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UMS Artists in “Residence”: Meet Emilio Rodriguez

UMS launched a new Artists in “Residence” program during the 2014-2015 season. Five residents from across disciplines will take residence at our performances throughout our season. We’ll profile each resident here on UMS Lobby.

Gabrielle Carels (UMS): Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the Arts.

Emilio RodriguezEmilio Rodriguez: My parents would say that I started out as an actor at age 3, doing a one-man adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” in our kitchen/living room, which consisted of my portraying all of the characters using a broom, my mother’s heels, and a funnel. At age 8, I won an award at my elementary school for a poem that I wrote about Arbor Day. By age 13, I taught myself the basics of piano and music theatre and explored songwriting from books I found at Barnes & Noble.

Although these were memorable and perhaps defining moments in my artistic endeavor, I would credit the beginning of my artistic training as my time at U.C. Irvine, where I majored in Drama and explored acting, directing, playwrighting, and teaching. I now combine everything I learned as a teaching artist, actor, director, and writer in the Metro Detroit area.

GC: Can you tell us a little about your creative process? Where can we find you working on your art?

ER: I usually have difficulty creating when I block out time to work (or when I refer to my art as work). Instead, the inspiration comes a little more organically. Usually, my creative impulse is triggered by a quote or an image. That usually leads to my staying up until two in the morning on a random Wednesday night because I work in spurts more than at arranged times. Some people might say that my process is similar to an undergrad’s when working on an essay the night before it’s due.

I have been fortunate to have my original plays produced at Two Muses Theatre and Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and to direct with Shakespeare in Detroit, as well as to perform with several Metro Detroit theaters, including in an upcoming performance at Planet Ant Theater (their production of Invasion! running in December). I also perform a play that I wrote about bullying called Sorry at schools all over Michigan through a company that I’ve started on my own. The company is called 64 Crayon Box Arts and also does drama workshops and training (Email:

GC: What inspires your art? Can you tell us about something you came across lately that we should check out too?

ER: Artists inspire my art. I’m always so impressed by the incredible work that is done in Michigan by both large and small performance organizations. I admire artists who create work that is challenging and thought-provoking. I always find that live performances get my creative juices flowing and make me question the world we live in and how we affect it.

Recently, I was moved by a Jamaal May poem called “There Are Birds Here.” It’s a beautiful piece that embraces the realities of Detroit and encourages the reader to look at our city and its experiences through a different lens. The last 3 lines remind me of Nikki Giovanni’s “Nikki-Rosa” as that poem also challenges the ways in which I may place my own standards on to someone else’s lifestyle. “There Are Birds Here” is a statement about why many residents feel Detroit is not a diamond in the rough, but a diamond tried and true. It is one of the reasons that I decided to stay in the area this year, and this idea inspires the choices that I make as an artist by providing a clear focus and purpose to my work.

GC: Are you engaged with the local arts community? Tell us about groups or events that we should know about.

ER: I am an avid supporter of the local theatre scene and am trying to get more involved in the local poetry and music events as well—I should say, the art scene in general as I love both the visual and performing arts.

There are so many theaters I want to recommend, and thus it’s probably best to guide people toward Encore Michigan to keep up with all of the great plays in the area.

For those who have a passion for literature created right here in The Mitten, I encourage exploration of an online magazine called The Periphery created by a few local writers who are creating a network and space for Michigan writers.

GC: Which performances are you most excited about this season and why?

ER: I am thrilled by the entire line-up which features great music, theater, and dance. The Campbell Brothers are bringing new life to one of my favorite albums, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. And I’m sure the interdisciplinary techniques of Kiss and Cry will captivate a wide array of audiences. I have to say I’m most excited about Lyon Opera Ballet’s wild re-imagining of the classic tale Cinderella, which looks like it is going to be truly unforgettable.I have so much respect for artists who create bold and innovative work that aids us in reexamining our viewpoints on any issue. This interpretation, which is set in a dollhouse, will indubitably bring us together as an audience through the combination of a universal art form, a timeless story, and childhood remembrances.

GC: Anything else you’d like to say?

ER: I appreciate everyone out there who supports the arts and understands their value to our communities. I hope everyone makes an effort to enjoy the performances UMS offers this season, as well as the performances at theaters, concert halls, and cafes throughout Michigan. Driving may be tedious, but experiencing art is always a reward in itself.

Interested in more? Watch for more artist profiles on UMS Lobby throughout this week.