Q & A: Acting Under Pressure

By Antonio Morales

 Verenice Zuniga, in the title role of ‘Lydia’ by Octavio Solis, at UC Santa Barbara.

Verenice Zuniga, in the title role of ‘Lydia’ by Octavio Solis, at UC Santa Barbara.

Students hoping to make it in the theater or film industry often must set aside their aspirations and settle for any old job. But one recent UC Santa Barbara Theater grad not only played a great role, but won a top acting award —barely out of college.

Verenice Zuniga, who graduated in 2017 with an emphasis in acting , has received an Indy Award from Santa Barbara’s The Independent newspaper, for her lead performance last May in the play Lydia by Octavio Solis. Zuniga says her BFA in Theater provided a rigorous program that prepared her the real world. 

I had the pleasure of talking with Zuniga, on behalf of the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, to gain insight into her experience at UCSB and what comes next in her career.

Q. Are you currently pursuing any specific jobs in acting or theater?

A. I’m taking a bit of a hiatus from acting in order to develop my own work, a web series. I’m writing it right now and hope that I can begin shooting it earlier next year. Though I’m an actor, I want to be able to do more than just act so I’m delving into script writing, filming and directing. For me it’s also important to create my own opportunities instead of just waiting for someone to cast me or give me a role.

Q. I see that the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theater with an emphasis in Acting is highly selective. What did it take to be a part of this program?

A. My class began as a class of 13 but by the end of the three years there were only nine of us that graduated. We ended up being such a small class by the end because the first year in the program you are on probation and at the end of each quarter we have what are called “cuts.” The first year is when they push you the most because they need to know if you’ve got what it takes to endure the rigor that will eventually allow you to hone your skills as an actor.

Q. How has your experience at UCSB shaped your view of the industry of theater and acting?

A. As an actor of color, and as a woman, I encountered many problematic situations working with white male directors that were shocking and disappointing. Many of the roles that I would be encouraged to play were hyper-sexualized characters. As a Latina I took issue with this because I know that Latinas in entertainment have been reduced to sex objects and I didn’t want to be a part of the stereotype.

I realized that when I moved to L.A and began auditioning for films and TV, I would always have to face these problems. My skin color is baggage that I will have to carry around for the rest of my career. Because of it, when I walk into the audition room I have to be twice as good, twice as prepared, and twice as talented than everyone else. I think UCSB really gave me a glimpse of what I could expect as a working actor in the real world.

Q. Now that you have graduated, what are your next steps?

A. I know I have an incredibly stable foundation to move forward. After I graduated I got cast in a low-budget Indie film that was filming in Santa Barbara for the summer. It was loads of fun. Currently, I’m spending a lot more time writing than acting but I will eventually get to start auditioning again.

Q. Lastly, what advice do you have for students in the Theater program at UCSB? How can they improve their chances of winning such a prestigious award and finding opportunities in this field after graduating?

A. My advice for students in the BFA would be to take risks, because school is the best safe space to take risks in. I would also say to appreciate your classmates because they are the network that you will have possibly for the rest of your life. As actors going into the real world you will feel alone but then you’ll remember you had eight other classmates who graduated with you who are probably going through similar experiences and can give you support. Staying connected to your classmates could also land you a job in the future.

It’s going to sound really corny, but my main advice would be to believe in yourself. The belief that you can do something will always get you to the other side. It’ll push you to go further and grow as an artist.

Antonio Morales is a Third Year UC Santa Barbara student majoring in Communication.

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