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Life & Work with Eric Renna

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eric Renna.

Hi Eric, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I take pride in knowing that there is not only a place for me, a gay Latine actor, in the theater industry but a need for my specific voice and artistry. However, this belonging wasn’t always apparent. I have honed this artistry and my love for musical theater since I was a kid in junior productions at my elementary school. However, I never had enough courage or faith in myself to actually pursue theatre as a career until halfway through college. Since then, I have realized acting, singing, and dancing as not just my passion, but my purpose. Now that I am pursuing it, I have never been happier. One of the most rewarding things theatre has given me and that has gotten me to where I am is pride in my mixed, Mexican identity. I was never really in touch with my Latine ethnicity until I had the opportunity to portray some incredibly inspiring Latine roles and experiences. I’ve grown in my fight for more representation, especially through the pride I’ve experienced performing on stages surrounded by BIPOC artists telling relevant and change-making stories.

I am now cultivating this passion at the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts and the Thornton School of Music, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Acting and a Minor in Musical Theatre. I currently facilitate weekly discussions and a monthly, educational digital series on diversity, equity, and inclusion as a board member for USC’s student-run theatre company Musical Theatre Repertory. I help produce innovative and inclusive musical theatre for all student artists while also serving as an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion liaison for the School of Dramatic Arts. There I work as a conduit for dialogue and communication between the faculty and student body regarding our school’s anti-discriminatory restructuring. I have recently had the privilege to be a part of many fulfilling musicals, with some favorite roles being Benny in In The Heights, Gabe Goodman in Next to Normal, and Chino in West Side Story. I plan on taking my love for theatre and advocacy to the theatre and film/television industries of Los Angeles and New York City the second that I’m out of college.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
My family and I spent my high school years and early college years fighting our preconceived notions of how theater and the arts were simply hobbies, not realistic careers. I fell under the guise of believing I was rational for pursuing other, more stable paths that might make me financially successful but unhappy. I eventually realized that it didn’t matter how risky or unpredictable an art career may be. No matter what happens in my future, it will be worth knowing that I didn’t give up on my dreams. Another roadblock was the internalized homophobia I had developed as a closeted gay, Catholic teenager preventing me from allowing myself the joy of my craft, which I had deemed too stereotypically queer. This bias was one of the most damaging ideas that I had learned, but thankfully was proven wrong and forgotten along my journey of self-love and pride. After incredible artistic experiences at my first university, Loyola Marymount University, I began to cultivate my love and passion for my career, as well as the communities within it. After this, every roadblock or ounce of self-doubt that held me back as I began my theatre journey just dissolved over time. Now, the only thing left to do is wait for the theatre industry to inevitably boom after this pandemic is over.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I love all types of performing, whether it be stage acting, screen acting, music, or dance. However, there is nothing like the thrill and joy of live musical theatre. It is exhilarating to experience the collective human emotions that flow back and forth from actors on a stage to the audience. I definitely specialize in musical theatre and would love to work on Broadway soon. I want to be known for my most used and developed tool in theatre: a powerful sense of empathy. I am constantly in awe of how essential empathy is for storytelling and social change through theatre. I try to bring every ounce of who I am and how I love others into any role. The thing that speaks to me in my art the most is the welcomeness of imperfection. I try to set myself apart by allowing myself to make mistakes or to embrace the painful truth of raw emotion. I have lived most of my life as someone who has always felt an incessant need to be perfect. Consequently, I have struggled with never feeling that I am enough. The beauty of the art of theatre, however, is that human imperfection is incredibly valuable and even preferred. My journey in theatre and the work that I do have taught me that I am enough and that I can bring to the table unique humanity that no one else has.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
Theatre is one of the most collaborative art forms, unlike any other type of expression. What matters most to me as an actor is that artists never forget that theatre is also one of the most powerful tools we have to show audiences from all walks of life what our world can be. The joy and magic that can come with truthful storytelling can uplift society, establish our culture and inspire us to live each day with hope. From the most tragic musicals to the lighthearted ones that surprise you, musicals’ stories have a way of changing people when they least expect it. One of my favorite directors that I worked with constantly repeated the phrase “It’s bigger than you” at every rehearsal. He was right. Theatre is not for the actor or the creative team. Theatre is a service to every individual who willingly gathers to open their hearts up so that they can escape the harsh realities in which they live. Theatre is for communities searching for inspiration and motivation to be resilient in any capacity. This simple understanding that theatre is more significant than just me has become the mantra by which I live my life. I hope to, above all, remember this as I continue my journey as a performer.

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Image Credits:

Tera Vangelos’ Mobile Cruiser Photography, Raven Watson Photography, Mike Gilmore Photography, Christopher Scott Murillo

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