Resilience and Art in Puerto Rico at the Heart of New York Film Academy Alum Dr. Ariel Orama Lopez’s Work

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While mainstream media has largely neglected coverage of the ongoing repercussions of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, one New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum is working tirelessly to not only help to rebuild and support his country, but to bring the authentically lived stories of the people and culture of Puerto Rico to light.

This month was very busy for NYFA Acting for Film alum, college professor, clinical (media) psychologist, Buscapié ENDI columnist, actor and director Dr. Ariel Orama Lopez, who traveled from Puerto Rico to New York City to present the short film A Mis Queridos Reyes (as one of the producers and the leading actor), to be shown at Enfoque International Film Festival. He presented this film as a part of the artistic collective at The Motherland Resists in New York, joining with fellow community and thought leaders to share stories and raise funds for artist communities and the continued recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. While visiting New York, Dr. Ariel Orama also participated in the prestigious NYU Network Summer 2018 seminar Gender and Sexuality in Film. William Luhr, principal speaker of the seminar and writer of the book Screening Genders, selected Dr. Ariel’s award-winning short film Esteban (Spain, California, Florida and PR), to be presented and discussed in a forum with academics from around the world.

His recent projects include SOMOS and the short film Erick, in which he starred, was selected by the Puerto Rico Queer Film Festival, and the premier was held at Fine Arts Cinema in Miramar, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Dr. Ariel recently began teaching drama at the University of Puerto Rico alongside his role as a social sciences professor, and credits his training at NYFA with a major influence on his approach. And two more short films are coming up soon!

Dr. Ariel took time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts on art, recovery, and a multidisciplinary understanding of media with the NYFA Blog.

NYFA: Congratulations as you step into the role of professor of Drama, Humanities & Social Sciences at University of Puerto Rico (UPR)! What does this new role mean for you?

Dr. Ariel: First of all, thank you very much for the wonderful experience of sharing my new projects with my beloved NYFA. Since 2000, I started a parallel search in acting and psychology, a journey took me to a) NYFA Los Angeles to study Acting for Film; b) take one year of graduate courses in contemporary media and culture from the perspective of “performance” and film; c) carry out research in psychodrama and the Almodovarian film, and; d) expand my work in praxis in both professions.

My integration as a psychologist immersed in the media field, as a communicator, and as a professional actor, allowed me to study the different faces of entertainment: that of the spectator, the producer, and the executor of the fine arts, summing more than 200 projects on arts.

It is a great honor to be part of the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities in the UPR System, which I consider a dream achieved in a very short time.

En primer lugar, muchísimas gracias por la maravillosa oportunidad de presentar mis nuevos proyectos en mi amada NYFA. Desde el 2000, inicié una búsqueda paralela en Actuación y Psicología, cuyo caminar me llevó a Los Ángeles a estudiar Acting for the Film en NYFA, a tomar un año de cursos graduados en Medios y Cultura Contemporánea desde la mirada del “performance” y el cine, a efectuar investigaciones en psicodrama y el cine almodovariano, así como a ampliar mi quehacer en la praxis en ambas profesiones. Mi integración como psicólogo inmerso en los medios, comunicador y como actor profesional me permitió estudiar las diversas caras del espectáculo: la del espectador, la del productor y la del ejecutor de las bellas artes. Es un gran honor poder formar parte del Departamento de Ciencias Sociales y de Humanidades en el Sistema UPR, lo que considero un sueño logrado en muy poco tiempo.

 

NYFA: What is your day-to-day like at UPR?

Dr. Ariel: My interaction with students in the classroom is equivalent to a performance. Each experience I acquire is nuanced with the knowledge associated with films and other audiovisual experiences, so that when I teach my courses and theory I can show that I have additional tools and metaphors to inspire each student to create in his mind a three-dimensional image of what he has learned.

I am passionate about knowing the recent-ness of what I teach. I enjoy observing the creations and manifestos that my students make through group processes, or even through manifestos that they elaborate from the privacy of the home and then they show me in class — a work of art, an article, or an investigative work, are only some of the fruits that have emerged, which makes me feel infinitely honored.

Theoretical learning alone is not enough to address the student of the 21st century: for all of this, the possibility of being a hybrid professor — immersed in several disciplines — provokes curiosity in my students, from different angles. It is the search for the “Uomo Universale” (Renaissance man) proposed by da Vinci, my only north.

Mi interacción con los estudiantes en el aula de clases es equivalente a un “performance”: cada vivencia que he adquirido está matizada con el conocimiento asociado a filmes y otras experiencias audiovisuales, de tal manera que cuando imparta mis cursos y la teoría pueda demostrar que tengo herramientas y metáforas adicionales para inspirar a que cada estudiante pueda crear en su mente una imagen tridimensional de lo aprendido. Me apasiona conocer lo reciente de lo que enseño: de igual manera, disfruto de observar las creaciones y manifiestos que efectúan mis estudiantes a través de procesos grupales o incluso a través de manifiestos que elaboran, desde la intimidad del hogar y luego me la ensenan en clase: una obra de arte, un articulo o un trabajo investigativo, son solamente algunos de los frutos que han surgido, lo que me honra infinitamente.  El aprendizaje teórico, únicamente, no es suficiente para abordar al estudiante del siglo XXI: por todo ello, la posibilidad de ser un profesor hibrido -inmerso en varias disciplinas- provoca en mis estudiantes la curiosidad, desde distintos ángulos. Es la búsqueda del Uomo Universale, de da Vinci, mi único Norte.

NYFA: Will what you teach be influenced at all by what you learned at New York Film Academy?

Dr. Ariel: Definitely, what has been learned in NYFA will influence my paradigm of teaching at the undergraduate level. The practical tools of performance that we acquired in the Academy, added to the respect for the technique and cultural diversity to which we are exposed, will allow me to offer my students not only a national approach, but an integrated and multicultural one.

The digital platforms and the countless festivals existing in the world are only a way to spread our art: it is important that students can recognize the immeasurable value of exposing themselves to festivals and consecutive projects, as NYFA invites us; to recognize the value of immediacy and the multiple hats required by the actor when disseminating their projects to the world. In my case, I have received laurels from Spain, California, Orlando, Miami, Martinique, Italy, among other national achievements.

Definitivamente, lo aprendido en NYFA influirá en mi paradigma de enseñanza a nivel subgraduado. La mirada práctica de la actuación y del “performance” que adquirimos en la Academia, sumada al respeto por la técnica y a la diversidad cultural a la que somos expuestos, me permitirá brindarles a mis estudiantes no solamente un enfoque nacional, sino uno integrado y multicultural. Las plataformas digitales y el sinnúmero de Festivales existentes en el Mundo son, solamente, una vía para difundir nuestro arte: es importante que los estudiantes puedan reconocer el valor inconmensurable de exponerse a Festivales y a proyectos consecutivos, tal como nos invita NYFA: que reconozcan el valor de la inmediatez y de los múltiples sombreros que requiere el actor a la hora de difundir sus proyectos en el Mundo. En mi caso, he recibido laureles de España, California, Miami, Orlando, Martinica, Italia, además de otros reconocimientos nacionales.

NYFA: Are there any NYFA instructors who have particularly inspired your teaching philosophy?

Dr. Ariel: Although Denis McCourt was one of my major influences in my acting courses, I must also point out that each of the stories I read from my NYFA colleagues around the world are my inspiration to continue exploring other facets. For example, I will make an incursion soon into dubbing, which adds to my experience as a) coach in reality TV shows; b) professional TV collaborator; c) laureate actor in short films at international festivals; and c) theater, voice over, and series actor.

As I have always said, I dream of one day offering the first module of “acting psychology of character” in Spanish for NYFA, and belonging to the privileged group of outstanding students of NYFA around the world. It is a great responsibility and a great motivation to continue developing in my field of study.

Aunque Denis McCourt fue una de mis grandes influencias en mis cursos de actuación, también debo destacar que cada una de las historias que leo de mis compañeros destacados de NYFA alrededor del Mundo son mi inspiración para seguir explorando otras facetas. Por ejemplo, recién incursionaré en el doblaje, lo que se suma a mi experiencia como colaborador profesional de TV, coach en programas de Telerrealidad, actor laureado en cortometrajes en Festivales internacionales, al igual que como actor de teatro, locución, series y voiceovers. Como siempre he dicho, sueño con ofrecer el primer módulo de actuación o de psicología del personaje en español para NYFA y con pertenecer al grupo privilegiado de estudiantes destacados de NYFA alrededor del Mundo: es una gran responsabilidad y una gran motivación para continuar desarrollándome en mi campo de estudio.

NYFA: What inspired you to want to teach drama?

Dr. Ariel: The highest aspiration of any expert in a profession should be to teach at the university level. In my case, the opportunity to be an assistant professor of psychology and now of acting, even being young, is a blessing — and a consequent achievement of an active preparation, throughout my whole life.

In my case, I have been exposed to brains and real human bodies, from the medical anatomy; I have studied the visuality and the Almodovarian film, from the academic angle; I have been a coach; have collaborated with or served as a columnist in the media for young actors and singers who have been honored around the world, some on Broadway, off-Broadway, in reality shows, in NY or in Los Angeles; I have had the opportunity to direct short films and act in them; been awarded and screened in countries that I have not visited; I have taken courses in psychoanalysis and I know the spectrum of mental diagnoses and their different emotions, from different angles; I have reviewed plays, consistently, in the Puerto Rican distinguished press; I exposed myself to the media from its different faces; I have published a theoretical framework on creativity, neuroscience and virtuality, recognizing the difference between creativity and innovation and its importance in the world of entertainment; I have studied Artaud, Grotowski, and Stanislavski with the same passion that I have enjoyed the films of Almodóvar, Guillermo del Toro, Tarantino, and Hitchcock.

And all of this composes a multidimensional approach that should be the aspiration of every actor in the 21st century.

I can speak properly about the brain and the diaphragm, because I have seen it “in situ.” Also, I can know what is real or not in a certain emotion, because I know the symptomatology and because I have also exposed myself to it as an actor or director. Best of all, I believe in collective work, and that each actor in training is a potential director. My coaching certification in Spain has been the key. I believe in the relevance of knowing ourselves and exploring our full potential, in addition to collective processes in order to achieve a quality work that can be conceived as a creative manifesto. This is the aspiration of every creator.

La máxima aspiración de todo experto de una profesión debe ser enseñar a nivel universitario. En mi caso, la oportunidad de ser profesor universitario de psicología y ahora de actuación (Catedrático Auxililar), siendo joven, es una bendición y un logro consecuente de una preparación activa, a lo largo de toda mi vida. En mi caso, he sido expuesto a cerebros y a cuerpos humanos reales, desde la Anatomía Médica; he estudiado la visualidad y el cine almodovarioano, desde el ángulo académico; he sido coach, he colaborado y/o he fungido como articulista en los medios de actores y cantantes jóvenes que han sido laureados alrededor del Mundo, algunos en Broadway, Off Broadway, en Reality Shows, en NY o en Los Ángeles; he tenido la oportunidad de dirigir cortometrajes y actuar en ellos, premiados y presentados en países que ni he visitado; he tomado cursos de psicoanálisis y conozco el espectro de los diagnósticos mentales y de sus diversas emociones, desde distintos ángulos; he reseñado obras de teatro, de forma consistente, en la prensa del país; me expuesto a los medios desde sus distintas caras; he publicado un marco teórico sobre creatividad, neurociencia y virtualidad, reconociendo la diferencia entre la creatividad y la innovación y su importancia en el mundo del espectáculo; he estudiado a Artaud, Grotowski, e Stanislavski con la misma pasión que he disfrutado los filmes de Almodóvar, Guillermo del Toro, Tarantino y de Hitchcock. Y todo ello compone un enfoque multidimensional que debe ser la aspiración de todo actor en el siglo XXI. Puedo hablar con propiedad sobre el cerebro y el diafragma, porque lo he visto “in situ”. Asimismo, puedo saber lo que es real o no en determinada emoción, porque conozco la sintomatología y porque también me he expuesto a ello como actor o director: y, lo mejor de todo, creo en el trabajo colectivo y en que cada actor en adiestramiento es un director en potencia, cuyos adiestramientos en Coaching en España han sido clave. Es decir, creo en la importancia de conocernos y explorar nuestras potencialidades, sumada al trabajo en equipo, para lograr un trabajo de calidad y concebido como un manifiesto creativo, aspiración de todo creador.

NYFA: What do you most look forward to sharing with your students?

Dr. Ariel: My students will know my philosophy of work when it comes to educate: “Nosce te ipsum” (Know thyself) and “Niente senza gioia” (Nothing without joy). From my experience, every artist should aspire to be a Uomo Universale (Renaissance man), based on both visions. If you are an expert in sports or cooking, believe it or not, it will be relevant! Everything that is part of your baggage will be very useful to become a competitive actor. For such purposes, you must expose yourself to change, as a philosophy of life: you must be as malleable as your brain, whose plasticity remains, from my point of view, the invaluable metal of the future. That students recognize that verisimilitude is the most important thing in our acting process; what is organic and what can be demonstrated, from the immediacy of the film or from the rehearsal-after-rehearsal prolonged process of theater plays — this is built day by day.

I also enrich my experience with formal education in classical and popular singing, and I recommend it. Even the voice has to be developed daily.

Finally, my students will learn that movement is not only physical. It must be projected from our eyes, from the voice, into our soul. And so we build complete actors, real ones; connected with their environment; away from the notions of the ego; creative and directed to change.

That my students would be capable of teaching, in the future, is my highest aspiration.

Mis estudiantes conocerán mi filosofía de trabajo a la hora de educar: “Nosce te ipsum” (Conócete) y “Niente senza gioia” (nada sin alegría). Desde mi experiencia, todo artista debe aspirar a ser un Uomo Universale, fundamentado en ambas visiones: si eres un experto en deportes o en la cocina, aunque no lo creas, será relevante: todo lo que forma parte de tu bagaje será muy útil para convertirte en un actor competente. Para tales fines, deberás exponerte al cambio, como filosofía de vida: deberás de ser tan maleable como tu cerebro, cuya plasticidad sigue siendo, desde mi visión, el metal invaluable del futuro. Que reconozcan que la verosimilitud es lo más importante en nuestro trabajo actoral: lo orgánico y aquello que se pueda demostrar, sea desde la inmediatez del cine o del proceso prolongado de ensayo tras ensayo de las obras teatrales: todo ello se construye día a día. También he tomado clases de canto popular y lírico, y lo recomiendo: incluso la voz debe desarrollarse diariamente. Por último, aprenderán que el movimiento no es solo físico: debe proyectarse desde nuestros ojos, desde la voz, hasta en nuestra alma. Y así construimos actores completos, reales, conectados con su entorno, alejados de las nociones del Ego, creativos y dirigidos al cambio. Y que sean capaces de enseñar, en un futuro, es mi máxima aspiración.

NYFA: As Puerto Rico continues to recover from Hurricane Maria, how do you see the role of the visual and performing arts in rebuilding?

Dr. Ariel: In Puerto Rico, creative arts has been an angular piece during the reconstruction process. Right after Maria, I had the opportunity to participate in three audio-visual projects, despite all the hardships on our island. The engine of creativity of our filmmakers was not stopped by a category 5 hurricane!

During the recovery process, I joined the dubbing team on a project that will bring great benefits to the acting class. Likewise, we are collaborating with those who have used art to heal at the classroom context or the community spaces in this difficult period for all.

Therefore, our island urges educators and creators to keep our national treasure alive. I refer to the immense creativity of our beloved Puerto Ricans in various branches of art, which have been recognized internationally, such as the case of Rita Moreno and our adoptive son Lin-Manuel Miranda, among other faces that will continue to surprise the world from the ever-shining star of the Caribbean: Puerto Rico.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to NYFA. I feel honoured for this wonderful interview. Thanks, Jeanne, for receiving me at your beautiful NYFA Campus. I will always be letting you know that my heart and my spirit are with you. I’m NYFA forever!

En Puerto Rico, el arte ha sido pieza angular durante el proceso de reconstrucción. Justo posterior a María, tuve la oportunidad de participar en tres proyectos audiovisuales, pese a todas las carencias de nuestra Isla: es decir, el motor de la creatividad de nuestros ejecutores del cine no fue detenido por un huracán categoría 5. Asimismo, en plena recuperación, me incorporo al equipo de doblaje en la Isla, proyecto que traerá grandes beneficios a la clase actoral. Asimismo, somos más de uno los que hemos utilizado el arte para sanar a nivel del aula de clases o a nivel comunitario en este periodo tan difícil para todos. Por lo tanto, nuestra Isla urge de educadores y creadores que mantengan vivo a nuestro tesoro nacional: me refiero a la creatividad inmensa de nuestros amados puertorriqueños en diversas ramas del arte, que han sido reconocidos internacionalmente, tal como el caso de Rita Moreno, nuestro hijo adoptivo Lin-Manuel Miranda, entre otras caras que seguirán sorprendiendo al Mundo desde la siempre Estrella Brillante del Caribe: Puerto Rico. Finalmente, quiero expresar mi gratitud eterna a NYFA: me siento muy honrado por esta maravillosa entrevista. Gracias, Jeanne, por recibirme en el hermoso campus de NYFA en Nueva York. Siempre les dejaré saber que mi corazón y mi espíritu está con ustedes. ¡Soy NYFA para siempre!

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Jeanne Joe Perrone

Jeanne Joe Perrone is an actress, writer, and editor, with an MFA from The Actors Studio Drama School. In addition to serving as senior editor at the New York Film Academy, she has ghostwritten 6 mass market romance novels, and written or edited for clients including Quail Bell Magazine, Bridgehead Media, Elite Daily, AFG&, CBX, Elite Digital Publishing, Lady Parts, Ravishly, and more. #Binders

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Published on: June 13, 2018

Filled Under: Academic Programs, Acting, Diversity, International Diversity, Student & Alumni Spotlights

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