|Kala Neehall Connecting with life |
Sunday, April 9 2017
Kala Helena Radha Neehall says she is a person who believes her life is meant to be in service to others. With a career trajectory that spans market research, teaching special needs students, bartending (to name a few), and now acting, Kala’s goal to connect with lives around her is off to a good start.
A lifelong resident of San Fernando, she says she has always loved to learn, “but I felt early on that there was more to be learnt outside of a classroom setting,” she adds, which explains her current artistic expression through onstage acting.
Last weekend, Kala starred in the Bagasse Company’s Dan the Travelling Man, “a relatable tale of an unfaithful man who spreads himself too thin and is unable to keep up with his lies,” according to Kala. She credits the play’s writer, Christine Johnston, as portraying a beautiful representation of Caribbean women in the play, with each female character coming from differing ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, and a wide range of personalities with plenty Caribbean zest.
Kala played Savitri, the Guyanese beti: saucy, bright, bubbly, naïve, and loveable. “Savi and I are worlds apart in some ways,” Kala acknowledges, and continues, “She’s increased my understanding of how wants and needs and dreams can vary based on a person’s socioeconomic background.”
She says all actresses, including local talent such as Cecelia Salazar and
Llettesha Sylvester who starred in the gospel musical, Mahalia, “find the heroic qualities in the women we portray – because heroic qualities exist in all women – and we highlight these onstage.” However, she notes that most female characters are not glaringly powerful, or very rarely portrayed as such.
“I also feel like female characters are almost always sexualised in some way; I say this with the full admission that I sometimes post my ‘sexiest’ pictures on social media when promoting a play,” Kala shares, acknowledging the internalised pressure to engage in “sex sells” tactics.
“Should the content of theatre include less sexualised, stronger female characters? Absolutely. Will audiences come out in droves to see such work? I am not certain but it is my hope,” she says of more relatable leading roles for women being imagined.
For Kala, every feeling, conversation, and observation is inspiration for her artistic process. She is “all about feeling my feelings” and reflects on advice she has received from fellow actors, to take every intense emotion experienced and store it for a character someday. Her inspiration also comes from seeing local talent onstage, including Raymond Choo Kong’s “brilliant comedic timing” and Penelope Spencer’s dance at the end of Mary Could Dance, which she says is one of the most moving experiences she’s ever had in theatre. She believes all art is cathartic, and a surefire way for your mind and spirit to blossom.
She is a newcomer to the theatre scene, only having made her debut two years ago, and knows there is a lot more growing and learning to do. The thought of taking up more challenging roles makes her nervous as she is still building up her confidence as an actor and admits that the fear of looking bad in front of audiences and other actors stunts her performance sometimes. “I say this to everyone and myself: take the leap, wholeheartedly, because you’re better than you think you are,” she renounces against self-doubt.
Academically, Kala’s background lies in psychology and criminology, which she studied at the UWI, St. Augustine. She was fascinated with theories of the mind and behaviour since primary school, and says it’s telling that her favourite movie growing up was Silence of the Lambs. Studying psychology in secondary school helped her see the line of study as a potential way to help others and engage in mental self-care.
“Caring for your emotional and mental state is essential,” she implores, revealing that she has had her own struggles in this vein, even to this day. “I believe every person would benefit from some form of counselling at some point in their lives,” she comments on TT’s aversion to discussions surrounding mental wellness and seeking professional treatment and help with emotional wellbeing. As for a career in the field, she would like to be a social worker, representing children, displaced people, or people seeking rehabilitation treatments.
“In the meantime, acting’s keeping me pretty busy and I’d like to think that I’m helping people in a different way by being on stage. Dan is the third comedy I’ve been in and I pray before every show that I lighten the burdens of the audience members, if only for a short while.”
Kala is open about her own personal struggles and growth. She says, “Right now, I’m in the process of facing myself. I’ve found some ugly things, but I rather be ugly than continue to lie to myself.” She understands that her fears of change and finding her purpose have held her back from “taking the leap”, but through honest conversations with self, she hopes to understand herself more. “I think if you work on having an honest relationship with yourself, you start to rid yourself of biases, not only on personal issues but societal issues as well,” she adds about her own journey of truly seeing the world around her.
Her flaws leave room for personal growth, she voices, admitting that she is “riddled with flaws”. “Addressing flaws can be an introspective adventure, treacherous at times but the work is worth it.”
Even in her description of self, she says her experiences have led her to become the woman she is: a woman who works at understanding her vices and limitations, a woman who feels deeply and tries to embrace both the wonderful and tragic aspects of life, a woman who lives her life in service of others.
“I make no apologies for where I’m at in life; it’s necessary work,” she says of the mirror she often holds up to examine her own reflection. “We should all take the time to discover ourselves; allow yourself to be alone sometimes; be sad, be blissful, go see a play, be gentle with yourself and others, try the thing you’re afraid of, stand up for yourself, take walks by yourself, or take an acting class