An aspiring and successful actor, Che is deeply immersed in the Rochester cultural scene. So much so, we’ve named him Che of The Town!
Exclusively for Talker, Che has solicited and is conducting interviews from about 50 Rochestarians working in a diversity of creative fields.
For the full series, see Che of The Town: Interviews (1-20)
Stephen Cena; A Gifted Actor Living in his Own Light.
In today’s highlight, we turn our attention to Stephen Cena, a talented actor who you may have seen on stage near you. I first met Stephen many years ago when the MUCCC Theatre was fairly new on the scene. I was fortunate enough to act alongside him in a stage workshop reading by the title of Pantheons Edge, and was taken aback by how he commands a stage and fills the room with his energetic and warm prescence.
Another thing that stood out about Stephen was his humility. Being the pop culture fiend that I was born to be, I randomly inquired about his last name and possible relation to the WWE Superstar John Cena, I was surprised to find out that he is John’s big brother! At that very moment, I gained a new found respect for Stephen at that point, the fact that he never ever “name dropped” or walked around with an “air” about him was extremely refreshing and offered me a chance to see who Stephen Cena really is: a talented kind hearted artist following his own destiny, the artist in me found that highly commendable.
Stephen Cena is the kind of guy you can count on in your production, he is a valuable team player, open minded and his his energy is truly contagious.
I asked Stephen a series of questions. Here is what we discussed.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you are from, grew up, what H.S./College you attended etc.
I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts called West Newbury, and I’m the eldest of 5 brothers (John, Dan, Matt, and Sean being the others). I attended the local highs school, Pentucket Regional, and graduated in 1992. Upon graduating, I attended Vermont Technical College snagging an associates degree in both Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. During my time at VTC I was briefly involved with the college radio station as a DJ. After graduation in 1995, I moved to Rochester to attend RIT with the hopes of securing a Bachelors degree in Computer Science. I left RIT in 2000 before that goal was achieved, but chose to stay in the area and settled into a career in Computer Systems Administrator. I started acting in community theater in 2004 and took up voice over work in 2009, and both have been passions of mine ever since.
What inspired you to be an artist/entertainer? Early experiences worth sharing?
This will sound cliched, but it has just always been in my blood. All through my youth, I just seemed to be “on” all the time & didn’t really have the right outlet for my creative energy. I was constantly trying to mimic cartoon voices, reciting dialogue from movies, pretending to do commercials. The only outlet I had was high school band and marching band, which honestly isn’t the same as acting. While my high school did put on plays, I never seemed to know about the auditions. I always just say the final product. It wasn’t until I got to Rochester/RIT and became a member of the drama club, RIT Players. I did a string of shows with them but left the theater once I left RIT. I genuinely didn’t know “community theater” existed until 2009. That’s when my career as a performer really started. Since then, I’ve stayed active in the local theater scene & have enjoyed every minute of it.
One of most memorable experiences was doing theater with Nation Technical Institute for the Deaf. What made those performances so special and intriguing to me was (in most cases) I wasn’t creating a character. I was lending my voice/s to a character portrayed by another actor (similar to how it works in animation, etc.). I had never participated in a process quite like it before. I was terrified as while I knew some sign language, this meant if the actor made a mistake I couldn’t “follow” them to try and cover. It also meant I was only able to act with my voice, as for some shows I would only be heard & not seen. I’ve continued to work with them on projects when available, and absolutely would encourage anyone to seek them out. It puts a whole different spin on performing that, as an actor, is worth experiencing at least once.
Talk about a time where you have faced adversity/conflict and have triumphed.
I would have to say growing up gay. I grew up in a small conservative town (not so much anymore) during a period where most learning institutions didn’t really understand homosexuality. I knew there was “something” different about me, but I didn’t know how to articulate it. I was constantly teased and picked on by anyone and everyone, and had trouble making friends. After high school graduation & going off to college, I’d hoped things would get better. They didn’t. My first college experience was my high school experience magnified. When an LGBT group was trying to be formed on campus, posters were constantly vandalized. My most vivid memory is when the R.D. of my dorm placed a copy of a flyer in plastic to protect it, with 3 huge pieces of poster board, markers and a note that read “If you have anything to say about this flyer, say it here”. They were blank when I left for my morning class. By the time I returned 3 hours later, they were brimming with hate speech. I was scared to death, and even attempted suicide twice. It wasn’t until I got to Rochester where I finally was in an environment that felt accepting & safe.
What do you believe sets you apart from other artists/entertainers?
I would have to say my desire to put the show first. Regardless of the part I get, or the piece I’m working on I treat it all the same: I’m part of something larger than myself. I’m there with the rest of the cast trying to do the best job I possibly can and make sure the audience leaves the theater having experienced/felt something. While praise & accolades are appreciated, they’re secondary to me. They serve as a constant reminder that I’m good at what I do, and encourage me to keep working at it. I never forget for a moment that there are always other actors out there working just as hard, if nor harder, than I am for the limited number of parts out there.
Do you have other interests or hobbies?
I love video games. I have since my Atari 2600. I love how the medium has evolved as a story telling art form. I’ve even taken up game development as a hobby. I enjoy board/card games as well,and have quite a collection. I also like to camp and hike during the spring and summer, and switch to full on hibernation in the winter.
Any projects you have out or currently working on?
I’ve just wrapped up a production of “Goodnight Moon” at the JCC in Brighton (my first TYKE’s show with them). I’m keeping an eye out for interesting projects but right now, I’m taking a small break to catch my breath. One of the great things about the Rochester, NY community theater scene is there are so many companies all doing such diverse projects that there’s always a show to get involved with. I’m always looking for new and different projects to try and broaden my talents as an actor.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
While I currently work as a systems administrator (“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”), I’m putting more time into my voice over and acting career. I really would love to do it full time as opposed to a hobby. Whether I make it professionally or not, I’m going to continue to put myself out there as I can’t get it out of my system. There’s something about putting on a show in front of an audience that just sticks with you. I’m also investing time in video game development. Nothing ground breaking yet! Still learning how this particular development environment works. I have a few ideas for some mobile games & hoping I can break into that market.
What advice can you give to aspiring artists/entertainers?
For those interested in voice over work, constant practice. If you want to do commercial work, listen to commercials & attempt to recreate them. Pay attention to the intonation/inflection of words and sentences to see how to “sell” with your voice. Try to imitate any character voices you can. Fail at it. Put your own spin on the voices. Practice makes perfect. Your voice is a muscle that you need to keep in shape so work with it every day.
For those starting out in theater, do as much as you can (including crew work). Take the small parts. Take the ensemble work. For me, I learned by doing as much as I could until I figured out what I specifically wanted to be doing. Avoid being a ‘copy cat’. People want to see what YOU bring to a character/role, not you bringing what another actor did. Learn to be a team player. A show requires all its members pulling together to make the show a success. Keep your ego in check. Most importantly; have fun. Enjoy the work and the process. If you aren’t enjoying it, why are you doing it?!
The best way to see what I’m up to would be one of the following:
My website: Thatstevecena.com
My Facebook Page: Facebook.com/thatstevecena/
My Twitter Account: Twitter.com/thatstevecena
My Instagram Account: Instagram.com/thatstevecena/