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 extremely ecstatic to feature Juan Roman Jr., an emerging dramatic actor based out of New York City! I was born in San Tulce, Puerto Rico. I lived in PR for a few years as a toddler before coming to Williamsburg, Brooklyn by age four and have lived here ever since. Though he was born in San Tulce, Puerto Rico, Juan Roman Jr. would only spend a few years there before embarking to New York, where he’d build his life and, eventually, acting career. Juan describes his first encounter with his lifelong passion with acting fondly: “The acting bug bit me early—I was a young kid, only ten!” However, growing up in New York, specifically in the infamously drug-addicted “Southside” of Williamsburg, acting proved to be less entertainment and more a means of survival: “Acting was my primary outlet and refuge. But the harsh conditions also partly inspired my creativity even as a kid. It was this constant anticipation of danger.” Nevertheless, Juan was not immune to the alluring thrill of his surroundings: “Looking back, I believe I was channeling my darkness through acting. The danger of where I grew up fascinated me too, I have to admit, and that’s something that has stuck with me. To this day, I tend to lean towards dark material and characters.”
"Despite what I was raised with, I didn’t become my surroundings. I have a few things to thank for that: I had parents who protected me; positive role models and the communities I bonded with through my craft.”
Juan Roman Jr.
What inspires you and your creative process? Acting for me is very much a means of personal therapy. It’s an outlet to release energy, both good and bad, after it’s been built up inside me. It’s a channel to voice something I need to say. So I’m attracted to roles that reflect something inside me. Roles I can relate to on a personal level and say something I connect to. But I think that’s essentially how all Actors choose their roles. I like material that comments on our society - specifically what’s wrong with it. All theater does that in one way or another but the ones that address injustices to me are special. That’s the activist in me. My last live production, Euphoria, was a perfect example. It addressed racism and inequality in an artistic and entertaining fashion. You had to read in between the lines. That’s great theater. Big props to Courtney Ravelo the Playwright/Director, who was also featured in an edition of Artist Spotlight in November! What is the connection between your art and social justice? I participate in advocacy and educational projects from time to time through various groups utilizing Drama. In September, I shot a couple videos for The Uncomfortable Conversation Inc. on safely confronting sexual harassment in public and how we can normalize discussions about it. I have also volunteered and performed for 4thU Artivists, a nonprofit that focuses on stopping violence against women. I have a long history of activism. It started at the age of fourteen when I became an Actor for El Puente AIDS Drama Project. This was the first company of young people in New York to use theater to educate the public about HIV and AIDS in its early years. El Puente is a holistic center for youth and a New York City public school dedicated to Peace and Social Justice. At the time I was a member it was just a youth and community center. By 1993 the school was founded. Rest in power to its founder, Luis Garden Acosta, a dear inspiration.
I know however that art in itself is an expression of social justice. You don’t need to be connected to an organization or be shouting on the streets. To me, your art alone can act of social justice.
What inspired you to pursue acting and drama? What were the challenges you overcame in this? That’s an interesting question for me. I knew by ten years old that acting was always going to be apart of my life. It gave me a feeling of belonging and it felt honest and right. I wanted to be a professional actor in my youth, but after high school I also wanted to be independent, so I entered the workforce. I didn’t see acting providing me the means to support myself, so I left it for many years and I came to terms with it. Four years ago I decided to take an acting class just for the heck of it and it was like a bolt of lightning hitting me; or reuniting with a lost love. Today I feel that sense of belonging stronger than ever. I’ve come to believe that I have something to share and it would be a shame to neglect that. Probably my biggest challenge was all the “typical” criticisms of pursuing acting. All actors have to deal with it. That acting is “a waste of time” and a “a poor career choice”. I do question why the heck I’m doing this sometimes, but I don’t do this to make money. I’m fulfilling a need; so keeping motivated and inspired is a constant challenge. What’s been the most rewarding part of being an artist for you? Do you have any advice for future artists? Knowing that you told a story that needed to be told and that maybe you helped someone by telling it. I remember an audience member telling me a long time ago that my performance in a show hit home for her and evoked memories of a relative. That was something I never forgot.
My advice to artists is something said to me by a dear friend and artist, Magdalena Gomez: “Live your truth.” If your truth is doing nothing but shows in a black box theatre, live it and don’t compromise. Find your truth whatever it may be and live it. Also, it’s fine that things don’t unfold as you imagined. There is a higher power at work and you gotta have faith in it. It’s not easy by any means but have faith.
Do you have any advice on how we can do our part in supporting emerging international artists? I would say get on the front lines. Demand better representation for those under or unrepresented. We still hardly see a Latino in a lead role in a major film. How many South-Eastern Asian leads do you see? Write those letters. Boycott. Hit ‘em where it hurts. Let’s transform the culture.
Change in this industry is slowly gaining traction but there’s lots more to do and it’ll take time, so let’s make this struggle cross-generational and work together. Support independent projects. They’re the best weapon for change.
Thank you for your continuous support and kindness. Lots of love, #Team IVA
Interview by conducted & written by Veronica Velez