all focus in on one single story. That has immense power that I don't any other medium on Earth has. I think my challenges are my own self. I was very fortunate to grow up in a supportive environment with wonderful parents who helped and encouraged me. I was able to go to Tisch School of the Arts and hone and discover my artistic voice. However, with all of this, I was always my worst critic. Even now, I have to fight against the insecurities of feeling stupid or irrelevant. Constantly, I wonder if I'm even good enough to be stepping into these rooms to audition, direct, create, and practice. The hardest challenge was putting my critical brain away. Having struggles with an eating disorder, my own enemy was myself. I hurt myself, doubted myself, and constantly wanted to conform to what I thought was expected. It's taken so much work, therapy, and inner-reflection, but I've finally realized the best thing I can artistically do is own all of my messy shit. If I exclude the "undesirable" parts of me or the parts of me I hide out of fear, I am not authentic or unique. I no longer want to be the cookie-cutter artist. I still grapple with my inner critic and have to fight against that, but I find I am most artistically satisfied once I accept how I am and how I work and don't fight against my own instincts at every turn. What's been the most rewarding part of being an artist for you? Do you have any advice for future artists? I think the most rewarding part is seeing a vision through. I am so goal orientated that I love when everything comes together. My favorite thing is being in a rehearsal room where everyone has a voice; a place where you all bounce off one another until something magical happens. It is an incredible feeling like no other that I know of collaborating with people you love and giving life to what was once only a tiny scrap of an idea in your head. For future artists, I would say two things: 1. Don't shrink yourself to what you think is expected of you. Not only is it boring for yourself and all artists around you, it is empty and meaningless. Bring your whole, messy, beautiful, strange self to every project. 2. The artists around you are just as important as you think you are. Use them. Reach out to your community. Be inspired by the artists that are taking risks and making pieces you only dared to dream of. Then use that to have the confidence to do it yourself. Always keep connecting and checking in with your people and the world around you. Make the best use of your voice within your community and never stop listening.
Do you have any advice for emerging queer artists like yourself?
I think that's such a difficult question. I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I don't know how much can change until queer people have seats at the table of the large powerhouses that dictate our industries. I know that our day will come, but I don't exactly know the path there. I think we just need to keep each other's spirits alive. We can't get beaten down or silenced by working for representation in an industry that doesn't always want to see us or see all we have to offer. As long as we keep creating and telling stories that matter to queer people, as long as we continue to uplift and amplify one another, I think we will figure it out. It won't happen overnight but I have every hope in believing that we will get there. "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in" is a quote I use when thinking about it. We need to last long enough to have an opportunity for our voices to be heard. Then we use that and keep bringing more people to the table.