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Volume 70, Issue 79, Thursday, January 27, 2005

Life & Arts

Actor works to raise gay awareness at UH

By Portia-Elaine Gant
The Daily Cougar

The old proverb says, "You can't be everything to everyone," but actor, director, teaching artist and activist Chris Rivera is having none of that.

The 21-year-old is currently working on The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me by David Drake, the AIDS fundraiser which will be the first collaboration between Unhinged Productions and UH's Unheard Voices, and Songs Boys Shouldn't Sing, a one-act cabaret of songs performed by women which Rivera penned himself. Rivera is also the assistant director of Out, a new play by UH student Gregory Hundemer which will premiere at the Midtown Arts Center on April 1.

Rivera's involvement in the theatrical community is so intense that he has developed a Web site, www.thechrisriverashow.com, and a mailing list to keep others abreast of his work.


"I'm usually working on more than one show at once, and by the time technical week comes around, I'm double bogged," Rivera said. "(The Web site) makes it so much easier for anyone who is interested in what I'm doing."
Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar

OutSmart Magazine, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender magazine, named Rivera one of its "12 to eye" in the January 2005 issue and asked him to grace the cover of the magazine for his work with the LGBT theater.

"A lot of times there are white women on the cover, so I had a suspicion they might want a man of color. Plus, I'm kind of pretty,"

Rivera said. "When they wanted to write the article, it was about being a collegiate leader, and I was really proud of that ... It's interesting to see people reading a magazine with you on the cover. I'm a lot more humble than I thought I'd be though."

Like so many cliché stories, Rivera's career in theater began with a third grade play. However, it was Rivera's classmates who thrust him into the spotlight at such a young age.

"I was absent the day people picked their own parts and fought over them, and the kids gave me the lead. I caught a bug early on," he said. "But the reason people start theater and the reasons people stay in theater are always different. At some point, it usually is about attention. Then, at some point it becomes something really amazing and beautiful that you can be proud of and gain a new respect for."

Rivera knew that college was not optional and decided that studying theater was a natural next step.

"Ego is uproar without self respect, confidence, absolute humility in your craft, and respect for the gift you've been given," Rivera said. "In any art, there is talent and craft. If you are brilliantly talented, and you have no craft, you are just as useless as someone who has studied for a long time but has no talent."

In less than three years, the student has become a teacher, working for the Alley's after school theater program as a teaching artist.

"I was doing HYPE (Houston Young Playwright's Exchange) at the Alley this summer with Joe Angel Babb who thought I would be good working with kids," Rivera said. "We're not certified teachers, but we're artists who know our craft well enough to share with students."

As a board member for Unhinged Productions ? its youngest member ever ? and the events coordinator for Unheard Voices, Rivera is dedicated to providing a minority voice in theater.

"Unhinged is made up of an amazingly selfless, egoless group of people. It's really inspiring to see people who are about the art," Rivera said. "Getting involved there goes back to the reason I wanted to be a big part of Unheard Voices. There are stories that people don't hear, that don't get produced because they belong to a racial or sexual minority."

With the birth of Unheard Voices at UH last spring, Rivera began to help bring that type of theater to the University.

"Art isn't about the masses' story. It's not always about the everyman. Modernism and postmodernism deal with the idea that the soul is unknowable within our social groups, and yet the idea that there is something familiar in everyone's life story," Rivera said. "These are stories about people, whether they are of a different race or sexual orientation, should be intriguing, valid and beautiful."
 

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