Faculty and students remember Kendra Perez as a lively and talented individual who brought people together with her enthusiasm and passion for acting.
Perez, a graduate student in acting, was 26 years old when she died June 18 after falling into a creek in Sequoia National Park.
Marike Splint, an assistant professor in the department of theater who had Perez as a student this past school year, said Perez was always engaged and ready to learn.
“She was always very eager, but at the same time … not just blindly following whatever you suggest as a teacher,” Splint said. “She would always add her interpretation. She was always there and in the moment and always committed and engaged.”
Perez always kept morale high for her classmates and looked for ways to help her peers move forward when they faced obstacles, Splint said.
“She was the one who would diffuse tension and look for solutions and humor in a project when difficult questions arose in the creative process,” Splint said. “She would always make people laugh and bind the group together again.”
For example, when Perez and her class had to decide on the title for a production they were creating, Perez helped negotiate different opinions on what the title should be and made the students feel good about the decision they made, Splint said.
Splint added that Perez embraced difficult material and thrived on challenges.
Splint said she saw these qualities in Perez when her cohort created a production called “Below the Surface,” which showcased a Mexican-American family struggling in the middle of the California drought.
The cohort’s research brought them to communities in California that no longer had access to running water. Inspired by the people in these communities, Perez created and played the role of a Mexican immigrant woman and developed a scene that was completely in Spanish, integrating her Mexican heritage into the play.
“It showed her talent for finding humanity in stories and also approaching stories with a very personal point of view,” Splint said.
Michael Laskin, a lecturer in the department of theater, taught Perez last year. He said Perez demonstrated exceptional talent and ability to access her emotions as a performer.
“Some actors have a roadblock to getting to a certain place emotionally, and as a teacher I have to help them find where the door opens,” Laskin said. “Her door was wide open, to all of it.”
He said he saw this emotional availability in Perez when she performed in “Below the Surface.”
“She came from a humble background, and her experiences made her pretty fearless,” Laskin said. “Because of who she was, her perspective on the work we were doing was uniquely hers.”
Alissandra Valdez, a fourth-year communication studies student, had Perez as a teaching assistant for her acting fundamentals class this year. She said Perez’s passion for acting stood out to her.
“She really transferred that passion into us in how she taught,” Valdez said. “The enthusiasm spread to all of us, and she would draw it out of us even when we weren’t feeling it.”
During dress rehearsals in which Valdez and her classmates prepared for a final show at the end of the quarter, Perez helped out with the choreography and lighting in the low-budget production and cheered them on from backstage.
Valdez said Perez was very focused as a teaching assistant and directed her students to do scenes or monologues over and over again until they were comfortable with the material. She added Perez also encouraged them to play characters from their own perspectives.
“She was a very positive presence to be around,” Splint said. “It’s just hard to imagine that she’s not there and that she’s not a presence within the class anymore.”