Time is everything. This business is very time sensitive. At any given moment my agent could call me for an audition that is the following day at (insert random time). Or I could be doing a play that has late night rehearsals from 6 PM to God knows when, on days dependent on the casts availability. Or better yet, I could be working on a film that shoots 10+ hours a day. The biggest thing that I have learned is having time management. By also holding down a day job and going to school, I have learned to prioritize important things and do them in a timely manner. On the days I don’t have anything scheduled, I make sure to run all my errands. I’m constantly referring to my calendar on my iPhone to make sure there is no schedule overlap. As hectic as things get, I genuinely enjoy having a busy lifestyle.
I had the pleasure to interview Nina Eleanya. Nina is an actress from Phoenix, Arizona who got her start doing theatre at Skyline High School with the role of “Wilma Atkins” in “The Rimers of Eldritch.” After graduating in 2016, she went on to pursue a professional acting career which lead her to doing plays in her community such as “Curveball” at the Herberger Theatre, “SPIN” at Brelby Theatre Co. and just recently playing “Nora Helmer” in the Broadway classic, “A Doll’s House.”
Thank you so much for joining us Nina! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! Well, when I was a kid I wanted to be a pediatrician. Most of my family is in healthcare, so it only made sense to keep the trend going. Then my sophomore year of high school came around. I needed a fine arts credit to meet the graduation requirements. I couldn’t sing or dance and didn’t have the patience to play an instrument, so I enrolled in theatre. From the very first day of class, I fell in love with it and decided that I wanted to be an actor instead. I began doing my research on the industry and getting more involved with it. By my senior year, I got cast in the spring semester play, “The Rimers of Eldritch” as “Wilma Atkins.” It was honestly my breakthrough performance. Up until then, I was kind of shy, awkward and not very confident. Doing that play forced me to step outside my comfort zone and it seriously made my senior year. After I graduated in 2016, I pursued acting professionally. I’m still early on my journey but I’ve been lucky enough thus far to do a handful of plays and film projects. Even auditioning for roles on TV shows for networks like NBC, AMC, BET AND STARZ.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I did a show called “Spin” at Brelby Theatre. It was about an all female roller derby team that loses its team captain to an accidental “injury.” Here’s the thing, we had to roller skate for the show… YES. Literally on rollerskates, on stage, in front of an audience! Thankfully we had helmets, knee pads, wrist guards — The whole set up. The best part? I didn’t even know how to skate to begin with! I struggled for several weeks trying to learn that, on top of memorizing my lines. I don’t know what I was thinking! I was just so determined to do it. Quitting was not an option! Fortunately, I got it down and went on to perform and we had a nice turn out for each show. Definitely the craziest experience, so far.
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?
I almost made a huge mistake when I first started. I had googled “how to become an actor?” So many results came up but the one that stuck out was for a modeling/acting school that made glamorous claims of discovering numerous Disney stars. Most of which were people I had always looked up to. I thought, “if they discovered them, the same could happen for me?” I put in my information and the following day the school called me in for an audition. I was so ecstatic! After chatting with them for a few minutes, I asked how much the classes would cost. I can’t remember the exact figures but the down payment was going to be well over $1000. I couldn’t afford that! I told the representative I was no longer interested. Unfortunately, they kept harassing me by calling every couple of weeks, trying to persuade me to come in. I had to block several of their phone numbers before they got the message. Come to find out a few years later that this “school” had been ripping off hopeful actors and models out of thousands of dollars for YEARS. I was shocked, but relieved that I wasn’t a victim of this. All thanks to me being unable to afford it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The most recent play I did was Henrik Ibsen’s, “A Doll’s House” at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. I got a chance to play the lead character, “Nora Helmer.” For those who are not familiar, it’s about a woman who has committed a crime in order to save her husband‘s life and the events that occur afterward. We had done the condensed version of the show which essentially highlighted key moments from the play. In this version, however, my character was on stage the ENTIRE time, from start to finish. It was so tough to do! I had pages upon pages of dialogue to memorize, on top of remembering each interaction my character had with the others. It’s amazing how I managed to keep track of everything without going completely insane! I had such a great time though and learned so much about theatre and myself as a person. For a while, I had gotten comfortable playing smaller roles. I made a conscious decision to take on a new challenge by auditioning for the lead role. I couldn’t believe that I actually got it! It also meant a lot to me that the director had faith in me to portray this character. She took a chance on me and it paid off.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Social media has been a game changer for me. It’s been a way to connect with lots of people all over the world. I’ve [online] befriended actors who have been on Broadway, major Hollywood movies and television shows. Most of them have been kind enough to give career advice. The most interesting person I have met in person, however, was Vice President of Casting at BET network, Robi Reed. She has cast stars like Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, and Queen Latifah, to name a few. Last year, I auditioned to be on a new TV show on BET at an open casting call in Los Angeles. I didn’t get the part and felt like such a failure at that moment. But she did encourage me to keep trying. So I always keep that in mind anytime I start to doubt myself.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take breaks! I cannot emphasize that enough. This industry is so ruthless and competitive. You’re constantly on the move whether you’re going to auditions, long rehearsals/shoots, screenings, classes, all while trying to balance a personal life. It gets overwhelming! Stop when necessary. Take a vacation, spend time with friends and family, explore other interests, just relax.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Not sure if it’s necessarily a movement, but I believe that education is key, especially in young women. I would love to start a mentorship program that provides them with necessary resources to achieve their goals and guides them on their academic and career paths to success. I was fortunate enough to be a part of one when I was in high school. It was led by a team of hard-working businesswomen. We would have monthly meetings where they regularly invited guest speakers to give us insight on things that mattered to us. Topics ranged from college applications and choosing a major to career exploration and starting our own businesses. To this day, I remember the positive impact that mentorship had on my life. I think it would be nice to return the favor to someone else.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Save money. As soon as I got my first regular day job, I splurged every day. I went to fast food restaurants, movies, and bought things I did not need. As I began my acting career, I underestimated how much money I would have to spend between classes, headshots, self tape submissions and gas to do all these things. To make matters worse, there was always the occasional emergency car repair. I wish somebody would have slapped me in the face when I was spending money frivolously. I’m still in a good place financially, but I know I could’ve been better off if had I made smarter choices.
- Time is everything. This business is very time sensitive. At any given moment my agent could call me for an audition that is the following day at (insert random time). Or I could be doing a play that has late night rehearsals from 6 PM to God knows when, on days dependent on the casts availability. Or better yet, I could be working on a film that shoots 10+ hours a day. The biggest thing that I have learned is having time management. By also holding down a day job and going to school, I have learned to prioritize important things and do them in a timely manner. On the days I don’t have anything scheduled, I make sure to run all my errands. I’m constantly referring to my calendar on my iPhone to make sure there is no schedule overlap. As hectic as things get, I genuinely enjoy having a busy lifestyle.
- Quality over quantity. I do my best to ensure that everything I do is as good as it possibly can be. Doing theater allows me to understand the story and the character that I’m playing, nitpick and fine-tune my performance through the rehearsal process. I believe it’s better to create an interesting and memorable performance versus doing many shows with lackluster performances.
- Mistakes will be made. I was naïve when I jumped into this career path. I didn’t have somebody guiding me along the way, warning me of things to watch out for. Made several mistakes, that I regularly reflect on. I have come to terms that mistakes will be made but the only thing I can do is learn from them.
- Be Consistent. As I mentioned earlier, I was very shy when it started doing theater. But by practicing my art a little bit every day, I got better over time. I noticed that whenever I would take extended breaks, I would fall back into my awkward bubble. Being consistent in honing my craft has been my greatest asset.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
I need to tattoo this quote on my forehead so I don’t forget! Being an actor is this constant up-and-down roller coaster where you never know where you’re going to end up. You might do a slew of projects for several weeks, then be out of work for a few months. Everything is very unpredictable. Regardless, I’m not defined by my work. At the end of the day, I’m a person with thoughts, feelings and emotions who is living the human experience. I strive to continue on in spite of any struggle.
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 mother of course! I could write a novel about the list of things she has done for me and my siblings. Working long hours, buying us whatever we needed for school, being a good support system, and making sacrifices to ensure our success. I literally owe that woman my life. When I first started acting, she wasn’t enthusiastic about it because her hope for me was to become a doctor. For a long time I received a lot of pushback from her whenever I would go to auditions or even speak about actor related things. But over time, she opened up to it and now is my #1 supporter. My mother occasionally helps me go over my lines before rehearsals or for an audition. Sometimes I feel like she should be my manager with how emotionally invested she is.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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?
I really admire Kenyan, Academy Award winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o. The first film that I ever saw her in was “12 Years A Slave” in 2013. That movie was very heart wrenching to watch as it shed a light on a dark part of our nation’s history with slavery. Lupita played the role of “Patsy” with such integrity and strength. I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better job. Her performance and Oscar win inspired me to follow my dreams of becoming an actor, too. Being an African [of Nigerian descendant] myself, we don’t see a lot of representation in the media. So to have someone of similar heritage burst onto the Hollywood scene and break barriers is incredibly motivating! Since that film came out, she has done a series of other great roles such as playing “Red” in “US.” Again, she was my FAVORITE person to watch in that movie. I wouldn’t want to just want to have lunch, I would love to share the same creative space with her as an artist and do a movie together.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m mostly active on my Instagram page, @ a_timeless_classic
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!