Shadia Martin: “Knowing and loving who you are will be your biggest success”

“Not only are you going to face a lot of rejection, but sometimes you’ll wish you would get rejected!” What do I mean by that? Well, there may be times when weeks go by between auditions. When I was just starting out, I thought that I would make my way to a big city like […]

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Not only are you going to face a lot of rejection, but sometimes you’ll wish you would get rejected!” What do I mean by that? Well, there may be times when weeks go by between auditions. When I was just starting out, I thought that I would make my way to a big city like Los Angeles, sign with an agent, audition all the time and, yes, have my share of rejection. But there was no one to show me where the starting line was and how to get there. No one to tell me: “this is the first thing you need to do; these are the steps you need to take, and this is what you can expect to happen.”

As part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shadia Martin.

Shadia Martin is an actress/singer and creative currently based in Los Angeles, CA. Over the past year, Shadia has played the role of Hamlet in an off-off-Broadway adaption; landed a principal role in the Marshmello music video “Here With Me”; and most recently appeared in her first commercial airing on Paramount Networks for The General Car Insurance. Shadia trained in New York City for four years earning her bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Arts, Film and Television from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts / St. John’s University. In addition to her most recent accomplishments, she has been steadily developing her craft by working on independent film projects and productions.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me! For as long as I can remember, I have always admired actors and how they are able to do what they do. I grew up watching classic films with my Dad, including The Godfather series and On The Waterfront, but it wasn’t until much later when I was able to look back on those moments that I realized this is when my love for the craft began. As a kid — or even a teen — I never imagined myself as a true actor, let alone pursuing acting as a career. But then I took a chance in high school and signed up for the drama program. I immediately fell in love with all things performing. Then, with the help of my dad and following my (albeit nervous) gut, I took a huge leap of faith and moved to New York City to study theatre. I haven’t looked back since. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I am so proud of myself for listening to my heart and taking that risk because it started me on the path to my professional acting career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Performing dramatic roles — whether for the theatre or film — has always been my goal. So, landing the lead role in Hamlet and how it all came about, is one of the most interesting and important milestones in my career and a real highlight for me as an actor. I had a wonderful teacher, Sheila B., back in conservatory. I remember her first assignment — to embody your favorite rock star and perform a lip sync performance as the singer. I chose Brandon Flowers from The Killers and the band’s song, “Mr. Brightside.” I put my all into it and decided to go full-out. I stippled scruff on my face and slicked back my hair into a short hairstyle. I even bonded my chest so that I could most accurately portray a male-presenting character. I was terrified. But I did it and after the entire class completed their performances, we all sat in a circle to discuss what worked. Sheila called-out my portrayal of Flowers and marked my “focus” as to why it was a successful performance. I will never forget that moment. It was the first time I thought to myself, “maybe I’m not crazy, maybe this is something I’m meant to do.” Fast forward, Sheila then cast me in my final play at the academy as another male-presenting character. In 2019, three years later after not having seen or spoken with Sheila since the last play we had done together, she reached out to me and asked if I wanted to play Hamlet in her rock-based adaptation. It has been the best and most enthusiastic “Yes!” I have ever given in my career thus far. And most importantly, it showed me early on what can come from putting 1000% into everything you do, and that often, the best things can come about in the most unexpected ways.

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 will try to single one out because, trust me, there have been a lot! But I think the funniest was when I went for an audition for a Persian-centric film and did not realize that knowing Farsi was, well, required. Being of Middle Eastern descent myself, I knew that I could play the part. However, I did not know very much about the script when I went in for the audition, but I did know that there were some lines in Farsi. I decided that I would give it a go — it couldn’t be too hard, right? Well, I completely butchered every line. Most of the production team and my acting partner were fluent speakers and I could tell that listening to me attempt those lines was both funny and a little bit painful. I was embarrassed to say the least, because I went in with all the confidence in the world thinking I could pull it off, but it was rough. Funny enough, as luck would have it, I ended up getting the part! For me, the lesson was that while you might not be a perfect match for something, if you fully commit and don’t hold back, your true essence shines through like nothing else — and that’s what often clinches it.

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

Although I fell in love with acting initially while performing musical theatre in high school, the experience was not the most positive and so I genuinely thought musicals were just not for me. Thankfully, I took a chance recently and auditioned for a musical. The creators decided to film one of the songs in a sort of music video format and it was honestly so much fun while allowing me to push myself out of my comfort zone. It was exciting to have the opportunity to work on something that was a bit unconventional and risky and it also gave me the opportunity to look at musical theatre in a whole new way. Now, I feel there are so many more opportunities out there for me to consider and try for that I might otherwise have let get by me without giving it a shot. It was a valuable lesson for me, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your options open and test the waters when given the chance.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

The first feature film project I ever did was one of the most interesting experiences that I have ever had with some of the most colorful characters I have ever met. We were filming a horror movie in Ohio and most of the cast were local hires, some of them primarily stunt men. Feeling a little bit like a fish out of water, I came to the table reading with my journal and my highlighter feeling prepared, conscientious, and professional. We all began reading our parts — somewhat modestly at first — until one of the actors stood up, hatchet in hand, and gave an all-out performance of his lines like nothing I had ever seen before. It was as if there were rows of audience members sitting behind us, watching just him. The command he showed over his part and the script was honestly, inspiring, and rest of us couldn’t help feed off if it. It was amazing to see someone so uninhibited and having so much fun at the same time. The rest of the shoot was filled with equally interesting moments and it was truly a wild ride that taught me a great deal about preparation and the importance of using every opportunity to give an unabashed performance with energy and authenticity.

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

When I talk with my fellow acting friends about the ups and downs of this career and what a roller coaster ride is can be sometimes, I always find myself back in the same place, reminding myself how much I love the art of acting. Like anything, you must genuinely love what you do and have a real passion for it. Doing what you love any way that you can is the key. It is what keeps you motivated, moving forward, and staying the course. With acting, do it with your friends or in front of the mirror. Heck recite a monologue to your cat. Seriously! Do not let the struggle get in the way of enjoying yourself in the process. Because if you find you are no longer having fun, then is it really worth it? And that is the whole point, isn’t it? More than anything, I believe that deep down, we all want to be a kid again and enjoy that carefree feeling to just be and do and have fun. So, do that! Be a kid again. Throw caution to the wind and remember to keep playing — we are so fortunate as actors to be able to do that for a living!

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

I am grateful for each of the projects that I have been fortunate to have been a part of — all different and all have taught me valuable lessons that I have been able to take into the next audition or role. As I mentioned previously, you may go into acting believing that you are better suited to one path vs. another, only to find that taking that other path allowed you to tap into a new area you thought may have been out of reach. As creatives, while it is important to maintain our own personal artistic integrity and remain honest and true to ourselves, our strengths and our goals, we should always keep an open mind, because you just don’t know where the next break will lead you. Trust yourself and your instincts and be prepared to take risks. Whether you land the part or not, chances are, these are the opportunities for real growth as an actor. The truth is, there will be failures, that’s just part of it. But let failure become your friend. You are going to learn so much from that failure. Don’t fight it and don’t be so hard on yourself. Be patient with your progress and let the moments you think you’ve failed fuel your fire. As my dad so often says when things don’t always go my way, “you are exactly where you need to be.”

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

Self-care is super important and hugely personal in the approach that we take when practicing it for ourselves. I try my best to just listen to what my body and mind need day to day. Sometimes it is as simple as taking a walk along the beach or listening to my favorite playlist to re-set my mood or clear my mind. Other days, I like to draw for hours on end and think of nothing else. For me, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to self-care, and I think it is important to find what works for you and not judge yourself. If what you really need is that pint of ice cream, have it! Or, if you spent the day binging on Netflix and don’t feel very productive, that is ok too! For whatever reason, that is what you needed at the time. Above all, give yourself the chance to rest because it is an essential part of your growth and healing from all the everyday stresses we face. Life is not a productivity contest and that is something that I must remind myself of daily. I feel as though everything we do has become a “who does it better/faster” race. Even self-care. Do you do enough yoga? Are you journaling? Just do what feels good to you in the moment and try not to overthink it.

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

  1. Not only are you going to face a lot of rejection, but sometimes you’ll wish you would get rejected!” What do I mean by that? Well, there may be times when weeks go by between auditions. When I was just starting out, I thought that I would make my way to a big city like Los Angeles, sign with an agent, audition all the time and, yes, have my share of rejection. But there was no one to show me where the starting line was and how to get there. No one to tell me: “this is the first thing you need to do; these are the steps you need to take, and this is what you can expect to happen.” This is a tough business for reasons beyond the most obvious. Starting out, I wish I had a mentor during those first few years, someone with the experience to provide some much-needed guidance. Someone to tell me that one of the hardest realities of starting out is the feeling that you are invisible. Someone to give me a clue as to how to get to step one, to a place where you’re given the chance to be rejected, because when you’re starting out you can’t even find the right door to walk through. I think having a better sense of what to expect when I started out would have saved me a lot of time, confusion, and moments of self-doubt.
  2. “Knowing and loving who you are will be your biggest success.” I came out of training trying to be this blank canvas. I could paint any character I wanted onto that canvas. I knew how to speak articulately, how to stand in perfect neutral, how to recite Shakespeare, etc. — I was so caught up in being a trained actor that I completely lost touch with who I was as a person. I thought my quirks and my weirdness were getting in the way. So, I tried to scrub myself of any individuality because I believed it would be seen as a flaw, and that no one would want to see who I was because they only wanted to see the character. I wish I knew then that my most beautiful work would come from discovering myself; from no longer hiding who I was and instead, embracing the oddness that I claimed to have. I remember watching back one of my first films. I watched scenes where I knew during my performance, that I was trying to mask something about myself. I was so conscious of how my voice sounded — was I too nasally? Did I scrunch my nose up too much? The result was not pleasant. My performance in those scenes came across as robotic. But then I watched another scene where I allowed myself to be free and just have fun. I sounded like myself and I made faces that were natural to who I was, and it came across so much better. It was eye-opening and interesting to watch because it was honest. It was me. And I realized in that moment that I have always been enough.
  3. “True expression is never a competition.” It is easy to get caught up in what other people are doing especially when it feels like they are succeeding and you may be feeling stuck. When I first started out after graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I allowed myself to get distracted by what everyone else was doing. I was constantly comparing my progress to other fellow actors that I knew, and I ended up doing a complete disservice to myself and my own journey. Everyone’s journey is unique and there is no point in trying to compare. I have found that if I ever start to compare myself to someone else or if envy starts to creep in, I try to turn it around and use it as a source of inspiration rather than getting frustrated that I may not be where I want to be. If someone else can do something, so can you. There is nothing stopping you but yourself. We all have dreams, and we are all worthy of those dreams. Stay inspired and focus on your own special journey.
  4. “Don’t forget to have fun.” This one is so simple but so incredibly important. There are enough things to obsess about as you develop your craft and work hard to achieve your goals, that you simply get overworked and overwhelmed to the point where the things that you enjoy most suddenly feel like a burden without you even realizing it. Inevitably, you stress out over trying to do all the right things and take all the right steps. Then, when you finally land a new role or opportunity, it’s difficult to enjoy the moment. I find it necessary to always remind myself that this is what I am choosing to do because I love it. Why am I treating my passion as if it were calculus? (Not that some may find their passion to be calculus, but you get my point.) It is hard enough to deal with the stressors that come along with a career like acting, so why not just enjoy the ride? Savor every moment and do not let them get by you without allowing yourself to experience the joy of doing what you love most.
  5. “The journey is the destination.” As a follow-along to my last point, many of us tend to rush towards our goals as fast as we can thinking, once I get to point A, then I will be happy knowing that I have accomplished something. Ok great, you reached your A-goal. But now you start looking ahead at B which is surprisingly within reach. Before you know it, you will achieve B and that feels great too, but then you want C and D and so on. If you find yourself chasing after these imaginary golden moments and milestones, you may not ever genuinely appreciate all that you experience along the way. Yes, we all want to accomplish great things, but what is the point if you don’t take the time to appreciate every moment, the people you meet along the way, and the unexpected surprises that inevitably pop up and turned out to be the most worthwhile. Those are the things that make it all worth it.

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

Like most people, I don’t do well with uncertainty. I like to know what is coming my way so that I can tackle it head on. But life does not always work that way. Often, we end up in unfamiliar territory and must find our way in the dark, which can be scary. This fear of the unknown has long been my Achilles heel, but also a source of great strength and personal growth. This might sound a little silly, but one of my favorite movies is A Cinderella Story which has one of my all-time favorite quotes: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” So much of my life has been riddled with fear, especially as it relates to my career and what comes next. But that quote has helped me come to terms with the fact that I cannot let my fears stop me and that as long as I stay in the game, nothing else matters. Never let your fears stop you or hold you back.

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 dad is one of the most important people in my life. Yes, he keeps me going with my career and believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself. But more importantly I would not be where I am today without him and the sacrifices he has made. When I was six years old, my mother and my brothers moved from Panama to Florida. My entire world changed in an instant. I met my stepdad — this intimidating, but caring guy from Long Island — who gave up his entire life to raise me. I was a six-year-old kid who barely knew English and was terrified to say the least. But before I knew it, he became my best friend, sharing his love of movies with me, and teaching me everything I know about life, working hard, and following your dreams. I truly do not know what kind of person I would have become without him in my life, or where I would physically be right now. If it were not for him, I probably would never have pursued my dreams of becoming an actor. He has supported me throughout this journey I have chosen for myself, and he has taught me strength, conviction, drive, and to always believe in myself no matter what anyone else thinks or says. That has gotten me further than anything else and I will forever be grateful for the person that I have become from knowing him.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

I’d honestly love to start a movement about something simple, but very important to me: be kind. It may not sound revolutionary, but I think it is something that a lot of people have forgotten about or do not feel is important. Kindness goes such a long way and with everything going on in the world, I feel people have lost sight of how to be kind to one another, and yet it’s what we all need. I would like people to remember that each person is fighting their own silent battle. Life can be extremely hard in different ways and empathy is important now more than ever. We need to unite, set aside our differences, and remember that the most beautiful things in life can be found within the love we have for one another.

We are very blessed that 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? He or she might see this. 🙂

It would be my biggest dream to meet — or one day even work with — Cate Blanchett. I am inspired by many artists, but there is something about her work that has always astounded me. The way she carries herself with such grace and strength is something I would love to not only see in person but to also learn from. The depth of her work is like none I have ever seen and to be able to sit down and spend some time with her and pick her brain would give me a greater understanding of why this craft can be so beautiful and so inspiring.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on instagram @shadia.png or see more of my work on my website

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

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