A true artist and storyteller. She is an actress (most recently on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) and emerging writer & director with a background in classical dance.
KWAK CHOPS IT UP WITH CELESTINE RAE!
Born and raised in Philadelphia to an Italian/German American mother and African American father, Celestine began her artistic career as a dancer, training in modern and ballet technique. Her passion for dance quickly grew into a love for acting as she was nicknamed ‘Face’ by former Alvin Ailey dancer and choreographer, David St. Charles, for her passion and expression while performing in his narrative ballets. After graduating from Temple University with a degree in English, Celestine immediately relocated to New York City to pursue her career as an actor full time. She trained under Terry Knickerbocker at the William Esper Studio.
Celestine’s love for the crafts of acting and dance have brought her much success in the New York Film/TV and Theatre scene. Most recently her dance training and acting chops landed her a role as an “Onyx Girl” on Season 4 of the HBO hit TV series, Boardwalk Empire. She has also been taking the independent film world by storm, playing a vast array of characters in indie films such as award winning “Full Circle,” “Dutch Kills,” “The Girls of Summer,” and “Letters of Tuskegee.”
Celestine has also worked behind the scenes as a writer and director. Her first written play, “Velvet Rope” was nominated for ‘Best Production of a Staged Reading’ at The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in 2012 and won a Best Supporting Actress Award by the Planet Connection Theatre Festivity for it’s 2013 full production.www.velvetropetheplay.com
Celestine has a passion for playing complex female characters that challenge social stereotypes and “norms” and is excited for what new roles and opportunities the new year will bring. Stay tuned. www.celestinerae.com
KwaK: This interview is way over do! Things seem to be going incredible for you. I’ve been cheering you on from a cyber distance :). Being a huge Law of Attraction advocate myself, I noticed you claim to owe a lot of your success to gratitude and appreciation. On our Manifesting Mondays articles, I’ve discussed everything from gratitude lists to gratitude rocks. Is there any practices in particular you favor ?
Celestine: I started a gratitude jar at the beginning of the year. I wanted to stop myself from internalizing negative thoughts or beliefs that sometimes creep in and cause self doubt or anxiety. I found it was very grounding for me. Initially, I would write down something I was grateful for to counteract those negative thoughts as a reminder to myself that it is just a thought and I do have something real and concrete to be grateful for. It’s such a great tool for working to change the lens through which you view life. By actually writing down what I have to be grateful for, folding up the piece of paper and putting it into my own jar, I was taking ownership of the positivity in my life. It put things into perspective for me. Now I find that I write more things down when I’m actually experiencing the feeling of gratitude as opposed to trying to ward off “bad feelings.” It has made me feel incredibly powerful.
KwaK: You’ve played a wide, versatile range of powerful, empowered women characters from playing in the Negro Leagues in “The girls of Summer” to Hillary Francis Jones in the film “Letters of Tuskegee.” Is there a role that you felt more of a natural connection to and/or one you felt most challenging to portray?
Celestine: I really enjoy acting in period pieces. I joke around with my friends and say that I was born in the wrong era. There’s something familiar about the mannerisms, attitude, and gravitas of women in the 30s, 40s and 50s that I feel comfortable embodying.
As far as difficult roles go, I think the more complex the character, the more time it takes to develop and locate the myriad of layers they posses. What actually comes to mind is a character I worked on in acting school in a scene where my character confronts her husband about cheating on her with a goat. Yes… A goat. It sounds ridiculous and the first time I read the play I wondered if I was going to be able to keep from laughing. But once I began to do the work on the character I was able to find the humanity in her and her struggle to hold onto a marriage and a man that she loved with everything inside her despite his actions that she could not begin to understand. At the time in my life when I worked on this play, I was completely undone every day I had to get up and work on it in front of the class. It was so painful and yet such a thrilling, rewarding roller coaster to go on. I loved it.
KwaK: Studying Dance at a young age, when was it clear to you that your calling was a career in the arts?
Celestine: I think it’s always been clear to me. I was fortunate enough to have parents who recognized my creativity and desire to perform early on even though I was painfully shy as a child. They were very encouraging and always made sure I had a creative outlet. Sometimes that creative outlet was sitting me in front of a bunch of magazines with a piece of cardboard, glue, and scissors and having me make collages. Even as a young child I knew I wanted to be a performer or someone who created art for others to perform. I was into painting and arts and crafts as a child as well. I was shy but art allowed me a safe space to express myself. My parents enrolled me in dance classes at the age of 4, I went to a theater and music magnet grade school, and then continued to dance for an apprentice dance company in Philadelphia while in college. I used to make all of the children in my neighborhood be a part of my dance troupe when I was young. I was always choreographing and directing skits that we often times never had the opportunity to perform. But in my mind there was always a show to prepare for.
I honestly don’t think I could do anything that wasn’t in the arts. Well, I could … But I think I would be incredibly unhappy and suffering from the longing desire to create. Actually, there was a brief period of time when I thought I wanted to be the first woman president of the United States! That fizzled out as I got older and started to learn more about politics! Let’s just say, I’ll stick with the arts. Though I definitely would like to eventually be an advocate for the arts and artists. It’s a shame the way that the government frequently wants to cut arts programs in schools. The arts are so important for child development and building self esteem. I could go on and on but this interview would be way too long so I’ll stop there
KwaK: Was there any discouraging moments or point that you felt deterred from following that path ?
Celestine:The honest answer is that it is a day to day, week to week conversation with myself… I have to be my own motivational speaker at times and remind myself I chose this path. And no, it is not an easy path… but it is an extremely rewarding one because I really love what I do… When I’m doing it. And that’s where the constant self motivation comes in. This business does not provide consistency nor an illusion of “safety” and “comfort” the way that other professions do. As an actor, I am constantly auditioning or “interviewing” for a job. Constantly. And I hear a lot more “Noes ” than “Yeses”. Sometimes it can be difficult to maintain the same level of enthusiasm about every audition when you’ve been rejected several times earlier in that week or that day. But it is a marathon, not a sprint. So, I continue to work on my craft, stay open to new possibilities and learning new things, and I practice letting go and staying grateful.
KwaK: What characteristics or lessons can you attribute to your success so far?
Celestine: I have been blessed with so many lessons. The most recent was last year. I was called in to audition for Boardwalk Empire by my agent. Initially, I had not received all of the information about the audition. I assumed there would be lines for me to learn. I have been putting most of my energy into my acting career for the past 5 years, so I had not been attending dance classes as regularly as I did in the past. I found out the audition was for dancers and that it was a dance call and in addition we had to be prepared to tap. I was nervous about going in to audition and being rusty. But I mustered up the courage to put on my leotard and tights and go. When I walked into the audition room, fear hit me again. I was running into old friends and dancers I hadn’t seen in quite some time. In my mind, I went to that fearful place, thinking I had something to prove to them or fearing failure in front of them. Ridiculous… I know. But, fear can be so irrational. So irrational to the point that I almost left the audition. A little voice told me to get up and save myself the “embarrassment.” As I gathered my bags, I heard them call my name to go in with the next group. In that moment, something snapped and I said to myself STOP IT. Let’s go have fun! I let go and ended up having a wonderful audition. I danced like I never stopped. I landed the job not only as a dancer but gained a speaking role as well and appeared in 5 Episodes in Season 4. The lesson was to always show up. The reality is no matter how prepared you think you are, there is a part of you, I call it my “impossible perfectionist” that may still question it. So always show up, have fun, and have faith. And know that you are enough… Just as you are.
KwaK: What is ONE THING most people would not assume of you / do not know?
Celestine: I cannot remember the names of things! I forget titles of movies, plays, songs, theaters, people all the time! It is so frustrating! My ability to recall the names of things is terrible! And pretty embarrassing! I am excellent with recalling faces, what a person said, a song lyric, how I felt at the particular place or watching a particular movie. But ask me the name or title and it will usually take me a while to remember.
KwaK: I can’t leave you without asking your routine for that gorgeous set of curls! I know, truly off topic, but is there any Celestine curl secret you’d like to share with our girls?
Celestine: Ha! Thank you so much for the compliment. It’s funny. I answer this question at times when in line at Starbucks or Duane Reade! Really. I am so proud of the way the natural hair movement has bonded women. Strangers sharing hair tips with strangers. I love it!
The trick with curly hair is conditioner! I use Shea Moisture shampoo and Kinky Curly Knot Today Leave in Conditioner. My hair frizzes and tangles easily so I do it every day. Second day hair doesn’t work for me. In the shower I saturate my hair with conditioner and then really take my time brushing through it (working from the bottom to the top of my head). I’m really careful and take my time to avoid tearing through my hair. Then I wash with shampoo. I apply the leave in conditioner first. Then I apply about a quarter size of Herbal Essence Hello Hydration Conditioner on top to seal the moisture in. Then I flip my hair over my head and scrunch all of the conditioner in my hair by palming and sqeezing my curls. I use a hair dryer with a diffuser to dry and continue the hand scrunching while simultaneously drying my hair.
KwaK: You’re incredibly talented as well as down to earth Celestine! Im sure the rest of the world is as eager to see and hear more about you in the near future. Any projects in the works we should look out for?
Celestine: I just attended the screening of a film I starred in, Dutch Kills at The Manhattan Film Festival. The film won Best Thriller Feature Film.
I also just started a theatre organization, THE NAKED EXPEDITION PROJECT (TNEP) to promote women’s stories and female playwrights in theatre. We are raising money to kick off our monthly reading series, beginning this September. I am ecstatic about providing a platform for plays about women and the underrepresented and showcasing talented artists.
Visit the website: thenakedexpeditionproject.com