…One of the most important causes that is near to my heart is mental health. I have dealt with my own mental health issues repeatedly from an early age, and it felt like my whole life was falling apart. There was also a lot of shame surrounding suffering from a mental health crisis that I carried along with me for a long time. I believe the stigma around having a mental health illness is slowly decreasing, but it still remains. I believe it’s a societal problem: people run away from helping those that are suffering instead of helping them. It’s quite sad. We live in a culture where we’re more connected than ever before, but in reality, we’re isolated. I think the advent of the internet and especially social media is the root cause of this. We’re all living in our own little bubbles that people rarely reach out to one another. And when someone does, the recipient isn’t even listening. So the real question is, are you listening?
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Scenna. Maria is a multi-talented television and film actress based in New York City. She has appeared in numerous independent films, commercials, music videos, and web series. Also a writer, she repeatedly pushes the boundaries of performing art.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started performing since I was six years old. My parents put me in dance classes, and inevitably, I hated them. I wasn’t the best dancer, but strangely, I loved recitals and preparing for them. Rehearsing over and over until I perfected the dances, wearing the costumes, the adrenaline rush I would get from the audience after a live performance…it was exhilarating! Each year, my mom would ask me if I wanted to go back to the dance school in my town. And each year, after some hesitation, I would agree. I remember watching the “big girls” dance as I stood next to the stage at eight years old, wanting so desperately to be them.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
After taking a break from writing and having just quit my day job as an administrative assistant, I was totally lost and confused. I was penniless with no job or career, so I decided to go see a real-life witch in Salem for some guidance. I had just finished recording my singles, “Holy Ghost” and “Come on over Here,” but stopped because I found the music industry to be expensive and difficult. So, I got into modeling as a creative outlet that I was both good at and enjoyed. My pictures started getting more attention on social media than my music ever did, and I even signed with an agency as a “plus-size” model — which eventually led to acting. Well, the witch told me to stick with acting, and I haven’t looked back since….
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 don’t think it’s very funny, but I always knew I wanted to be a performer. In fact, I wanted to be a musician. I was always naturally drawn towards music. I started playing violin at eight years old in school, and I was really good at it! I even sang in chorus and acapella groups. I started taking private violin lessons in middle school, and my mom was ready to sign me to the conservatory. But I had other plans. If I was going to be a musician, I was going to be a singer, and a pop singer at that! A studious student in high school, I decided to enroll as a journalism major at a local state university with a full ride scholarship but dropped out after one semester. At my parents’ dismay, I reenrolled in an expensive private university in Cambridge. My point is, you should do what you want to do, not what everybody else or society tells you to do or be. Because on your death bed, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do in life.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Over the summer, I shot a really great student film called, “Continuity,” by an amazing graduate student named Tony Yim. I was the main character and there was very little dialogue — mostly movement. I play a young widow whose husband passed away from the military, and she’s left with their son. I also shot a bunch of commercials this past year and met some cool people along the way! I’m currently working on getting new headshots and a reel, as well as working on my craft.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s very important not to burn out in this industry, and it can happen easily. Most actors are working other jobs, meaning long hours. Even if you have a manager or agent, actors and performers are largely responsible for their own careers. It’s the ball that keeps on rolling. Unless you’re a top Hollywood star, you’re likely always going to be looking for your next project, and even top Hollywood actors need to audition for roles. It’s hard to find balance but you need to make time for everything. Time management is huge. As an actor with multiple day jobs, I still struggle with time management, but it’s necessary. If I find myself trying to do too much and I’m very tired or depressed, I take a step back. We can’t be ‘on’ all the time. That’s why you need to take care of your mind, body, and soul. Eat healthy, exercise, and find time for family and friends, as well as other activities you enjoy.
You are a person of great 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. :-)
There are so many causes that I care about, from animal welfare to alleviating homelessness to free health insurance and college tuition for all. But one of the most important causes that is near to my heart is mental health. I have dealt with my own mental health issues repeatedly from an early age, and it felt like my whole life was falling apart. There was also a lot of shame surrounding suffering from a mental health crisis that I carried along with me for a long time. I believe the stigma around having a mental health illness is slowly decreasing, but it still remains. I believe it’s a societal problem: people run away from helping those that are suffering instead of helping them. It’s quite sad. We live in a culture where we’re more connected than ever before, but in reality, we’re isolated. I think the advent of the internet and especially social media is the root cause of this. We’re all living in our own little bubbles that people rarely reach out to one another. And when someone does, the recipient isn’t even listening. So the real question is, are you listening?
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. Persistence is key — So many aspiring actors quit this industry before their time comes. The entertainment industry can be frustrating and expensive. Getting new headshots, clothes for auditions, makeup and cosmetic work…It can all add up and drain you both emotionally and financially. Not to mention finding an agent and manager and the constant rejections from auditions. But real satisfaction comes from progress. Every little thing you do will eventually lead you to that next gig and level in you career, so keep pushing!
2. Be confident — Be confident even when you don’t feel like it; literally trick your mind into believing that you can nail that audition! Confidence isn’t just about pretending to be confident, but actually putting in the hard work. You need to be prepared before ANY audition and always be off book if sides have been provided prior. You need to look the part (of the character), too. Make sure to always work on your acting skills and get coaching, especially before major auditions.
3. Knowledge is power — Acting isn’t just about innate talent. Sure, there are plenty of naturally gifted actors or people who spend countless money to go to an expensive drama school. Television and film are a business. And the more you know and understand about this business, the more successful you’ll be. It’s so important to work on your marketing, especially as an aspiring actor. But it’s also important to work with the right people, because there’s LOTS of misinformation out there.
4. Find your balance — Don’t get stuck on your career (easier said than done). Sometimes, the best thing you can do is take a break, and this doesn’t just go for acting. Living your life and having experiences is sometimes the best education an actor can have. Be present in the moment and make sure to schedule activities you enjoy outside of acting, as well as seeing friends and family.
5. Fiscal responsibility — Stop going to classes! SERIOUSLY. You’re an aspiring actor; you don’t have money in the first place. I hate this whole ‘pay-to-play’ stuff going on…I understand teachers and casting directors who teach classes need to get paid, but don’t buy into the hype. You don’t need to spend tons of money on expensive classes and workshops. Read some acting books, sign up for an online acting subscription, or even help your other actor friends go over lines. Do it every day, and if you are going to take classes, pick and choose them wisely.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is actually my boyfriend’s favorite quote, but it’s very relevant to my life right now: ‘Hope for everything. Expect nothing.’ My acting coach also instilled this motto in me recently. You can’t go to auditions expecting to get the job; you merely go to auditions to do your job and hope for the best. Having a positive attitude is crucial; you could audition for a show 30 times without getting the role, but on your 31st time, you might actually get it. This industry is all about persistence. It’s easy to get down, but that’s why you must do things without expectations. Once you start doing that, your whole life will change. Trust me.
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?
I don’t think a lot people have believed in me without wanting something in return (usually money). But I met this woman who lived in Boston via LinkedIn. Her name is Rachel Weinstein and she is an entertainment consultant and scout. She pretty much took me under her wing and told me who to shoot with in the area, as well as helped me strategize my career and helped me land my first agent. But most importantly, she was my friend. She recognized my potential and I honestly don’t think there’s many mentors left in this industry. I’m also grateful for my current acting coach Kent Kasper for showing me the way, teaching me more about the business, and honing my image and skills. But most importantly, for believing in me.
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. :-)
Yes, Madonna. She’s an inspiration in so many ways. Considered the ‘Queen of Pop,’ she is one of the main reasons why I wanted to go into the entertainment industry. I remember watching her music videos on MTV when I was a little girl and wanting to be just like her. Similarly, we are both Italian American, dancers, and college dropouts. I believe in everything she represents (freedom, compassion, justice) and she is a true artist and legend. She reinvented herself throughout the decades and her career longevity is admirable. I would love to play Madonna in a movie or biopic, but only if she wrote the script about her own life. I would never want to misrepresent her.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!