We had the good fortune of connecting with Melina Young and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Melina, how do you think about risk?
I was four the first time I gambled. My parents’ yearly vice had always been betting on the Oscar’s and that year they sponsored my participation. I was a nervous gambler. (I still am.) Even though my five-dollar entry-feewas modest and wasn’t really mine,it seemed like a lot to lose. As I prepared my ballot, I was methodical in my selection though seriously handicapped in that I couldn’t read. I opted, instead, to point sharply at my random picks while my mother marked each one down for me. To absolutely everyone’s surprise, I won and my appetite for risk was whetted. I strongly suspect that most of us with careers in the arts are adrenaline junkies. I am. That’s why I’m pursuing as many arts as I can possibly string into one multi-hyphenate: actor-writer-musician-cross-stitcher-at-home-water-colorist. I’m kidding (but only kinda.) I’m a writer (and a newly-minted contributor at Cultural Weekly), an actor signed to RPM Talent, a musician working on my first solo project, and an aspiring director! I crave adrenaline; and to some degree I rely on it to push me toward action. I’dmustered sufficient adrenaline to secure an agent andwrite a few drafts of the play I’d been working on post-grad, when a global pandemic interrupted my debut. Suddenly, stepping out into the world became an unprecedented risk all by itself—a risk to which many of us (too many of us) have become inured. In recent months, I’ve embraced risk as best I can and come to rely on it in a new way. I’m moonlighting as a COVID monitor. More specifically, I’ve been working as a production assistant in the COVID Compliance department of a major studio. Now I’m on my third project with them. It’s a weird job, to say the least. Risky for sure. The daily minutiae of COVID monitoring include early calls, a lot of PPE, watching master filmmakers work, and getting in their way to remind them to, “Please wear a shield on set.” Occasionally those reminders are met with a smile and a “thank you,” but not always. No one wants to be reminded of the risk we’re all taking to be there. On the last week of my first COVID Compliance job, I turned to one of my masked and shielded comrades and said, “You know, I used to think I was thin-skinned, but I’m actually very tough.” And I am.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I can’t claim professional success because I haven’t earned it yet. I’m only 23 and a little unsure of where life will take me, understandably. I’ve gotten where I am today by saying yes to the opportunities that come up and by trusting my voice. That’s how I intend to get where I’m going. There’s just no way for me to be sure of where that may be. I haven’t yet graduated from the world of two day-jobs at once while writing on the side and trying to squeeze in auditions. As an actor and a writer, my goal is to guide an audience or reader through the emotional contours of someone’s experience—sometimes my own, but not always. I’m delighted by our human instinct to empathize. I want to trigger that empathetic impulse in other people. And I want to make them laugh. As an essayist, I aim for the same thing. The pandemic has offered me a change of pace; my schedule is less rigorous, but my extra free time is reasonably occupied by the existential matters at hand. I’ve been writing a lot of music in quarantine. I’m proud that I’m writing. At a Halloween party when I was a teenager, a good friend of mine (I thought) told me that I wasn’t good enough to be a musician and I believed her. Well, actually, I decided that if I couldn’t handle her criticism then I couldn’t handle it at all. That was a bad decision, but I stuck with it through college. I’ve just started sharing my original music and finding collaborators. I’m glad that people seem to like what I make. Though I studied classical piano and voice growing up, I’m the least professionally advanced in my musicianship. But today, right now, it’s what I’m proudest of. I have a lot to say and lots of ways that I can say it. I’m really lucky.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If a friend was visiting me from out of town I’d ask them to stay home. Right now, solidarity with Angelenos looks like staying in as much as possible. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in my kitchen, my neighborhood CVS, and my dentist’s office. (I got a root canal last week.) But alright, let’s say this friend is coming anyway, we’d keep it local. I was born and raised in Silver Lake, so that’s what I’d show them. The Silver Lake Reservoir gets all the good press, but an afternoon walk in the hills is unbeatable. I spent a lot of my teens in those hills, listening to The Bends and brooding. Now seems like a good time to take a nostalgia tour of my old brooding ground with an old friend and a better mood. On our walk, we’d hike up some of the narrow, cement staircases that climb Silver Lake’s steepest hills. Even though they’re public streets, I grew up calling them the Secret Stairs. In recent years, the three staircases nearest to where I grew up have been vibrantly painted, making them less secret, but the name stands. Eventually, we’d come upon an altar decorated like an ofrenda with painted figures of Disney princesses, la Virgen, and Minions—an eclectic mix that’s a tribute to a local, little boy. Having worked up an appetite, we’d get take-out from Michelangelo Ristorante on Hyperion. I usually order their Eggplant Parm special, but you can’t go wrong with anything on their menu. Maybe we’d check out Pazzo Gelato on Sunset for dessert. Or head to Ferndell in Los Feliz to sit in the park for a beer or two and watch the sun go down. The next day I’d probably drag my friend to the dentist with me. I have to have more dental work and I’d like a hand to hold.

image Credit: Chris Kayden

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Mr. Roberts taught me AP US History. His approach was calm and even-handed. That class isn’t easy and he wasn’t easy on us, but he seemed sure that we could handle it and even excel. His confidence in each of us convinced me that we would. When Mr. Roberts passed out exams, he’d ease our nerves by humming a song from one of his favorite musicals and asking us to guess what it was. My parents sang me show tunes to sleep instead of lullabies, so I was pretty good at Mr. Roberts’s guessing game—sometimes better at the game than the exam. I learned a lot from Mr. Roberts. He taught me about the branches of government, constitutional amendments, and landmark Supreme Court Cases. He taught me to hum when I feel nervous, which is a handy trick. He taught me about kindness, curiosity, and grace. He taught me to value my own perspective, to stand up to the bullies of this world, to inquire, and to think critically with a sharp wit and an immeasurable capacity for compassion. When I left LA for college, Mr. Roberts and I stayed in touch. Mr. Roberts was an excellent history teacher and has become my dear friend.

Instagram: @melina_dy

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