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Meet Denise Serna of Pop Magic Productions

Today we’d like to introduce you to Denise Serna.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Denise. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in South Texas, right along the border of the Rio Grande. I was active in the arts and creative problem solving throughout my childhood and competed in performance-based events on a regional and international level. My undergraduate studies took me to rural Ohio, where I narrowed the focus of my work to socially active and community engaged projects.

My graduate studies allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with talented practitioners from all over the world, and to create in multiple cities and landscapes. After graduate school, I spent a year as a public school teacher and then moved to Chicago as a Multicultural Fellow for Steppenwolf Theatre Company. After completing my work as a fellow, I started working on the Audience Experience team and now serve as the Front of House Manager.

I also keep a fruitful artistic practice as a director, curator, facilitator, and producer. I have been in Chicago 32 weeks, and have completed 38 creative projects like hosting workshops, producing and participating in community events, political demonstrations, directing, and assistant directing.

In Chicago, I have found a community that is eager to support DIY and devised theatre, and artists willing to adventure into abstracted performances with social and political themes. My work often focuses on the experiences of marginalized groups, especially women and queer people of color. I pair my artistic endeavors with social and political engagement, breaking down the barriers between artists and spectators, creating a platform for dialogue and positive social change.

My time in Chicago has also allowed me to pursue issues of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion within arts institutions. From my time as a Fellow of my time working alongside artEquity, I have developed a vocabulary and professional network that allows me to remain accountable to my privilege and active in my empathy. I am in a great position to aid institutions and creative teams in holding more welcoming spaces for their staff and their guests.

My activism and my art intersect in really fantastic ways, and through continued relationships and partnerships, I am able to create things that are important to me and do my part to build a more radically empathetic world.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Financial hardship has definitely been a part of my experience, and the older I get the more I am aware of how systemic racism and poverty has shaped the way I interact with the world around me – for better and for worse. Growing up, my parents believed I could do anything I set my mind to, supporting my strange little soul as I started to carve a path for myself.

Because ambition comes with a cost, I always sold barbecue plates, raffle tickets, sponsor posters, ads in programs — whatever it took to participate in creative and developmental communities. That taught me an important lesson: when I want to engage in a community, I needn’t clear the path alone.

I instead humbly and joyfully turn my focus outward, creating opportunities for many hands to be involved, for a group to share the burden of development and the joy of social progress. The environment of my undergraduate was one where I was not only an ethnic minority but very much from a different socio-economic background than those around me.

I encountered racism and ethnically rooted prejudice for the first time and struggled to relate to my peers. Throughout my time there I held multiple jobs while maintaining a full course load and artistic practice. I maintained a reputation of excellence, as so much of my financial security and tuition coverage were conditional. And you know what? The effort takes for a woman of color to be perceived as excellent (when the bar is so often set by mediocre white men) is exhausting.

Furthermore, distance plus cost made it difficult for me to travel home for holidays and breaks, I became well acquainted with a unique brand of cultural isolation. I was missing out on the lives and events of my family and friends, the traditions of my heritage, and trying harder and harder to move effortlessly in white circles. I think there is both grief and power associated with transplanting myself from the world of my childhood into the world I have built for myself.

There are parts of myself that I’ve lost, whether intentionally or from lack of use, in order to get where I am. There are irreplaceable moments I’ve missed. A best friend’s wedding, the birth of a nephew, the death of a student, those sorts of things.

A self-preserving callous build up in my heart – disconnecting me from the immediate celebration and suffering because the hole left by not directly participating is palpable and painful. The distance from which I participate in those milestone moments is helpful to my creative growth, however.

I am attuned to the tiny cuts, the little victories, the ways we are all the same. I can look into the big wide world, and devise ways to forge connections through those similarities while celebrating our beautiful diversity.

Pop Magic Productions – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are an incubator for exciting stories and innovative ways of telling them. Pop Magic makes work that falls at the intersection of all the arts. Behind our magic is always a diverse group of artists who have a voice in the stories that we tell and how we tell them.

Our productions and events promise to transport, interrogate and entertain. Pop Magic is a company that creates original theatrical work, which falls at the intersection of all the arts. At Pop Magic, we strive to bring artists of different backgrounds and disciplines together to create a diverse community of collaborators.

Pop Magic shows are developed using a devising process that allows for our performers to have a voice in the story and characters while they evolve. Pop refers to finding the relate-ability in every story. Magic refers to searching for exciting, innovative ways to tell those stories.

As a member of the company, my identity as both an artist and an activist find harmony. I am so thankful to find myself in collaboration with powerful, intelligent artists who challenge and inspire me. We are unafraid of our past and unencumbered by what is expected of us – we are hurtling toward the future, grabbing as many hands as possible (and spreading a little glitter) along the way.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I define success a series of joys, rather than an apex I want to reach. I am in the 19% of Latinx women my age who hold a bachelor’s degree, and the 4% of Latinx women my age who hold a Master’s Degree. That is a success. I have surrounded myself with kind, compassionate people who nurture the person I am always becoming. That is a success.

I have maintained close, healthy relationships throughout my life. That is a success. I am doing things my childhood self-wished for and dreamed of. I am learning things my childhood self never even imagined were possible. That is a success. I love fiercely, in the face of fierce hatred directed at me and my communities. That is a success.

I guess if I wanted to name markers of success I look out for, they would be: Trying something completely new, following through on a feeling from beginning to end, introducing new collaborative relationships, creating a meaningful shared experience and continued investment in bettering the ideas developed as well as the world around them.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Sarah Prothero, kClare McKellaston

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