Growing up in Hoboken, Kyla Garcia often looked longingly across the Hudson River at the bright lights of New York City, and dreamed of performing on its world-famous stages. Garcia knew she wanted to be an actress from an exceedingly young age, and couldn’t shake the feeling that her relationship to show business wasn’t unlike Hoboken’s relationship with the Big Apple.
“It’s a tiny little town gazing at something much bigger than it. And that’s me. I have no connections, no one’s getting me into anything, and I’m looking at this dream,” she said in an interview this week. “It’s always there in front of me, like the city, and I’m just chasing after it.”
It was at Calabro Elementary School that Garcia took her first crack at the stage playing Lady Macbeth in a child-friendly version of “Macbeth,” the classic Shakespeare tragedy. A Hoboken drama teacher, Margo Singaliese, saw her performance and persuaded the Hoboken Board of Education to allow her to move outside her district (she normally would have gone to Wallace School) to attend Demarest Middle School, which at the time boasted a superb theater program. From there she starred in several productions at High Tech High School in North Bergen, and in 2008 she graduated from the prestigious Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Rutgers University.
“This isn’t by any means an end point.” -- Kyla Garcia, on winning a monologue slam
Two weeks ago, she took a very big step toward that goal, winning a “monologue slam” hosted by casting director and producer Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd at the Hollywood Black Film Festival, which celebrates African-American accomplishments in film.
“I never pass up on an opportunity,” said Garcia this week. “So when I saw that Twinkie was holding a monologue slam, I signed up right away.”
The first phase of the competition, which was entered by a little under 200 aspiring stars, required contestants to submit a two-minute monologue videotape. For Garcia, choosing what to perform was easy.
“I love monologues, a lot of them don’t like them,” she said. “I did a piece from a play called ‘Den of Thieves,’ which I had done before.”
The monologue is an interesting one; the scene is set in a hostage situation, and each hostage is given a chance to make his or her case as to why they shouldn’t be killed. Garcia’s character, a stripper, is the least likely to be spared, Garcia explained, until she begins to spill her deepest darkest secrets.
“She gets up there, and it’s sort of like ‘Oh, this is just some ditzy Latina chick, and then she totally ninja’s you and you’re like ‘Whoa, what happened to this girl?’”
Garcia’s monologue was well-received by Byrd, who asked her to compete at the Film Festival, which was attended by more than 1,000 people. The monologue slam itself had an attendance of about 200.
Of the 12 semi-finalists who competed, Garcia was named as one of the three finalists, and had to perform a second monologue. This time, in an effort to show her range as an actress, she went with something a bit more traditional—Juliet’s final monologue from “Romeo and Juliet,” a heartbreaking soliloquy much different from a crazed stripper begging for her life.
The audience was unprepared for the complete 180, Garcia said.
“First I had this stripper outfit on, and then I had to go back out as Juliet,” she said. “Everyone was silent, it was a crazy feeling. They thought I was just this Latina character, but I did Juliet and they loved it.”
Within minutes of completing her performance, Garcia was named the winner of the competition. She was happy, she said, but she didn’t celebrate.
“This isn’t by any means an end point. The performance was the victory, my goal wasn’t to win,” she said. “Acting is a strange thing as a competition. It’s not a sport. This mantra is in my head that this is just the beginning.”
Among other fantastic prizes, Garcia won what may be the most useful prize of all. Byrd and her brother, Jeff, also a producer, are going to write and produce a short film starring Garcia, and using her creative input. The film will be shown at next year’s Hollywood Black Film Festival.
Garcia said that she enjoys Los Angeles, and has no plans to leave, but that she often misses Hoboken, and tries never to forget where she came from.
“It was the most nurturing environment for me. I had teachers who told me that I could do anything and get anywhere,” she said. “My mom always said ‘Do what you love, there’s nothing other than that.’ Hoboken is a place where you can come up with dreams, and follow them.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org