Alumni Spotlight: Eriel Indigo
This month, we caught up with Eriel Indigo, a graduate of our Theater Department. Eriel spoke to us about her Walnut Hill experience, as well as the evolution of her career as a recording artist, a creative director, and an activist.
What brought you to Walnut Hill originally, and what was your experience like as a Theater student here? Do you have a favorite memory from those years?
I came to Walnut Hill as a junior from a small town in Northern California, having searched far and wide for a school that enabled a greater focus on creativity and that would support me in the honing of my skills as an actor and as an artist in general. I wanted an experience of majoring in my chosen medium that usually isn't accessible before college.
As a theater student, I loved the professional level of the productions at Walnut Hill and everything that went into them. It was a privilege to be able to study theater in a very holistic way. I came to Walnut Hill to focus on realist acting but was also educated in the technical side of theater, directing, musical theater, voice, dance, and more. Having the opportunity to spend half of my time focused on my craft and half on academics, which were often also woven with arts and culture, was a real gift as a young creative.
Aside from some truly wonderful, lifelong friendships that I formed at Walnut Hill, there are a lot of great memories from my time there. Getting to perform at Lincoln Center at 18 years old in a full-scale, professional musical theater revue is something I don't think I'll ever forget. I also recall putting on a renegade play. A handful of students rented a local theater and took the time on top of our normal workload to produce, direct, market, and star in a production. It was completely independent, and a lot of school staff came to support us, as did other students. I'm not sure if Walnut Hill allowed such things after that, but I thought it was great that as boarding students we were able to follow our hearts and create what we wanted in that regard.
I think one of the best things about Walnut Hill was being surrounded by students in all of the programs who were practicing their medium at a very high level. We had a small student body of truly talented individuals, and being in that environment of immersion was inspiring and magical—a privilege that I wish more artists had the opportunity to experience at that time in their lives.
Catch us up on the years since you graduated—what did you do after Walnut Hill, and how did that lead you to the career you have now as a singer and songwriter?
I attended CalArts for college after Walnut Hill, first majoring in acting and then transferring to the visual arts department. After college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in the arts. I was always somewhat of a renaissance person. For as long as I can remember, I have explored creativity through textual, visual, musical, and theatrical expression. I've always been driven to document and experience life through art and the catharsis of making and sharing it. I think having a deep love of all of the arts in practice and as an audience member led me to search for a way to combine them so I wouldn't have to choose between them, but rather play with how they meet. I found music to be the answer to that desire. After working in production in many different roles, on both the performance and the technical side of things, it was clear that within music I could bring my skills and talents together while being very self-directed and having a lot of creative control. I get to write, sing, dance, act, produce, direct, style, edit, and more. If I look back at my life and education, I think I was fated to end up in music.
What, or who, has influenced your songwriting or performance style?
I have likely been influenced on some level by every artist and teacher whom I respect and am inspired by. The artists who have influenced me the most are those who have a button-pushing, revolutionary spirit in their work. I love viewing and putting on a super theatrical show, but what I respect most is when an artist creates something that goes beyond spectacle or ego, bridging the imaginary gap between people and bringing the audience together. The role of the artist in society to create and inform the culture by having the freedom to say, do, or call attention to anything at a level that those in other roles might not be supported or even tolerated in doing, is something that my own work has definitely been shaped and influenced by. I think most artists are drawn to themes of great sensitivity—to the rebellious, different, weird, wild, contrary, and free—because that is what they feel they are themselves, and I am no exception. Art in any form that allows for the artist and the viewer to experience and release powerful emotion in a beautiful, productive way is what moves me and what I try to create in my writing and performance.
Do you find that your theater education impacts the way in which you approach your work in your current field? If so, in what ways?
I think that getting to see and be involved with such a high quality of production at a young age made me want to create my own work in a way that held up that standard and gave me a lot of the tools that I use to do so. Getting to work with students and teachers who were skilled, talented, serious artists gave me a strong foundation in working professionally, along with the confidence to take on a lot of different roles in my work, as well as in working with others on theirs.
Do you have any words of advice or wisdom for our recently graduated Walnuts, or for our Class of 2022, who are preparing to enter the world?
I think the best advice that I can give is to follow your highest excitement to the field and work that you thrive in, whether that ends up being what you thought you should or would do. When you find that thing that feeds your soul, don't waste time creating work for anyone else or for what you think the market wants. Cut straight to creating exactly what YOU need to bring into the world from your most authentic voice that tells the story only you can tell in a way that only you can tell it.
Also, if you want a career in the arts, launch into working professionally as soon as possible, whether or not you know what you're doing or feel like you're ready. Educate yourself to have every skill that goes into the completion of your work, not just the ones you want to do. Learn the business end of your craft and how to make a living with no assistance, rather than hoping to be discovered, no matter how radical or impressive your work is.
Treat it like a job and love it like a dream. Sit down and do the work until the muse arrives, even if you feel totally uninspired. If you are an artist, as long as you are being creatively productive, doing your work, moving toward birthing something out of nothing and completing it, you'll likely feel fulfilled in life whether or not it looks anything like how you thought it would. Honor your peers, collaborate, and ask for help, but wait for nothing and no one. Begin!
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