We had the good fortune of connecting with Celina Lee Surniak and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Celina Lee, what role has risk played in your life or career?
“Risk taking” is a very weighted statement and has many perceptions and connotations of what it entails and stands for. Often, it comes with a negative or frivolous perception. I view it more as a necessary evolution in order to reach a goal, position, and/or ultimate state of being. It is my firm belief that if you are reaching for what you want and crave, moving outside your comfort zone is absolutely necessary. Creating a difference in your world, even if it is a small portion of what encompasses your entire existence, comes from a beautiful and terrifying shift out of the comfort zone that is embedded within your life. Change is difficult and terrifying. But, I have found it absolutely crucial in how I approach my every day life and career thus far. Without my willingness to adapt and change my approach as needed, I would not be able to grow and evolve in my own life. There is also another side of risk-taking that I have applied to my daily life as well… Working in the performing arts industry as a fight/violence designer, as well as my study and training to eventually become a Certified Intimacy Director and Coordinator, is a constant exercise in how to create storytelling in a beautiful, safe, and consensual way. As a woman in a primarily male dominated niche of the industry, I have found that my risk-taking usually comes in the form of self declaration, commanding space and advocating for the safety of my actors and fellow artists/crew. I am there to speak up for those who have been taught to say “Yes and…” and show those in the room with me that their boundaries and consent matter in all aspects of story telling. Much of my risk taking is stepping up and out of myself to try to create an environment that is mentally/emotionally/physically safe. I have encountered several people in the industry, where my speaking up for the safety of others has been deemed “difficult”, “annoying”, “b**chy”, and “uncalled for”. Standing up for others should never be considered as such- I will continue to stand up for others, even when my name/job may be on the line. THAT is risky- especially in an industry that has historically been negligent of this area of safety. Creative storytelling doesn’t become less creative and riveting with these boundaries in place. Storytelling becomes STELLAR with advocacy and safety, and I cannot wait till more embrace that!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a fight/violence designer and choreographer based in Los Angeles as well as a stunt woman and fighter. I am also working on my Pathway to Certification with the organization “Intimacy Directors and Coordinators”. I spend much of my year working in small theaters in Los Angeles to help mold and create interesting/dramatic fights in a safe and repeatable manner. In addition to choreography, I also work to be an advocate for enthusiastic consent within a rehearsal room for the actors and the creative team. I began my journey back in college where I was introduced to the art of Stage Combat, and over the last decade I have been consistently training and working within that field. It sort of snowballed for me. I never initially intended to go into this section of the industry, I originally had the mindset of, “I want to be an actor” and I have gradually come to realize that 95% of the time I am taking gigs that are strictly having to do with fighting and stunt work (whether I was doing it or I was choreographing it). I have always been an athlete and doing this type of work was highly rewarding for me. It feels like a puzzle that I need to solve every time I am on a job. Though it is a physical job, I find it intellectually wonderful. I can create stories using movement and shape the identities of both the actors and the characters that they are playing. I can use archetypal structure to strengthen a story, while also pulling nuances from the acting to shape the arc and make a fight a narrative of its own. The collaboration with the creative team along with the input of the performers makes my type of work extremely fulfilling; and I always love every second of every fight I have to perform/choreograph- from mass battles to classic swordplay to unarmed combat. A lot of this work has been based on trial and error. It took a lot of work to get to where I am now, and will continue to be so as I progress. I will consistently be learning for the rest of my life. But that is how it should be. I will continue to study and learn new ways to create more effective and efficient violence storytelling. That is something I am aware of and humbled by. I will never know everything. Asking for help when it is needed is ABSOLUTELY necessary. My mentors, whom I have mentioned above, are family to me. I trust them completely. They have taught me the following things that I repeat to myself every day and every job: -Keep it simple, don’t get complicated -be adaptable -show up for yourself -stand up for what is right and for your values I am so thankful for a community who has been so supportive of my journey. I want people to know that this industry has historically been very toxic, and still is in many ways. BUT with the right team, with empathy, with consent, with diversity, with inclusivity, and with adaptability, our ART can transcend our wildest dreams. Nothing is ever hindered by these elements. Things can only blossom.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m going to hypothetically plan a trip if my little sister, Bianca, were coming out to visit me! This is cool! Here is our itinerary!:: Sunday: -Pick up Bianca from Airport -take her to get In-n-Out (because duh!) -go see a matinee performance at a wonderful theater -snag some dinner from a taco truck (they’re the best!) Monday: -Museum day! The Getty Villa is my absolute favorite place to visit. After exploring, we’d go grab sushi on the beach in Malibu. Tuesday: -Griffith Observatory time! Who doesn’t love space?! -Comedy show in West Hollywood at night Wednesday: -Brunch and Mimosas at The Castaway! I like their brunch! -Bookstore Trip! The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA is one of my favorite places in the entire city. Also, The Illiad in North Hollywood! Thursday: -Hiking Day! Anywhere that has a waterfall would be my go to. I love many of the trails in the San Gabriel Mountains Friday: -Lazy day to start -Beach Bonfire with S’mores and the Ocean!!! Bonfires are AWESOME. Saturday: -Spend the day shopping in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica -The Edison bar/club for drinks and cool dancing and AWESOME decorations and scenery. Man…now I want to actually have this trip! It would be a blast!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to give a shout out to my mentors and fellow fighters who have taught me about the industry, life, and my approach to the world and the work. There are so many more names than there are here, but here is a small list: Stage Combat and Fight Instructors in Los Angeles: Mike Mahaffey Lacy Altwine Travis Sims Collin Bressie My Stunt Partners: Marc Leclerc Mollie Wilson My theater home where I get to create some amazing art: “Shakespeare on the Deck” https://www.shakesonthedeck.com/ And the Organization I am so deeply inspired by and hope to work with some day: “Intimacy Directors and Coordinators” https://www.idcprofessionals.com/
Other: Most of my professional sites are under construction at the moment. If you wish to contact me, please contact my Theater Home “Shakes on the Deck” at the following site: https://www.shakesonthedeck.com/
Michael Ulrich, Joanna Degeneres, James Poirier, Arianna Glickman