EXCLUSIVE: CHILINA KENNEDY On Her Illustrious Career, What She's Learned, And Much More
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Chilina Kennedy Head shot
Singer-songwriter and Broadway actress Chilina Kennedy has been seen onstage both in the United States and in Canada. She made her Broadway debut as Mary Magdalene in the 2012 Des McAnuff revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, and most notably she is the longest running Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. She was the only actress to play the role on Broadway, in Toronto and on the National Tour--totaling nearly 1200 performances.
Now on tour across the country as Dina in the Tony award winning Best Musical The Bands Visit, Kennedy took some time to chat with RyeTheNewsGuy.com about her exciting career and what's to come. From how she stayed fresh while playing Carole King for nearly 1200 performances, what she has learned about herself as an actress, to her work as Artistic Producer at Eclipse Theatre Company. Chilina Kennedy has accomplished so much already, and there is still more to come!
What has it been like to star as Dina in The Bands Visit National Tour? How did you prepare for taking on the role?
Playing Dina has been a huge thrill and a challenge. It is very different from any role I’ve played so far and that is a big part of the joy and reward. I worked on the dialect a lot and watched Israeli film, TV, talks, listened to music and anything else that felt helpful. Opening up my imagination was key and having faith that this role was in me to do.
You were one of the longest running Carole King's in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical which sadly just closed. As a performer how did you keep yourself fresh, new and on point after doing so many shows?
Yes, I was the longest running Carole's with around 1200 performances! The producers were so good to me and allowed me to take some breaks to do other projects. But the key to staying fresh is listening on stage and staying present and alive. It helps to also bring to my day to day - writing, working on new shows, listening to music, being creatively fulfilled in many different ways. Also, staying humble and grateful for the work.
What was your favorite memory while playing Carole?
Probably doing the Kennedy Center Honors. Honoring Carole’s legacy while having the opportunity to sing with Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, Sara Bareilles and Janelle Monae at once felt like the greatest dream come true.
Chilina Kennedy as Carole King (Joan Marcus)
How did you grow as a performer while doing Beautiful, and what did you learn about yourself that will help you to keep mastering your craft as a performer?
Playing Carole taught me about kindness, optimism and forgiveness. Seeing the glass half full and choosing joy and love despite heartache or disappointment was the biggest lesson. She makes me a brighter shade of sunny.
Switching gears, you're Artistic Producer of Eclipse Theater Company (ETC), how did that come about and can you tell us about ETC’s mission? You are quite the busy bee!
Yes!! My goal with ETC is to create exciting theatre that is outside the box of conventional norms and to be more involved in the Toronto theatre scene. I make my home between these two countries and communities so it feels important to invest time and energy in both places. Evan Tsitsias is our Artistic Director and I brought him on board very early on. I believe in his vision and love creating work with him. He’s also been very supportive of me as a writer, specifically my new musical Call It Love, co-written with Eric Holmes. One of the most exciting things we’ve done was our concert production of Kiss of the Spiderwoman at the Don Jail - an actual prison now turned into a historical site. It was an award winning, haunting and beautifully unique production.
Do you think you might continue to explore the producing side of theater and all it has to offer?
I think all options are on the table. I’m still very committed to my performing career and also my writing. But producing is also something I am starting to do more of. It’s all very exciting and rewarding.
Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene (Joan Marcus)
How are you fostering a new generation of talent and works with Eclipse Theatre Company?
Our mandate is threefold - reimagining existing work in new and imaginative ways, fostering brand new work and finally education. We are providing opportunities for emerging artists by working closely with my alma mater, Sheridan College, to bridge the gap between college and the professional world. It is very exciting to watch these young professionals flourish. At the same time, we are providing opportunities for writers. Our lab brings together many different artists and gives them the support they need to collaborate and create the next wave of new and exciting work.
Finally, what is your advice for aspiring young performers?
Be brave and be yourself. It sounds cheesy but we all get lost in the trap of trying to be what someone else wants us to be, especially for a role or audition. The best thing you can do is be true to your own artist and bring your whole being to every role you have the opportunity to play. And stay grateful, humble and gracious. Be the person you would want to work with.