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 week, we are ecstatic to introduce Isabella Gomez, an emerging Colombian actor, writer, and producer!
Born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, near the warm breezes of the local beach, surrounded by dancing and rich folklore, Isabella Gomez was naturally attracted to the arts.
“I grew up celebrating the distinct cultures and ethnicities that merged to create our Colombian customs and traditions”, Isabella expounded on the nostalgic inspirations behind her work, however despite influencing her artistic endeavors, her youth in Colombia also taught her about the “heartbreaking suffering of many Colombian communities, affected by the conflict between the government and the paramilitary groups and guerrillas.” With the rampant violence present within her birthplace, Isabella admitted that, “At certain times, the hope for peace became inconceivable.”
However, hope materialized in unexpected places: “I saw Andrea Echeverri, a Colombian singer/songwriter, stand up for those mothers at one of her concerts, and in that moment I realized that as an aspiring artist, it would be part of my duty to give these low income, deeply affected communities a platform to express their anguish, and to call attention to the brutal acts being committed against them. Although a peace treaty was reached in 2016, I would not say my country lives in blissful serenity right now.”
To this day, Isabella maintains that “there are still experiences that are constantly silenced, stories full of plot holes, and voices waiting to be heard.” However, she hopes that her art can be a means of healing, and shed light on the obscured past and present of her community.
Determined to give an artistic platform to the silent majority of her country, at the young age of 18, Isabella moved to New York City to pursue her BFA in Acting at NYU Tisch. Isabella’s departure only strengthened her appreciation for her heritage, driving her to include her Colombian culture into any type of work she chose to pursue.
An artist who believes in the power of the relationship between both community and engaging narratives, Isabella proudly explained: “I am passionate about community building through culture sharing as well as through storytelling.”
What inspires you and your creative process?
The desire to understand humanity’s complexity, to connect with other peoples’ experiences at a deeper level and the need to spark hope, joy, and laughter while accompanying those who feel desolate. Also, the opportunity to be my full human self motivates me.
I am inspired by life itself, by our behaviors, why we want the things we want, what we do to get them, how different and how similar we can be as a race. Moreover, the possibility of a more equitable world also inspires me, of breaking boundaries, stereotypes, stigmas, the possibility of spreading freedom.
Finally, I am inspired by other leaders and artists. My teachers at NYU, the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and Stonestreet Film and TV Studio, lifted me up from the Earth with their knowledge and experience.
What is the connection between your art and social justice?
When I moved to NYC, my identity was immediately shaken. What it means to be Latin American in Colombia is totally different from what it means in the United States, and at the beginning, grappling with those differences was challenging. My journey into adulthood was affected by the fact that I went from being part of a majority to a minority, and this shaped me and the work I aim to create.
As an immigrant I’ve learned what it feels like to be an outsider, to want to connect but not finding the words how, to value my culture more than I ever imagined I would, and to want to create communities that feel like family, to create spaces that feel as safe as one’s home, and to always be open to listening, because in others’ words always lies a spark of wisdom. My desire for building such communities and spaces through theatre, and my need to fight for diversity in thought, tradition, experience and origin through art, became stronger than ever.
I feel that when I speak my lines, I am not only speaking for myself or for that single character, but also for every person that resonates with the emotions and the journey of my role. Through the arts, and specifically through theatre, I can become the voice, face, and body of those who haven’t had their stories told.
As an artist I want to speak for those who are in danger when they do; I want to build communities through storytelling and have diversity be a cause for celebration and not discrimination. In order to construct communities where collaboration and respect are a given between its members, the individuals within the community must listen to each other’s points of view. Through art, we practice listening. We listen with all our senses to another person’s ideals embedded in their creation, and we let those ideals converse with our own, peacefully. I want my work to be an example of how listening to an artistic piece, no matter how controversial it may seem, should be a rehearsal of how we will listen to everybody in the real world: with care, patience, and respect. It is an honor to get to create a space for pure enrichment, a space designed to ignite reflection, change, and bravery. A place where underrepresented groups will get to see that their voices have power as well, and their experiences are as valid as everyone else's.
Eventually I want to go back to Colombia and research the stories that have been buried and shine light on them, either through a film lens or on a stage. For now, I think it is important to constantly look for ways to support the work of diverse artists, to do our own research so we unlearn certain prejudices and beliefs that are deeply ingrained within us. We are all part of the system and have therefore been affected by it, so it's our job to accept that we have our own things to work on, as we also strive to help others. Moreover, for the projects I start myself, I strive to have multiple perspectives involved in the process: creatives with different origins, beliefs, ethnicities, body types, and more.
Do you have any advice on how we can do our part in supporting emerging immigrant artists like yourself?
Listening to our stories! Every immigrant experience is so unique and I feel that sometimes we are boxed in one version, so recognizing how diverse our experiences can be, and creating multiple spaces to express those, is a great way to support immigrant artists. Spaces like this Artist Spotlight Series in your platform is an amazing way to give each artist the opportunity to speak up, it recognizes individuality and the value of it!
Moreover, recognizing how hard the visa process can be for many immigrants, and therefore reaching out to offer support or the chance to make art, even if you know they might have to leave in a year, not only makes us feel valued, but also opens a lot of doors to us; every opportunity counts.
What inspired you to pursue acting and theatre making? What were the challenges you overcame in this?
Growing up I loved school; I loved learning about everything; I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, but I did know that when I was dancing, acting, or singing, it was as if all my blood cells started their own dance. I felt fuller, I was able to just be, not only be in the present, but be my full self in the present.
Also, as a believer in the power of the phrase, “put yourself in other people’s shoes,” I felt that the one of the best ways to do this was through acting and theatre making, and that if I continued to do so, I would be able to spread more empathy. Growing up, every time I saw someone being bullied or hurt, even if they weren’t my friend, tears would start forming in my eyes; theatre became the medium for which I could make other people feel valued and loved, since they could see their experience and perspective represented on a stage. Moreover seeing artists like Shakira open schools and help underprivileged communities, made me fall in love with art even more. I started seeing the power it has to transform other people's lives, to spark change, bravery, courage.
It was not easy to take the leap of faith and come to NYU, but the support of my family and friends from back home, gave me the strength to jump. Also as a determined, passionate perfectionist, the obstacles that came challenged my notion of what perfect meant, challenged my idea of the “perfect path,” allowing me to learn to let go and trust life a bit more. There were times where I did want to give up, but the beauty of those moments is that I learned about my own complexity of self, I learned that I was more than a straight A student, and that that made me more special. I learned to give time to time, to trust that I am doing my best and that that doesn't always mean you are the best, or that you don’t make mistakes; it also teached me that every journey is individual for a reason, and that failing is part of growing.
Are there any projects you are working on currently?
During the pandemic I wrote, produced and edited a short comedic series where I play four eccentric characters who join (or are forced to join by their parents) an online program called Q-friends, designed to forge new friendships during this isolation period. The short series is being re-edited so that I can share it around Thanksgiving time.
Moreover I just started rehearsals with iD Studio Theatre for a new play directed by German Jaramillo, a Colombian actor who recently performed in Lincoln Center and previously won Best Actor from the Organización Hispana de Actores Latinos for his role as Coronel from the Coronel No Tiene Quien le Escriba at Repertorio Español. This new project will be premiering in December. As of now the script is still being finalized, but from the version I’ve seen I am going to be dancing a lot of tango, which is something that excites me a lot since dance was where I first fell in love with the stage and with expressing my entire being through art. Dance has and will always be one of the activities where my soul soars free.
I also recently produced and acted in a virtual production of Macbeth with artists transmitting their interpretation from different parts of the world as is South Korea, Hawaii, New York, California, Texas and more. I want to share this project because I think that in these times of social confinement, art can be an oasis where we find light, connection, energy. Theatre is not dead and will never be. Reimagining theater into a virtual experience while preserving the connection with other artists miles away was not a simple task, but through the use of camera angles, lights, music, the creative transformation of each artists’ home into their own set, the interactive pre-show and the passion of the artists, we created a unique virtual experience that lived between the worlds of streaming and theatre, maintaining the magic of live performances, while using the innovative elements that this visual medium offers. Perhaps the pandemic has given rise to a new form of expression.
The project also included a special collaboration with the Theater department of Norte Vista High School in Riverside, California consisting of weekly workshops dictated by Macbeth’s cast and crew, with the purpose of stimulating and inspiring students who today adapt to a world of socially distanced education.
Isabella Gomez's Virtual Macbeth Trailer
What’s been the most rewarding part of being an artist for you? Do you have any advice for future artists?
One of the most rewarding experiences as an artist I experienced last year. I had the opportunity to perform at multiple detention centers across NYC. Hearing the inmates say that for the duration of the play they forgot where they were, they felt looked at, spoken to with respect, heard and valued, shook my whole self. It showed me that art transcends all sorts of boundaries, class, experiences, it puts us on a plane where we are reminded that at the end we are all humans and we should be lending more hands and smiles, than injecting hate.
Moreover, other extremely rewarding parts of being an artist has been learning how to be unapologetically myself, and also hearing the audiences’ laughters and heart palpitations: knowing that I am connecting with them. Finally the people that I have met through my artistic journey. Artists becoming friends, those friends that make NYC feel like home, also collaborators that ignite my desire to make work and remind me of the chance to fly on Earth!
As in advice for future artists, I would say:
This might be obvious, but many times not everyone applies it: it's better to be over prepared than under prepared…
BUT there are also times where you just have to let go and flow. As someone who many times wants to be in control of everything, art has taught me that it can be better when I don’t have control. And that I have to learn how to be comfortable in “not knowing,” in just being in the present and exploring that moment without trying to make it “perfect,” because: what is perfect?
Everyone's definition of good will be different in the industry, so it's important to believe in your own work and talent and surround yourself with people who love you and are honest as well, so you can trust their word and also rely on them when you need a morale boost.
“Create your own work” was always a phrase that scared me, and it still does sometimes; it comes with a lot of pressure, but if you break it down and start small without expecting the biggest thing in the world, it becomes more doable and most importantly enjoyable. We are creators, our imaginations naturally flow, you just have to trust and be connected enough with yourself to receive those ideas.
Were you as inspired by Isabella's story as we were?
Follow Isabella on her Instagram to stay up-to-date on all of her upcoming projects!
And be sure to follow Isabella's production of Macbeth on Instagram to check out some sneak peeks and show promos!