We had the good fortune of connecting with Jean Carlo Yunén A. and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jean Carlo, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I always have had an artistic sensibility since I was a kid. As kids, me and my older brother would create different shows by ourselves, with our cousins, or the kids our age in the neighborhood. We made a “video campaign” to try to stop the people in our neighborhood from smoking (and littering) when we must have been around 4 or 5, created shows for our are parents after they would come back from traveling for work and so on. One time we did a riff on SNL’s Weekend Update (which aired past our bedtime but our parents were traveling so it didn’t matter), we must have been around 7 and 9 years old, which when I think about it now, was probably a very funny scene for my parents to come back home to. However, in my mind as a kid, the performing arts was “my brother’s thing”, therefore, not something I showed interest in. I leaned more into photography instead, which I was introduced to by my father. I started going on photo excursions with my dad and godfathers when I was about 12 years old, delving into landscape photography. Despite my involvement in photography and high school theater, I never considered it as a career at the time, and because I loved nature and the outdoors, I decided to study Biology & Environmental Sciences. So I went to college with the idea of becoming a field biology, while still pursuing some film and photography through a second major. During my sophomore year, I started to second guess my choices, and wasn’t sure if I should switch to make film as my main major. I attended an event where an university alumna and film director gave a speech, and after, I had the opportunity to talk to her and asked her about my dilemma. She gave me the advice that turned it around, she said “if you have a creative fire inside you, you owe it to yourself to explore and nurture it. And if it doesn’t work out, you always have that Environmental Science background to fall back to.” It seemed simple but it actually made me take a hard look at the career I was choosing, who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go. After that, everything seemed to fall into place, I ended up taking a theater directing class the following semester, realized that I loved directing and I loved theater, kept making my way to graduation by pursuing whatever brought me joy, which ended up leading into an MFA in theater directing. I feel like after that initial decision, it has been less of a choice and more of a following of my heart and passion, which has lead me to where I am today.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
At the center of my creative endeavors, I consider myself a storyteller. Whether it’s through a play, a different kind of theatrical experience, or a photo series, I’m passionate about telling stories, to incite connection through the common humanity we can find through the medium of storytelling. However, while I love exploring different mediums and don’t think I’ll ever stop working in photography, I consider myself a director first. I am constantly learning and curious about the world, and I’ve found that the theater is a great place to explore it. As a Dominican with Spanish and Lebanese roots, I am extremely interested in exploring stories that reflect the places and cultures that make me who I am. And as an immigrant living in between cultures, I feel drawn to stories that explore the construction of identity, as well as the relationship of the individual to their community. I think that my life experiences and world views always makes into the stage on way or another. As I discover how to navigate the world, and still tied to my early childhood passions for environmental conservation, I am also drawn to issues that explore how we as human live an ethical life, and what does that mean and imply. I am attracted to stories and aesthetics that elevate our condition as humans, that inspire connection and produce a feeling that goes beyond words, the kind of joy that you get from watching a beautiful sunrise or reaching the summit of a mountain. I think that the commonality between the arts and science is the sense of inquisitive curiosity towards the world, a constant search for how to do things differently and to discover more about what surrounds us. I always bring that to the table in every project, and that sense of curiosity has also allowed me to, for example, explore new technologies in theatrical storytelling, delving into different projects in Augmented Reality, which I’ve accomplished in collaboration with REMAP @ UCLA. I think where I am today has been deeply shaped by the challenges along the way as well. Whether it’s dealing with the set of challenges that are inherent to being an immigrant in a foreign land, or the small (or big) failures that make you second guess whether you made the right choice, these challenges have forced me to look at myself and examine my own vision of the world and my place in it. It is lonely at times, and the struggles have allowed me to gain some perspective as to what my goals are and forced me to be comfortable with the person I am. At the end of the day, the struggles become easier when I know that I’m also working towards something that makes me happy to get out of bed and drives me to keep pushing forward.
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 think the first thing we would do is go to dinner at Gracias Madre! I love their vegan cuisine and it’s a great place to start the night. I am probably one of the very few people that have lived in LA for more than one year without getting a car, so the places I go often depend on whether or not I get there by public transport or an inexpensive uber. With that in mind, I think a great day would start off with a hike of Runyon, followed by brunch at The Griddle or Salt’s Cure. Then possibly take the red line to downtown, visit Grand Central Market for a bit, afterwards, take the expo line to Santa Monica where we could spend the afternoon by the beach, or biking down to Venice, then just take the bus back home, with an optional stop in West Hollywood for drinks. The Larchmont Farmer’s market on Sunday followed by a stroll around the area is a good option, visiting the thrift stores around Melrose also sound like a great idea.
Rey Jarrel, Tanner Cipriano, UCLA, John Salazar