Rising Star Kate Szekely: “Take a breath before you say, do, eat, move, think ANYTHING”

Honestly? BREATHE. Take a breath before you say, do, eat, move, think ANYTHING. Everything you bring into this world has a consequence. So take a moment to clear away anxiety, tension or habit and then make the decision consciously. As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of […]

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Honestly? BREATHE. Take a breath before you say, do, eat, move, think ANYTHING. Everything you bring into this world has a consequence. So take a moment to clear away anxiety, tension or habit and then make the decision consciously.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kate Szekely.

Kate is an actor, producer, and yoga teacher based out of Jersey City. Her current creative life is directed towards developing new documentary theater pieces for Infinite Variety Productions, a non-profit company that is dedicated to spotlighting women’s stories throughout history. Kate travels globally to perform and to teach yoga, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Women’s Overseas Service League National Conference, and the Florida State Thespian Festival.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Imoved around a bit as a kid but grew up primarily in Michigan and Florida. I played a lot of sports but was also a loner and played dress-up and dolls on my own. In middle school, I was bullied pretty harshly, and theater class was pretty much the only time I spoke during the day. It allowed me to express myself and be the person I wanted to be. So around that time, I stopped the sports, started practicing yoga, and dove headfirst into the theater.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I remember very vividly the moment when I knew I wanted to be a performer. I was auditioning for an advanced drama class in eighth grade. You could perform a scene, monologue, song, dance, etc. So I chose to sing “Hopelessly Devoted” from Grease (yikes). I was so scared but it also made me feel bold and brave. I remember thinking, “that was terrifying. So that is what I should be doing.” I went home and told my parents I wanted to be an actor. I was lucky because they both said ‘go for it’ wholeheartedly!

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It was probably when I met my creative partner, Ashley- the founder of Infinite Variety Productions. I had worked with her briefly a couple of years prior. I had taken a break from acting and had just finished a year and a half of a pretty rigorous yoga teacher training. I was on a flight back from a wedding and was reading a book of short stories, and I got this impulse- this gut feeling- that I really missed speaking artistically. So the next day, I sent this random email asking if Ashley needed someone for a box office or anything for IVP- just to get back into the theater world. We met at a Pret, had a four-hour conversation, and she cast me in a show that eventually went on to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And, in that process, we just magically started speaking the same language, sharing a common vision for IVP, and becoming the best of friends and collaborators. And I had met her, like, ONCE before this! It showed me the power of just trusting instinct and letting life run its course.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, I learned very early on that I absolutely cannot eat within an hour of the show. I have what you would call a ‘nervous stomach.’ In high school, I was in this production of Evita and I ate dinner right before the show. I don’t think I could even sing when I was on stage because I was clenching my body so tight, mouthing the words with this wide-eyed, pale face. After that song, I had like ten minutes before going on again, so I tore off my costume, ran to the bathroom, and was, like, NEVER AGAIN. You have to develop a really compassionate relationship with your body in this industry. You put it through the wringer, so half of the technique is just knowing what you have to do to calm yourself down and use your energy in the most effective manner.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Nellie and the Women of Blackwell have been my first foray into the immersive world. It has been amazing but also really, really challenging. Acting in it is like a combination of theater, film, and improv, so I’ve really had to pull out all of my tools to navigate it. But I feel very lucky to be in something that feels really innovative and ground-breaking. It feels like we get to set the standards, write the rules and take huge risks, which is rare and a privilege.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Empathy. Empathy. Empathy. There is this painting on the Oculus building downtown that says “We are all different and we are all the same.” It’s a paradox but I think it summarizes a very important fact of being a human. We are all unique as individuals, made up of one-of-a-kind genetic coding, ancestral trauma/wisdom, cultural inheritance, and our own life experience. Yet, we all share the experience of being conscious, in a human body, on planet Earth. I think it is imperative that we understand and embrace this condition of life because, if we can’t, I don’t think we will ever move forward as a species. Our society right now has devolved into exclusionary tribalism with very little communication between the groups. I think art- and particularly theater, film, and television- has the capacity to change the mind by opening the heart. If you can show someone the common, universal experience of being alive within the context of a specific life circumstance of an individual, then that person can see themself in the other, even if the viewers race/gender/orientation/culture is completely different than the performers. But, in order to do this, audiences must be exposed to people and stories of all kinds. We must be able to see universality through the individual if we are to ever be a functioning, peaceful society.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Don’t starve your body to make it ‘desirable’ enough to be on stage/screen. I had an eating disorder for years and it made me a crappy actor and a miserable person. If people don’t want to watch you because they aren’t attracted to you, that’s their problem and not yours.

Don’t compare your success to others. Everyone is on their own timeline and path. Don’t go on the Instagram rabbit hole of stalking others who have ‘made it.’ It is not productive and draws your energy into self-depreciation and jealousy.

Take the winding path. And don’t regret it. Opportunities come when you just work on yourself and be a good person. I took two years off to become a yoga teacher and it not only brings me so much joy, but it also allows me the flexibility to do what I want in my actor/producer/writer life.

Build a really good support network of family and friends. Community nourishes you. And, no matter how talented/smart/dedicated you are, you can’t do it alone.

Make your own work. Everyone is doing the audition, agent/manager, waiting for all-day grind. That just took all my energy and made me feel worthless. I chose instead to do the Field of Dreams, ‘if you build it they will come’ approach. I make my own work with people I want to work with. It’s freaking hard and feels like an impossible battle sometimes, but if you stick to it, it’s fulfilling, you constantly are working, and eventually, people notice.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Have a practice of some kind. Yoga, martial arts, knitting- whatever. Do something that centers your mind, relaxes your body, and reminds you that your self worth is intrinsic and not dependent on what others say or think.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Honestly? BREATHE. Take a breath before you say, do, eat, move, think ANYTHING. Everything you bring into this world has a consequence. So take a moment to clear away anxiety, tension or habit and then make the decision consciously.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My partner and best friend, Harry, has changed my life, not by changing me, but by being with me and supporting me changing myself. He has shown me the utmost compassion, giving me time and space to figure out who I am and what I want to do with my time on Earth. He is my rock and I absolutely love him to death.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said- no. But somehow we missed it.” That’s a Tom Stoppard quote from his play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I think we all are constantly presented with opportunities to say no to ideas, structures, and systems that keep us from liberation. And we all have the choice to perpetuate or end them, to some extent. So I try, every day, to listen, and not miss those moments.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Danny Devito! I love literally everything he does. His commitment to each character and his ability to laugh at himself is unparalleled and I think he is a national treasure.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am not good at social media but I am trying. I think Instagram is probably the one I use most often. @kszek. But also follow @ivpnyc to see the work my theater company does, please!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Thank you so much for your time and your questions! I’m very grateful.

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