Arrival Story: Stacey Martino and René Rivera

arrival story stacey martino and rene rivera and kids.jpg

KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from playwright and acting teacher Stacey Martino and actor René Rivera. The couple are married and have two children:

Stacey Martino: "I first moved to Los Angeles during 1992, the year of the Riots.

"I was coming from Philadelphia, where I'd done my undergraduate work at the University of the Arts.

"I was a big Deadhead -- I loved the Greatful Dead -- and my mother made me a CD for the trip. As I pulled out of the driveway, she said, with tears in her eyes, 'Knock 'em dead, kid!' I thought that was kind of sappy and silly but now I look back and think it was sweet.

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"I drove across the country with a group of people. When we arrived here, we started a theater company. We did a Tom Eyen piece called November 22 or Grand Tenement -- it had two different titles. We put the play up like three days after the Riots. There was a very similar piece that was written after the [Watts] Riots in the 1960s."

René Rivera: "I was born in San Antonio. In 1982, when I was in my third year of study at Incarnate Word College, I went to New Orleans, Louisiana to audition for The Juilliard School. About two months later I found out I got accepted. I skipped my senior year and moved to New York City.

"I went to The Juilliard School for four years, graduated and then started working in New York doing theater and television and film. One of the first films i worked on was Light Sleeper, which Paul Schrader wrote and directed.

"By 1997, I had been living in New York for a good fifteen years and, I have to be honest, I was getting a little irritated by the place. There came a point when i got so frustrated with the winters in New York -- and the summers in New York! I don't know if it was me or the city, but we weren't getting along."

Stacey Martino: "When I first came here, I hated Los Angeles. I called it, 'doing time.' I could not find any community and i just felt very isolated and like everything was so far away and revolved around the entertainment business. It didn't seem like there was anything outside of that. Part of that was the place, part of that was me.

"I soon got cast in a movie, a joint venture that was being filmed in Moscow. I was so excited by the work that was going on on the stage in Russia that I decided to go back to grad school. I knew that I wanted at some point to teach acting -- which I still do, both in L.A. and in Germany. I thought getting my masters would be good towards that and I went to The New School for Social Research.

"When I came back to Los Angeles for the second time, in 1997, I arrived with an open mind and an open heart and i found that community I'd previously missed. But if you don't find the right people here to connect with it can be a very lonely place.

"For that second cross-country trip, I was driving a white Chevy Caprice, probably an '87, and, yes, I was still listening to bootleg Dead tapes and to whatever radio stations we could get along the way. I remember going through the desert and it was so hot that you couldn't turn on the air conditioning because the car wouldn't make it. I remember having heat exhaustion and pulling off of an exit. I was traveling with a girlfriend of mine, Sarah, and i was so tired and so hot that I got out of the car and forgot to put it in park. That became a running joke between us."

René Rivera: "Friends who lived in Los Angeles would call me and say, 'You've got to come out here -- there's so much work!' Much of me felt like I wanted to only be working and living in New York. My adulthood was born there so I had some sort of resentment towards coming to Los Angeles -- which was viewed as more superficial, selfish and plastic. I also loved working on the stage and having the camaraderie and traveling to different cities and countries, which I had done.

"But I've always been an explorer. I thought to myself, 'It's time to make a change.' The next time a friend invited me -- in this case with an offer of a guest room in Hancock Park -- I decided to stop everything. I boarded a plane that next day and moved here. I had an agent here so that was a plus. It took a while before I started working, but when I did it was pretty consistent and non-stop, working on projects for film and television."

Stacey Martino: "My first Los Angeles apartment was on Bluffside Drive in Studio City. I also lived in Burbank and Silver Lake. Later, Rene and I had our first daughter at home in Melrose Hill and our second daughter at home in Los Feliz, so both of those neighborhoods are important to us.

"Melrose Hill, is really a unique and diverse area. It was just so fun there to see a real convergence of the world in one little neighborhood. Our neighbors were from Peru. The people behind us were from Pakistan. The people above us were Chinese. René is Mexican-American -- he doesn't know where in Mexico his family comes from. And I'm a mutt. My mother's side were Irish and Alsatian; my birth father's side were English, French and Hopi; my adopted father's family are Italian.

"I've probably taught 300 people or so in from all over the world in L.A. It's been amazing being around all these people coming here with their hopes and dreams and seeing some come to fruition here and seeing other people go back to their own cities or countries with what they've learned and create their careers there."

René Rivera: "We all immigrate and we all migrate whether we leave the places we were born at or not. We all subconsciously are immigrating to search for the truth -- whether we know it or not. That's what happens in this play. The characters are all searching for the truth. And that's what we are all doing in this life -- that's the beauty of life -- we're always searching for the truth."

Stacey Martino: "The play we currently have up, The King of the Desert**, is based on stories that René and his brother told me while I was hanging out at his house in San Antonio. The play is about immigration in that René is a second generation immigrant on one side of his family and third generation on the other side.

"The play is really an American story, more so than it is about in any way his family being from Mexico -- although we do touch on the history. The play certainly touches on the journey that people make -- how we all leave these small towns or even big cities; how we leave home to fulfill our dreams. That's really what the play is about, which I think is a uniquely Los Angeleno experience."

-- Stacey Martino and René Rivera
(As told to Jeremy Rosenberg)

Photo by A La Mode Photo/Heather Hart

(Photo updated 11/17/11)

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