ARTIST RIVKA RIVERA TALKS FREELANCING AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF A UNIQUE BRAND
Rivka Rivera is an Actress/Writer/Producer/Educator. A native of Brooklyn, Rivera spent her childhood building forts and writing plays and began investing professionally in her artistic career after attending LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts. She went on to earn her BFA in theatre from Carnegie Mellon University. Rivka has worked in all theatrical mediums and is a member of SAG/AFTRA & Actor’s Equity. In this Nectar News interview Rivka tells Editor Nicole Johnson about her experience as an artist and an ultimate freelancer.
NJ: Tell us about growing up as a young performer in NY.
RR: I was born in Brooklyn New York, both of my parents were artists. My mother was a dancer/choreographer my father was a documentary filmmaker and they met working for the Communist Labor Party for the newspaper. I call myself a Jew-Urican, half Puerto Rican half Jewish, but I identify primarily as a New Yorker. I had a deep spiritual connection with the theater and I knew acting was my calling from a very early age. I didn’t grow up with a particular religious practice but something about that space and the ritual of theater was very spiritual for me. Being in New York and having two artistic parents who valued creativity, I was blessed to begin pursuing artistic goals at an early age. I went to Laguardia High School in Manhattan and I actually went into my freshman year the year after 9/11. I was this Brooklyn girl traveling on the subway during such a crazy time. I remember after 9/11 it was the first moment where I really understood the privilege of being able to pursue my art. Through all the insanity of high school and the world around us, my creative life always kept me grounded.
NJ: Post high school what challenges did you face as you began pursuing the career goals that you are currently pursuing?
RR: Being so young and being an actress you have a lot of people trying to scare you out of it. I remember early on in high school, that idea of, “if you can do anything else, do that”. Which I think is absolutely crazy. Why would you want to do anything other than what you love? For me, the lesson to teach would have been, if this is something that you love find every way possible to support. After high school I attended Carnegie Mellon University as a theater major. I had this intense tunnel vision throughout high school and college and I believe that I was almost taught that I had to have this sense of tunnel vision to succeed. I personally do not like the term “tunnel vision anymore”, because it has certain fear based connotations, at least it became that way for me. My studies became a pursuit not to look anywhere else because if “you want to make it to the top of this mountain you better have one goal in mind”.
NJ: What inspired you to begin thinking more independently about that tunnel vision mindset?
RR: I picked up that linear black and white fear based thinking early on, and in my later years I began to move away from it. That idea of only being able to do one thing. This then speaks to this title we’ve been using, The Ultimate Freelancer. I used to have a lot of shame about being a freelancer. I’ve always had an array of skill sets that I can make use of, that I’ve been of service with and that I eventually make a living from. I never necessarily owned that title because there was this stigma that I began to consider too often. “If you wear too many hats, how are we going to know what you are”? Then I began to ask, where do I know that sensation from? It’s a very personal feeling of shame that I’m familiar with and I began to relate the feeling with the struggle I had navigating my bi-heritage. Being mixed race, I was always familiar with the question, “what are you”? That question that showcases that one doesn’t feel safe when they can’t identify you or put you in a box. I realized that I didn’t have to struggle with my duality, because mixed is who I am and it is an identity of its own. Same with freelancing. I can be and I am, an actor, a producer, a, photographer, a writer, a director. I can be all of those things and it doesn’t somehow make me any less because I don’t have my 10,000 hours in one. I think millennials and all of these younger generations are just getting so much more hip to that, but at least for my age group we were transitioning from that old school thought that says you have to put your 10,000 hours in this one thing or you are never going to be master of it. What I’ve come to terms with is that my job as a creator is to be a master of my perspective. If I am living a creative life and I am fully engaged in all the things I do, then my 10,000 hours is in my brand of creativity and me being Rivka Rivera. That’s my 10,000 hours of mastery. It’s been important for me to outline that for myself because again, I’ve learned that I have to unearth my shame and my fears.
NJ: What’s your definition of a freelancer?
RR: My dad was a freelancer, a free companion, free of occupational or political obligation or allegiance. Freedom of obligation can be equally challenging thought. The paradox is, one gains all of this freedom of choice. I simultaneously hate choice (laughs). Sometimes I dream of having that one idea, but unfortunately it’s not for me. I’m skilled at these things and I want to pursue my creativity more and when you have all of that choice you can get stuck. Meditating and breathing is definitely necessary because being freelancer is a constant test of, can I let go of the outcome and can I be of service in this job?
NJ: What advice would you give a young freelancer who is just beginning to explore new industries?
RR: What’s been very helpful to me is to write a manifesto. I used to classify jobs as, ‘A’ Job, ‘B’ Job, ‘C’ Job based on prioritizing what is perceived as the strongest of the pursuits. The problem with having an ‘A’ Job or a ‘B’ Job is that when you are not doing that ‘A’ Job, then you are not where you are supposed to be. For me, that was a very devastating way to live my life. As a creator, you are always where you are supposed to be. Especially as an actor and as a writer. If I’m babysitting a kid, this is where the material is because if I was always writing, then all I could write about is writing. With there being an abundance of choice, the question then is, how do you make those decisions? For me it comes back to, can I be of service with my creative skill set in this way? Is this a good arrangement where I can be of ample service with my perspective?
NJ: Is your experience with production different in LA than it is in NY?
RR: For me, when I’m in LA the benefits are actually shocking. I’m alone with myself in a car and alone in nature. There is such an experience of solitude and really being able to hear my own voice that I don’t get here in New York. The solitude that I experience in LA has wonderful effects on my work. As for New York, it’s all about finding myself in other people. I come here for my creative boost, a place for my crayon box to be filled. I find it so much easier in New York to connect with people and that can be exhausting. So, the two locations balance each other nicely.
NJ: What’s your audition life like? Do you audition often with your training from both artistic institutions you spent time in growing up, or have you transitioned into a life style where auditioning is just one of the many facets?
RR: I’m really lucky to audition often. I have representation that I love and you can audition now on tape anywhere. I audition much better when the audition is not my only creative outlet. For a while I was in that tunnel vision lifestyle where getting the next job was my objective, and unfortunately you get a bit thirsty when you feel like, this is my only chance to act or to express myself. I’m also working on a one woman show and I’m excited to be working with this theater company called Irondale. The company has established a project that began after the Eric Gardner incident called “To Protect, Serve, and Understand”. We use improvisation as a means to create dialogue between cops and civilians. There are six cops volunteers and six civilian volunteers that participate and we do improv work to get an opportunity to listen to each and try on each other’s emotional clothes. It’s very exciting work and I was just hired by the company to work on the second installment of the project.
As a playwright, Rivka’s one-act “Rubble” about a child’s search for her soul amongst a pile of talking trash, has been produced in both LA and NYC receiving rave reviews. Rivka also works as the head of an after school education program in NYC. For more information and to see “what’s up with Riv”, check out her website www.RivkaRivera.com.