In this series, youth poised to be Chicago’s future leaders (UCAN program participants and recent alumni) interview current Chicago leaders in their fields of interest.
In the third episode, Ebonie Henderson, an aspiring actress, visits the Goodman Theater to interview Henry Godinez, the Resident Artistic Associate there and a professor at Northwestern University.
Please watch the video, then read the full interview, which features many additional insights into what it takes to become an actor, why studying acting is important no matter what career you want to pursue, and why the theater is important to the future of Chicago.
Find other episodes here.
Ebonie Henderson: Please introduce yourself.
Henry Godinez: I’m the Resident Artistic Associate here at Goodman, and a professor at Northwestern University where I teach acting. I don’t necessarily pursue acting anymore, but sometimes it comes up, and it keeps me honest to have to practice what I teach. But I am a director. I also direct elsewhere around the country when I’m not directing at the Goodman. So, I guess I’m a teacher, director and sometimes actor.
EH: Why did you choose your field?
HG: When I was in high school, theater was just something that I stumbled into. And it was really the one thing that always kept me engaged – and probably kept me out of jail [laughs]. No, but it kept me out of trouble. It was a way for me to channel my energy and my creativity. And I guess I did it, and still do it, because I love helping people look at the world in a different way, and look at other human beings in a different way.
EH: I did some research about you – and you started your own Latino theater group. Why?
HG: Well, myself and a group of actors, and especially a friend of mine name Eddie Torres, were in a show together. And we had been reading a lot of new plays by Latinx playwrights, new plays – and nobody was producing them. We realized, these were stories that were about us, and we knew that there were other people like us in the world, and these stories weren’t getting told. And we thought, “If no one else in going to tell them, then we’re going to do it.”
EH: Growing up, did you have any actors you idolized?
HG: I did. One of the actors that I really admired the most was a British actor named Peter O’Toole, who was in a film called “Lawrence of Arabia,” and many, many, many other films that I loved. There was something so incredibly present about him on film; I really admired that. There’s another actor named Raul Julia, who sadly is not with us anymore, a Puerto Rican actor that I greatly admired as well. Those two stand out for me.
EH: What are the qualities you look for in an actor?
HG: One of the qualities that I look for in a good actor is a kind of a spontaneity, a quality that makes me feel like that particular moment on stage or on film has never happened before. Something that just feels, no matter how many times you’ve done it, like it’s never happened before.
There’s also a generous quality that I admire in an actor. I tell my students that acting isn’t so much acting – or acting at you – but it’s really more reacting, which means that I am reacting to something that you’re giving me. That spirit of generosity in an actor is super important, the energy that’s always looking for, asking for, demanding energy from their partner. Those are qualities that I think are important for an actor to have.
EH: What’s it like to work on a movie set – and how is that different from working on the stage?
HG: You know, it’s so different working on a movie set. When I perform in the theater there’s me and you as my partner in a play or in a scene. But then we have all of the people in the audience that are also there with us, and we’re all breathing the same air. And believe it or not, that’s real, that energy that happens with, you know, 50 people, 100 people, 1000 people in the same space. It’s a very real, magical thing. It’s almost sacred.
And that’s very different than on a film set. Because on a film set, they can cut, and you can stop, and you can re-shoot a scene. And in the theater, you do it once. You start, and you don’t stop until you’re done. So it’s a very, very different thing. And in terms of acting, the energy that happens on a film set is really between you and your partner or partners. The camera does the rest. In the theater, as I was saying, it’s between you and your partner, and every other person, every other human being in the theater.
EH: In addition to being a director and an actor, you’re also a professor. What’s the best part of teaching at Northwestern University?
HG: For me, the best part of teaching anywhere, but especially at Northwestern, is that our students are so smart, and they keep me honest. They push me to always be telling the truth, and they make me re-examine how I do what I do, and how I’ve always done what I do, in terms of the theater. So my favorite thing is learning from my students as I teach.
EH: Not everybody thinks that theater is a practical career, but what do you think about that?
HG: It’s not a practical career? Who says that? No, I’m kidding.
I would say that just because you study theater doesn’t necessarily mean that theater must become your career. When students come to Northwestern and take my acting class for two years, I don’t expect everyone in my class to become an actor. But I think that whatever they do, they’re going to be better at it because of my class. They’re going to become better critical thinkers, better communicators, and they’re going to be more creative problem solvers. They are going to be imaginative.
Whether you become an actor, or a writer or producer, or an agent, or a studio head, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or “just” a mom or a dad, you’re going to be a more expansive human being, because you’re going to study human nature. That’s what the study of theater and acting really is. You learn so much about what it is to be a human being. And no matter what you do, it’s going to make you better because of that.
EH: And what’s the best advice you could give to a young actor – especially me?
HG: Especially you. I think the best advice I could give you would be to continue to fill yourself up, continue to be a curious human being, and fill yourself up with as much information as you can access through your imagination, by reading books, by seeing things, by talking to people, by being an alive and aware human being that takes in the world around you. Because as an actor, as an artist, all you have to draw on is that.
So continue to be curious about the world around you; continue to expand your curiosity and your imagination and your intellect. I believe that’s the most important thing for a young actor.
EH: Why do you think theater is important to the future of Chicago?
HG: Theater is important to the future of Chicago because this is such a diverse city, and it’s only going to become more and more diverse. As the city and the world becomes more diverse, especially with immigrants, we need to understand each other – and the theater allows us to tell stories about our shared humanity. The more that we can celebrate those stories, the more hope there is that we will recognize the similarities among us as human beings.
That gives me hope that there will be peace, that there will be harmony, and that we can live together as people in a city, in a country, and hopefully as people in a world. So the theater is important to the future of this city and beyond because it informs us about “the other,” the people that we consider the other. And in learning about the other, we actually learn about ourselves. To me, that’s the future.
EH: This has been great. Thank you for being with us today, Henry.
HG: You’re so welcome, Ebonie, my pleasure. Thank you for being here.