Q&A With Drama Alumnus Chris Myers

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2017
Emily Werne
Alumni Story
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Chris Myers

A down-on-his-luck drug dealer has to turn to his culinary talents to keep his Dominican family together to fight against gentrification in their Washington Heights neighborhood. That's the premise of Guap (slang for lots of money), Chris Myers's upcoming miniseries—stay tuned for details about when it will air. Myers (Group 39), who grew up in New York City but fortunately didn't have to contend with the issues depicted in the show, funded it with a successful- beyond-his-wildest-dreams Kickstarter campaign. He spoke with Emily Werne, Juilliard's manager of alumni relations.

What was your most memorable moment at Juilliard?

When I did Othello as a third-year, I had one of the most miserable bugs of my life. I was running offstage sweating, aching, exhausted. It might have been a flu, I don't know. Yet some kind of magic happened when I went out on stage—my symptoms dulled, my focus turned up. Granted, I was literally running off to imbibe as many remedies as possible, but it taught me a lot about both mind over matter and also what it takes to be in pole position.

Tell us about Guap.

It's about gentrification, but it's also something that I'd want to watch myself, so it's actually this funny, character-driven family piece. The Diaz clan—mother, son, and daughter—have to figure out how to save their family restaurant in Washington Heights. High jinks ensue. Hopefully people laugh and laugh and then maybe three quarters of the way through the series they kind of lean in, and by the time it's over, feel like they have to do something.

What are three books that made an impact on you in your formative years?

There are way more than three. Ivanov was the first play that rocked me. Dhalgren expanded the limits of genre and form. Black Skin, White Masks made me wipe clean everything I thought I knew about race and identity.

What's your favorite theater?

I practically grew up in the black box attached to the Harlem School for the Arts, where I took classes from age 11 to 17. I recently revisited to join the faculty and remembered why I fell in love with theater in the first place. It's a small, no-frills space, but the energy is palpable.

What advice would you give to the current drama students?

Drink water, get as much sleep as possible, take notes, and eat less meat because it's horrible for your carbon footprint. Life starts all over after school so be good here, now. It's the same advice I'd give anyone, at any point.

What comes to mind first when you think about Juilliard?
Craft. Process. Technique. Foundation. And lots of famous friends.

Whose musical style do you covet?

So many! Music is the art I probably love the most, but don't feel confident enough to try my hand at. Lately I've been thinking about Francis Starlight because I feel his music—which is nice and pop-y—always creates sonic textures I want to live in, if that makes any sense. They're so lush and inviting, yet so minimal and precise.

Who would you like to play in a movie?

Frederick Douglass, hands down. He led such a complex life, one that complicates our understanding of America, history, and modernity all in one fell swoop.

What would you have done if you hadn't gone into acting?

I would be really good at marketing, but I'd probably have qualms about selling people products I couldn't get behind myself. So I'd probably start over and learn a craft, like metalwork. Never done it but I could see it satisfying something in me.

Your three favorite films?

The Seventh Seal, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, The Piano Teacher—at least at this moment.

What's the biggest mistake you've ever made?

Yikes! I think often about how it took me so long to understand that there's nothing more important than being nice. I mean genuinely nice, not nice for show. I used to think other things could trump kindness, but I really think kindness is king. Not saying I've nailed it yet.

What are the best and worst things about your work?

Best: I feel like I'm doing something worthy with my mind and heart.

Worst: Off-Broadway pays offensively low wages.

What comes to mind first when you think about Juilliard?

Craft. Process. Technique. Foundation. And lots of famous friends.

What talent do you wish you possessed?

Rest in peace to Jim Houghton—I wish I could work a room and inspire legions to move mountains like he did. I've definitely been inspired by his lead.

The first three things that you do every morning?

Drink a glass of water. Eat a healthy breakfast. Read something newsy.

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it take you?

I need to go to Belgium. I have a bunch of friends there who've been waiting on my arrival for like five years. Hold on—I'm coming, guys.