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By Lina Romero
Brooklyn-born and Long Island-raised, Donna Morales is a vivacious and versatile New York actress who started dancing at age 6. By age 17, she was dancing professionally and eventually transitioned to a career in education, first as the owner of a dance studio and then as a teacher of early childhood education for the NYC Department of Education (DOE). After 25 years of service with the NYC DOE, she retired. But she never abandoned her love for the stage. At age 42, she began performing for regional theaters across Long Island and the outer boroughs and became active in children's theater, as well. More recently, she made her foray into Manhattan productions. Passionate about the performing arts of all kinds, Donna landed her first feature film role in 2018 and continues to act in TV/film, theater, and now voice-over projects.
2021 already has news in store for Donna, with new releases and virtual events on the horizon. In late 2020, she finished recording her first audio book, Naomi and the Reckoning, written by Christine Sloan Stoddard, for Quail Bell Press & Productions. She also performed in Sloan Stoddard's Zoom play Cyber Cinderella, as well as voicing the main character “Nessie” in Sloan Stoddard's radio play Nessie produced by Soundscape Theater.
The following interview, taken by the Quail Bell Crew over email, has been edited for length and clarity.
What attracted you to acting?
At an early age, I was always attracted to the TV. I was amazed by superhero characters, such as Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman. I would play along with them and envisioned myself on the screen with them. I basically was an only child since my brother was 11 years older than I was, so these characters became my friends and playmates. I would reenact scenes from shows or commercials. I was very close to my father’s only sister. She was a second mother to me. She enhanced and nurtured my love of film/ TV and later theater by bringing me to shows at Radio City Music Hall. She also taught me how to read at an early age , so she also enhanced my early literacy. These were factors that drew me to the arts.
Before you went into acting, you were a dancer and a public school educator. How did those parts of your life inform your acting?
Being involved in the performing arts as a dancer at a very early age helped mold my ability to tell a story, emote with movement and facial expression. Every young child loves to dance. I was fortunate to have parents who recognized that this was not only an outlet for socialization but for healthy physical expression.
I became an early childhood educator as a result of my dance experiences. Before my teaching career with [the New York City Department of Education], I owned my own dance studio. So many of the students I taught were ESL (English as a Second Language) students, so dance gave them the ability to communicate and express themselves with their bodies through story and movement. [Running the dance studio] allowed me to enhance my acting skills.
What elements of a story attract you as an actor?
The elements of a story that attract me are the characters’ personal journey. Telling their tale, empathizing with them, getting to understand their “why,” and then helping the audience understand them as well.
How has the pandemic affected the kinds of projects you’ve worked on since Spring 2020? And has it affected the way you interpret roles?
The pandemic has definitely affected the types of roles I have been offered. Since March of 2020, quarantine has allowed me to stretch and cast a wider net with regard to roles and mediums. I was fortunate to film a pilot, web series, and begin expanding into voice-over work. I have also been offered many roles in virtual film script and theater readings. Being in isolation has allowed me more time to delve into a character’s psyche a bit more and craft accordingly.
You’ve been quite active during the pandemic. What advice do you have for actors or other artists who might be struggling right now?
I have been very blessed to be busy. However, one can’t just wait around for things to fall out of the sky. Some roles offered to me were complete surprises but I believe that you manifest your own success.
My advice to other actors is that this is your business. How you handle your business and how determined you are to succeed make all the difference. Work on your branding materials, continue studying with casting directors, take agent workshops and form those relationships, do readings, join Facebook or other social media to network with other creatives, attend film festivals online, and collaborate with other creatives on creating your own content. Stay focused. Stay positive, and most importantly...do not compare your success or lack thereof to others. Anthony Grasso, my coach always reminds us that, “We are enough,” and it always comes down to the perfect storm of type, timing and talent.
What are you most looking forward to as an actor when the pandemic ends?
When the pandemic ends, I am looking forward to working in other markets such as Atlanta and LA, producing a short/ feature film and continuing to work at getting cast in TV/ film and commercials.
For more information on Donna Morales and her work, visit her website here.
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