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Meet Natalie Camunas of The Happy Actor

Today we’d like to introduce you to Natalie Camunas.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Okay, so they say it takes ten years to “make it” in Hollywood. And I absolutely believe that. I’ve been a working actor for nine going on ten years now, and it was in 2017 that I was able to let go of side gigs and be a full-time actor. There is a sense of pride and excitement, and a definite feeling of “making it.” But there was something that stood out in my success: Community; the realization that I did not do this on my own.

Let me let you in on a secret: no one does it alone. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you need a strong team on your side. For me, that team consists of my rock of a partner Amy, my sweet Shiba-Inu pup named Charlie, great friends, a supportive family, a fantastic therapist and incredible mentors. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have a mentor during every leg of my journey.

Indeed, your journey is your own, and you’re walking your own path, but that path is laid in front of you on purpose, paved with the guidance and counsel of colleagues and investment of mentors. I think about how much time I spent during these past nine years, often unknowingly, digging myself deeper into despair, trudging away working endless double shifts at restaurant jobs I hated, never really feeling happy, regardless of what small successes were coming my way.

Then, one day, after years of exhaustion and frustration, I gave myself permission to actually be an artist. I turned all of that energy I spent being exhausted and frustrated and began to create. I stopped waiting for someone else to say I made it and instead – said it to myself. For an entire year, I journaled. As I began each entry, I wrote: “I’m ready for my life to change,” because I was.

Those journal sessions organically morphed into a sort of gratitude list for all the things I’d already accomplished. As mindset shifts go, it took some time to start believing in miracles, to start believing in myself. The months passed, and bit by bit I started seeing that my life was actually changing, and would continue to change.

Like an investigator, I started looking for clues, seeing how Universe was speaking to me – ok let’s be real, screaming at me – to follow her nudges. And for the first time in my life, I began to listen. Like a hound, I was on the hunt for that something big that was on its way. Then – it happened! I landed the biggest gig of my career, a 4-month world premiere theatre show! That incredible production is what allowed me to quit those restaurant jobs and never look back.

The journey into regional theatre touring allowed me to look even closer, to meet more and more working actors. The more I’d audition, I realized there’s an epidemic of unhappiness sabotaging artists everywhere.  This paradigm of the “struggling artist” or “starving artist” has become so pervasive that actors are falling apart. Even after a big success, there’s always this “what’s next” mentality. While I love setting goals and crafting my future, there is immense value in staying present and being grateful for the success we’re in RIGHT NOW.

I noticed this especially in women, the devaluing, apologizing, downplaying, hiding, shrinking – and I get it. There is no space to exist as your full self as a woman, add on top of that a woman of color, and on top of that a queer woman of color. I don’t think the path of an artist is ever “easy” – but when you have the right support system, it makes that rocky road a little more walkable.

As a result – I decided to create more of those spaces; a container in which we as women, queer folk, and women of color can process worry, fear, doubt, and transmute them into hope, desire, and accomplished dreams.

Real talk: Artists aren’t afraid of failing, we’re afraid of succeeding. The roadmap for struggle and despair is actually quite simple, and we’re more familiar with it. You get to sit in the “what if’s” and blame and wonder why it isn’t changing, it’s a passive place to exist — but being happy?

That requires actively, productively working for your dreams and taking care of yourself. It requires real effort and big mindset shifts. Once I figured that out, the Happy Actor coaching program was born.

Great, 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?
Absolutely not! But – that’s part of what helped get me here. Smooth roads are overrated. I think it’s a myth that we are fed that pathways are linear. Nothing is linear. We go backwards and forwards and sideways, just like the elevator in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Yes Gene Wilder!). And that’s a beautiful thing, that’s what we were designed to do as humans. As actors – storytellers- we have been divinely called to see and feel deeply so that we can hold the mirror up to our society, to our own humanity.

In the last episode of The Office, Andy says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” If I’m being honest, I look bad on my “rocky road” fondly. I send that double-shift-working version of myself love and sweet words, almost daily. I wish I could show her all she will accomplish, so she can take a breather and a bubble bath and chill out a bit! There is an element of letting go that is important in success.

Success doesn’t come because you wanted it badly enough, it’s that you were willing to value the process, not the product. I’ve taught myself that there is an upside to everything if you look hard enough. For instance, if there’s a role I really wanted and I don’t book it, I know it’s because something else is coming in its place. And every time, I’ve been right. You see the world the way you want to see it right? As an artist, it’s our job to take really big risks and big leaps of faith. Then we make art about how it turns out.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about The Happy Actor – what should we know?
The Happy Actor is an artist community; a place to find your people and support in the work. I help artists look at the shape of their life, evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and provide support to enhance the pieces that bring the most joy. Time after time, the bookings/successes follow. When you take care of yourself, the universe takes care of the rest. I believe this to be true because I did it, and I continue to do it in my life.

My mission is to guide folks in slowing down, and becoming intentional in their daily lives. I want my clients to create their lives, not allow their lives to happen to them. I teach clients to listen carefully to what Universe is saying and guide them in following their happiness. Typically, my clients’ dream lives aren’t years or even months away.

Mostly, it’s just within their grasp. I help them clear away the brush and see the gem that is their own beautiful, unique journey. One by one, I want to help each, and every actor/artist in LA find their truth, their happiness, their way. When one of us rises into our creative power, we all rise with them.

Truthfully, I’m most proud of the artists that I have been able to connect with on such deep levels. Creating a story as an actor isn’t just lines on a page, it’s actually never about the lines – it’s about remembering all parts of ourselves, and bringing that truth and vulnerability into the story. It’s nostalgia and imagination incarnate, and that’s a beautiful thing to witness. Artists are required to be bold and brave.

I am proud to know that the Happy Actor supports actors in being bold and brave, not only in the work but in their daily lives too. Yes, we’re about the work, but I focus more on the person creating the work. The richer your life is, the richer your characters can be.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
What a fantastic question. I think as actors, many hold the belief that luck has a lot to do with whether you succeed or not, and I disagree with that. I believe in timing. I believe in intuition. To place so much weight or importance on a thing you can’t control, like luck, is a bit of a misstep. It also goes hand in hand with your mindset; one who relies and waits on a thing like luck to come around and do all the work, well they might be waiting quite a while.

In my experience, timing met with preparation is what makes things look shiny and magical. Is Issa Rae lucky for having Insecure on HBO? No, she was prepared. She had years of creating storylines with Awkward Black Girl, so when HBO came knocking, she was PREPARED. The biggest thing I’ve learned as a business owner, which in turn has improved my artistry, is that you just have to start. Somewhere, anywhere, even if it’s a mess, you must begin.

Once you start making concrete moves, you start to see how you can improve or shift things, so they move closer to your original intention. But you have to take action first, then you have something to work with. “Overnight success” is not a thing. Again, that’s a passive belief. But working every day, bit by bit, does lead to “making it.” I attended a SAG-AFTRA panel for Stranger Things when it first premiered, and the cast was there.

The moderator asked them to all share their “big breaks.” Many of the teens laughed and said that Stranger Things was their big break. Then, they handed the microphone to Winona, and she seemed perplexed by the question. She started naming films, quite a few actually, before she landed on “Beetlejuice?” – the crowd roared with applause and hoots, and she laughed and said: “Okay yes I guess it was Beetlejuice.”

She went on to talk about how she had been working for so long at that point that by the time Beetlejuice happened, it didn’t feel big, it felt like a step in the journey. Her perspective blew my mind! Like, oh wait – all the bookings, all the projects, it’s all big. She listed off so many movies before Beetlejuice because to her, they all felt as important.

I’ll leave you with something a mentor once shared with me, and it changed how I existed as an actor. He said: “If you book the biggest gig of your life tomorrow, the only thing that changes – is perspective. You are still the same capable incredible artist – with or without the booking.”

How do you, personally, define success? What’s your criteria, the markers you’re looking out for, etc.?
Success for me means feeling proud of the day’s work when I lay my head down to sleep at night. It means waking up feeling grateful to be alive. It means having the freedom to dive into projects that make the world a better place. It means spending time with my partner, and my friends. Success is being present in the moments of my day. It’s making a living doing what I love.

As for criteria when I’m choosing projects to dive into, I know that it will most likely mean time away from my partner, friends, and family. Whatever I invest my time and energy into has to be worth sacrificing that time away from them. Also, learning to say Yes and No are crucial parts of achieving success in my book. If it’s not an ecstatic HELL YES, then it’s a no. Following my happiness in that way leads to success, every time.”

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Image Credit:
Bobby Plasencia, Amy Kneupper

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