“Americans are not afraid to speak up. We are very persistent and will join forces to get what we want. And also by being a nation built by Immigrants, we need to use that as an example of compassion, freedom and human beliefs. We need to keep exchanging our cultures with one another and seeing the beautiful spectrum of colors we have. Each one of us have something to add to this society, the government just needs to allow us to show that. Breathing violence is not the way to accomplish success. Success is a sense of pride that we get when our dreams are accomplished and we keep building new dreams. We are a strong nation and we can be even stronger.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Debora Balardini, a creative disruptor, theater performer, director, and producer and the co-founder of PUNTO Space, award-winning Nettles Artists Collective and the founder of Group.BR. Taking a leap from multiple nominations for contributions to original theater productions, she proudly accepted a 2017 SheRocks Art Influencer of the Year award and is a 2017 40 Over Forty honoree. Currently in the works, Balardini and her company Group .BR is in the pre-production stages of Inside the Wild Heart, an immersive theater production.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Brazil, to a fairly normal family. My mother was a housewife, always cleaning, crafting, doing laundry…perfect laundry was important! My dad, who is Afro-Brazilian, was a bank manager at the time. Though it was so different than the practical world they imagined for me back then, all I wanted to do was theater. I look back now at their assumption this was just a phase I was going through and it still makes me laugh and even tear up a little.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
My move to the US and eventual official immigration was driven purely by instinct, desire, dreams and chance. I was always very happy in my own country, Brazil but as someone deeply connected to my intuition who was compelled to travel to see the world, I took the opportunity to travel to Japan before making New York my home base. The minute I set foot in the airplane on my way to Japan I knew there I couldn’t look back. I was driven to cultural exchange and immersion. Beyond leaving one home to another, my realization was that I wanted to bring pride of begin Brazilian to other cultures. I was also open to embrace other cultures in order to understand myself more.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I landed at JFK airport on January 1, 1995. I had an address for a hotel on 49th Street that a friend had given me, but no reservation. I took a cab on a snowy night and as I looked at the City for the first time, I had the overwhelming feeling there was no turning back. I was lucky enough to meet a Japanese photographer at the airport with whom I felt secure enough to share a cab to the City. He was the only person I could communicate with a bit since I did not yet speak English. My japanese took me as far being able to ask for help and reassuring him I was not some crazy 25 year old who didn’t know what she was doing (I didn’t, but was very good at hiding it). We stopped in front of the hotel and I said goodbye. I never saw him again.
Looking back I can’t help but think, the angels in my life. I got a room — luckily enough — and called my parents to tell them I was alive and well. On that same phone call I told them I was planning to stay for about 2 months. Little I knew that the City would catch me and hold me for 23 years and counting.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I have to say that EVERYONE I encountered made my move manageable. From my first roommates who would take care of me when I had the flu to the people along the way spanning these 23 years. I can’t single one person or two out. It has to be my whole community of roommates, friends I made along the way, friends who came to visit from abroad, business partners, bosses. Each one helped me in a different side of my life in different stages. I am grateful to ALL of them.
So how are things going today?
Things are going amazingly well. I have three ventures and consider myself a lucky person. I am married now, and have a son. I haven’t stopped growing as a social entrepreneur, theater performer and director, as a wife, mother, daughter and friend and being stretched and challenged — I know that’s what I signed up for. I’m described as a serial entrepreneur for co-founding PUNTO Space, award-winning Nettles Artists Collective and Group.BR, a non-profit theater company and each of these endeavors feeds me. Most recently, I’ve been elected as the Director at Large for the League of Professional Theater Women. A reimagined production of Inside the Wild Heart, an original Group.BR production that I’m also performing in directed by Linda Wise, is slated to open this fall after having exceeded our crowdfunding campaign. Bother Line, a one-woman show I’m directing will also make it’s second round this fall.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
What keeps me going is that I commit myself to helping those around me first and that, for me, is already an act of bringing goodness to the world. If each one of us took care of the people who surrounds us, the world would be a better place. I still want to reach further and I believe I will. At PUNTO, my business partners and I are adamant about working with programs such as H.O.P.E., UpNext Fellowship, and Futures and Options programs. We’ve also supported Debra America, SOS EB Kids and have embraced inclusive events for an amazing group celebrating LGBT prom night and Queer Tango. I’m an avid believer in inclusion in the arts, so I’ll continue to be vocal about #OneMoreConversation to empower women in the arts. I’ve found myself saying this a few times recently but the world doesn’t need charity, it needs inspiration.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
I would like to see more immigration but not only the people with higher degrees and money. I would like to have those poor, hungry, tired people who are looking for a better life and want to be free from their countries oppression. This type of “let’s select the well bread from the less fortunate” is such a patriarchal white male view of things. We need to think safety, we need to think better education, and more opportunities for all.
We should have a clear path to citizenship for illegal people who, have acted lawfully, and one for people brought here by their parents as children. Have more humanity and a better supervision of how illegal immigrants are treated when crossing the border. We don’t know what those individuals have been through and their motives for coming into this countries. Most of all what we do know is that they are desperate for a better life and would risk anything to get that. Hence the risk of coming to an unknown land without speaking the language.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Stay focused on the dream. I usually stay focused on my dreams, work hard on a plan to achieve them and have faith in the universe that I will live them.
- Be grateful. There is not much to say about being grateful except that it is part of my daily meditation. I thank the past, present and the future for everything I’ve had and what brought me here, everything I currently have and everything that is yet to come my way.
- Stick to your plan. I always had a plan on paper for the things I wanted to accomplish. I always stayed opened to changes here and there. But my plan gave me the guideline to achieving my dreams. Stick to the plan.
- Embrace differences. Don’t let others tell you that you are less than anyone else. A lot of people would tell me in my first years in the US that no one would give me a job in the theatre or let me hold a position as a manager anywhere because I was a Latina. Well, not only did I hold a management position for 12 years but I also had many jobs in the theatre and now am an entrepreneur with three business, two of which are in the arts sector. Everyone is different from one another and by embracing these differences, we are able to create the life we want and help others to do the same.
- Persevere and be determined. I never lost determination. I have to see things through before I change gears and try something different. It is like seeing a bad movie till the end. I would never know if something will change along the way that will make me change my mind about it. I need to live the experience till the end before I surrender to the universe. I may surrender, but I never give up.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
I think that Americans are not afraid to speak up. We are very persistent and will join forces to get what we want. And also by being a nation built by Immigrants, we need to use that as an example of compassion, freedom and human beliefs. We need to keep exchanging our cultures with one another and seeing the beautiful spectrum of colors we have. Each one of us have something to add to this society, the government just needs to allow us to show that. Breathing violence is not the way to accomplish success. Success is a sense of pride that we get when our dreams are accomplished and we keep building new dreams. We are a strong nation and we can be even stronger.
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. :-)
I would love to have breakfast or lunch with George Clooney. Besides being a great actor I think his philanthropic endeavors and political views are in alignment with mine. I think we would have a lot in common.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/dbalardini
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/deborabalardini/
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborabalardini/
Twitter — https://twitter.com/dbalardini
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.