The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday November 28th


A Day in the Life: Dramatic Art major Katie Chelena

For the rest of the semester, Canvas will profile a student from every artistic academic program at UNC each week — from dramatic art to creative writing to photojournalism. 

In the first installment of the series, staff writer Robert McNeely profiled dramatic art major Katie Chelena, whose most recent work at UNC includes co-directing Kenan Theatre Company’s “Shakespeare’s R+J.”

A rock show, a party and even a religion are among the colorful descriptions junior Katie Kay Chelena used to describe the world of theater.

Having spent the majority of her three years at UNC working on-and-off the stage, Chelena is no stranger to the massive undertaking of putting on a theatrical performance.

In her years as a dramatic art major, she has done everything from performing and running tech, to directing and choreography.

Some of her recent theatrical credits include performing in Kenan Theatre Company’s “9 Parts of Desire” and co-directing their recent production of “Shakespeare’s R&J.”

Chelena’s assimilation into theater started long before her time as a college student, though. Her first experience on stage happened before she was even in school.

“I was really like an infant and had just learned to walk,” she said. “I went up on the stage in the middle of this mall, and I couldn’t really talk yet either, but I just started singing nonsense words. Right then my parents were like: ‘This kid is a performer’.”

Chelena never lost her love of performance and continues to show great passion for acting. Primarily collaborating with UNC’s Kenan Theatre Company and LAB! Theatre, she rarely has a moment of rest.

“I always joke about how the weekends are my busiest time,” she said. “Saturday mornings are maybe a time of rest, so I’ll just try and go to a coffee shop in Durham and get out of town for a while.”

Despite her constant involvement, Chelena’s enthusiasm remains high. Housemate and manager of ktc Charlotte Parrott expressed admiration for Chelena’s strong resolution.

“She has such an energy about her,” Parrott said. “If I come home and she’s at the kitchen counter, it’s just a load off my shoulders. She has a very calming, very good energy.”

Chelena said that while she loves her work, she feels strongly about giving herself space and allowing time for solitary creativity in her daily life. She practices writing poetry, describing it as a meditation.

“It sort of functions as a refuge from theater,” she said. “I find really being able to hone in to another type of art or craft makes my work in theater that much more focused and detail oriented.”

Her consecration to her study has not only given Chelena the reputation of being a hard worker, but also a brave artist, according to Nathaniel Claridad, third-year graduate student in the professional acting training program.

“I had seen a show she directed called ‘July House’ last year, and saw a similar aesthetic to mine directing wise,” he said. “So I thought she might be a good person to mentor in that way.”

Claridad worked with Chelena as co-director of  R&J. He described the process as incredible, citing Chelena’s eagerness to learn as one of her best qualities.

“Her curiosity, by far, is her biggest strength,” he said. “She’s always curious to get closer to the truth in a different way.”

In spite of the often stressful and competitive nature of the theater world, Chelena said she has never had a moment of doubt it was where she belonged.

“People always ask what my backup plan’s going to be, but that’s strange to me,” she said.

“There isn’t an option where it isn’t going to work out for me. I’m not going to sit in a cubicle for the rest of my life and talk to people in a way I don’t know how to talk to people. Theater’s what I do.”

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