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Regents’ Lecturer aims to inspire artists in discussion on visibility in Hollywood

Actress Michelle Krusiec is teaching as a Regents’ Lecturer for the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television from Nov. 1-12. On Friday, Krusiec will engage in a livestreamed discussion about visibility in Hollywood. (Esther Li/Daily Bruin staff)

"Playing with No Consequences: A Conversation with Michelle Krusiec"

Nov. 12

online

free

By Samuel Sullivan

Nov. 10, 2021 9:47 p.m.

With a 25-year career under her belt, Michelle Krusiec is sharing her insight with the UCLA community.

The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television is welcoming actor, writer, director and activist Michelle Krusiec as a Regents’ Lecturer from Nov. 1-12. Her time among the campus community will culminate in a livestreamed event, “Playing with No Consequences: A Conversation with Michelle Krusiec,” on Friday. During the livestream, Krusiec will engage in an honest, humorous discussion with interim Dean Brian Kite about visibility in Hollywood and creating on her own terms as well as inspiring others to do the same.

“I am at a point in my career where I’m starting to finally make choices purely for myself and not for approval of the institutional Hollywood,” Krusiec said. “I started to realize that I had been waiting for permission, waiting for approval and looking to see where my place was inside Hollywood. I started to realize that’s the demise of an artist – if you’re looking to an institution to define you.”

With a certificate in screenwriting from UCLA and a spot in the 2021 American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, Krusiec said she is taking greater ownership of the stories she tells and enabling herself to control the narrative. This control bears special significance for Krusiec because her activism focuses on invisibility, specifically that which comes from navigating Hollywood as an Asian American, Krusiec said.

[Related: UCLA theater returns to in-person performance with eclectic mix of one-act plays]

Although institutional Hollywood exposed Krusiec to the systemic aspects of invisibility, such as Asian American and Pacific Islander characters’ relegation to roles servicing the main characters’ stories, she said her initial struggles with invisibility come from childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional household that often made her feel invisible, Krusiec said she recognized performing as a way to achieve visibility.

“As I progressed as an actor and my career became more and more evolved, I started to notice that the more visibility I gained as a performer, the more invisible I felt as a person,” Krusiec said.

To make sense of her situation, Krusiec said she began writing about invisibility on a public level and forming an understanding of invisibility within the context of her Asian American identity. She recognized the erasure of Asian American identities in Hollywood as not only a personal issue but also a systemic one that makes it difficult for Asian Americans to tell their own stories and control the narrative, she said.

This disservice forms the basis of Krusiec’s activism, as she utilizes her abilities as a storyteller – whether as an actor, writer or director – to create authentic narratives in an industry marred by erasure, Krusiec said. For her, activism and performing are intertwined – as long as she is an Asian American performer in a space that often excludes Asian Americans, she is an activist, Krusiec said.

There is more to her activism than the inherent, though. She also aims to inspire young artists to find their voices and control their own narratives, which is part of her position as Regents’ Lecturer, Krusiec said. Associate Dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Sean Metzger said he recognized this purpose of amplifying other artists’ voices in Krusiec and nominated her to the Regents’ Lecturer position in the Regents’ Professors and Lecturers Program.

“She’s an Asian American woman in a business that is racist and sexist, and she has survived in that but also thrived in it and helped make a path for other people,” Metzger said. “I hope that other students feel inspired by that kind of a journey.”

[Related: UCLA professor weaves in sensory experiences, new perspectives through films]

Krusiec’s artistic technique and her ability to speak two languages are additional reasons why she suits the Regents’ Lecturer position, Metzger said. Many students speak more than one language, and in a globalized world, being multilingual can be very beneficial in terms of finding work opportunities across all fields, Metzger said.

Another staff member, Chair of the Theater Department J.Ed Araiza, said he has extensively observed Krusiec in her role as Regents’ Lecturer. Her commitment goes beyond the demands of her position, from staying longer in the classroom to conducting interactive workshops, Araiza said.

In her Friday conversation, Krusiec will speak on her recent evolution that comes from parenthood, which she said enabled her first to realize what is truly important and then to let go of Hollywood’s comparatively trivial power structures. Her stint as Regents’ Lecturer allows her to share this journey with students and set them on a similarly positive path, Krusiec said.

“I hope that I can inspire these young artists who are being developed here,” Krusiec said. “Once you leave this institution and you start to make work in the world, you are able to empower yourself (and) to give light to your identity, to the things that are important to you, and there’s power and meaning to that.”

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Samuel Sullivan
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