Cené Hale, Actor, writer, singer

Image courtesy of Aleksandria Rudenko

When Cené is on stage, she owns it. You will be awed by her passion and joyfulness doing the thing she loves and enjoys the most. It doesn’t matter if she’s singing, acting, or just making silly faces on stage; you will undoubtedly have fun and laugh your heart out! Her exuberant energy fills the room and gives everyone a feeling of happiness they can carry around for a long time. She’s witty, she’s swift, and she’s talented…She’s simply great!

“I’ve always liked being on stage; it’s the place I feel the most like myself. I’m more afraid of just being a person in the world than being on stage. It just feels empowering.”

Cené said

Cené Hale is an award-winning American actor, writer, singer, improv comedy teacher and storyteller, whose work focuses mainly on complex female stories. Cené has been performing on various stages all over the United States and Europe. She moved to Amsterdam from Texas in 2016 after auditioning for Boom Chicago and becoming part of the cast with whom she performed improv comedy for two years and a half. Nowadays, you can see Cené at Mezrab every Wednesday, where she produces an all-improv storytelling show.

“I went to the auditions, not expecting to get it, I just wanted to get better at auditioning, and I thought it’d be a fun learning experience. But then I got it and it was a very easy yes for me. I always wanted to live in Europe, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it. That’s when my life changed; I have a whole new life now.”

Cene added

Acting and improv comedy weren’t things Cené thought she’ll be doing when she grows up, although she did some acting and theatre when she was a kid. Cené holds a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and biology from the University of Texas at Austin. She worked in different roles at various companies; she worked in sales, customer service, supply chain, logistics and procurement.

“I grew up thinking that doing improv or acting as a profession was impossible because I didn’t know anyone in my circle who did that. Improv being your full-time job is almost unheard of, there’s only a handful of people who do that. When I started taking improv classes, I realized it made me feel better about being on stage and was helping me be a better actor.”

Hale’s shift to comedy and acting started when she was feeling miserable and sad at some point in her career, to the point where she was crying every day. She used to go home after work and just stay there. She didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere. That’s when Cené started going to therapy. And a simple piece of advice from her therapist pulled her through and changed the direction of her life.

“I became much like a hermit, so I started going to therapy. My therapist told me I should do the things I used to enjoy doing when I was younger. So, I googled ‘things to do in Austin’, found free improv classes and enrolled myself. And that’s how it all started.”

Next to her full-time job, Cené started taking acting and improv comedy classes and learned about sketch writing and film making. She then performed at the ColdTowne Theater in Austin, The Institution Theater, and Marilyn Works Theatre (where she learned how to do musical improv). She also joined a community theatre where she did musicals. Cené indeed led so many lives!

“I watched a musical improv show once by a troop in Austin called ‘Girls Girls Girls’, and it blew my mind, all songs were entirely made up by the performers on the spot. It was heartfelt and funny; it had a message and was easy to follow. I thought this is something that I have to do. I ended up taking classes with one of the performers, and then years later joined the group.”

Cené recently wrote a show ‘The Great Deception’ in which she introduces the untold stories of women from the Bible and gives voice to their silenced words. The show premiered in Amsterdam in November 2019, ending with a standing ovation from the entire auditorium. It was intensely incredible; the audience loved it:

“I went to the show, not knowing that my life was about to be changed forever.”

“I had an out of body experience. I can’t rave about it enough. It made me laugh, sob and want to change the world one small step at a time.”

“It was everything it promised to be and so much more. An important and breathtaking piece of storytelling theatre from Cené Hale.”

Women to Watch™ Media met Cené Hale in Amsterdam and talked about comedy, inspirations, challenges, hopes, life and more.

Image Courtesty of Michael Bosboom

If you would describe yourself in one word, in terms of what you do, what would it be?

A messenger or a guide. I feel that’s what I do; leading the way in some capacity to help people get to where they want to be.

How would you describe yourself as a person?

Curious, creative and hopeful.

Why is it important to be hopeful?

It makes me feel like I have something to look forward to and live for. Hope for me feels like a beacon; if I’m ever lost, and I don’t know where I am, but I can find hope, then I know I’m going to be okay. Hope will not always be there, especially in difficult times, but always remember to look for it until you find it.

What do comedy and art mean to you?

What I like about comedy is that it’s a quick way to bring joy to people, and that feels important. It’s also a way to get people to question and analyze everything; society, themselves, and other people, which is essential. I believe comedy is compelling in that regard.

Art has the same effect, but it’s not only geared towards joy and laughter, but also towards exploring the deep dark stuff, and I think there’s a lot to gain from that, although it’s not easy. People tend to forget that joy is complex; it’s not just laughing out loud and being ecstatically happy. I personally also experience joy when I’m tackling the hard stuff; it brings me a different kind of joy.

Do you have a favorite comedy show?

I love the TV show “Glow”, it’s my dream show. I wish I could work on that show. It’s athletic, which I was, there’s a theatrical element to it, which I also did. It’s a television show, and I love TV. It’s funny, but also dark; it’s such a good show. I also love the shows “Jane the Virgin” and “Working Moms”.

Did you have a role model growing up?

Everybody who’s come into my life has inspired me in one way, shape or form by little things that they did. My grandmother is inspiring because she loves to make other people feel good and feel like they matter, that’s important to her. My mom loves to laugh; she loves to be inspired and watching her get excited about things that are going to teach her something has inspired me. My dog inspired me as he was very compassionate and only went after what he wanted and what made him happy. I look up to anybody who’s doing something they love and making space for it in their life while making it visible for other people. Nowadays, Beyoncé, Solange, Mindy Kaling, Shonda Rhimes, and Marie Forleo inspire me.

How can people find their passion?

Some people just know it. I’m not one of those people. I only found what I’m passionate about once I started searching. So, I think the first thing people should do is trying and experimenting with different things; holding onto the way of thinking they had when they were young. The methods need to evolve, but the desire to try new things should always be kept alive because that will lead them to discover what their passion is. We’re all passionate about something, but a lot of us have been taught not to pay attention to it. So go look for it and don’t give up, I guarantee you will eventually find something.

Image courtesy of Jason Doorson 

What guides both your personal and professional development?

Making sure that I’m doing what I need to do to help the people I want to help, and staying up to date on my knowledge of the creative things that I’d like to do. I want to be teaching people and showing them how to accomplish the things they want to achieve, specifically with their art. And the best way I know how to do that is by getting good at doing it for myself and learning the best ways to tell others how to do it. So eventually, I’m good at both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, which enables me to teach the ‘what’.

What’s your greatest personal challenge?

Self-sabotage; I have an excellent skill at convincing myself not to do something that’s important to me. So, I have to work on not allowing that voice inside my head that wants me to stop, to be safe and do the easy thing, to take over. It’s hard; it’s still a work in progress, it’s something I deal with every day. But I’ve learned to make space for that voice and honor it instead of ignoring it because if I ignore it, it gets louder. I also learned to make sure I always take action while keeping my steps small and simple. The action may be as little as getting up and going to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and this could be it because somedays even doing this can be hard.

How do you regain focus in challenging times?

I remember that challenging and bad times are temporary, which means they’ll pass. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, they will. So as long as I keep going and keep my focus on the fact that it’s going to be over at some point, then it’s easier for me to move through it.

Image courtesy of Pooneh Ghana

How do you manage fear and anxiety?

By keeping my steps as small and manageable as possible, and figuring out what my priorities are. I try to get clear about what I care about, as there’s a difference between things I care about and things I want to care about.

Another thing that helps me with anxiety is becoming more present. The way I do this, especially when I’m in the middle of a meltdown, I go outside, I stand there and ask myself these two questions: “what does the wind feel like on my skin?” and “where is it hitting my skin?”. Then I close my eyes, try to hear the birds and figure out from which direction they’re coming.  My anxiety is usually rooted in thinking about the past or worrying about the future. So, this simple action roots me back in the moment and makes me present in the here and now.

What is the thing you’re proud of the most?

I got offered a lucrative gig, but it was working for people I don’t like and doing something that I already knew how to do, so I didn’t feel I would grow from it. So, I turned it down without having a plan for how I was going to make money, but I didn’t care, and the fact that I didn’t care was huge for me. It felt so good, I felt proud.

Choosing myself over money gave me space to go after what was meaningful for me. It led me to write a show that I’ve always wanted to write about a topic I care about and is personal to me. It also allowed me to get an internship at a place that I’m excited to work. I understand that not everybody has the privilege to turn down a job, but if you can, in any small way, choose yourself as much as you can.

Image courtesy of Nathalie Hennis

How does success look like for you?

Doing things that I care about, whether that’s for work, for me or family or friends.

What about failure?

Failure doesn’t exist, yet the feelings of failure are real. Sometimes things don’t go the way you hoped they would, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure; you can always turn things around; you can make different choices and moves or just let it go, which is also okay. Remember that failure shouldn’t stop you; it’s just something that redirects you.

What do you believe is at the core of women’s hesitation to step out and pursue leadership positions where they are?

We tend to think that we don’t deserve something, we’re not good at something or that we’re not capable of doing it, and we’ve ingrained that belief in our minds. The thing that we have to learn is that none of this is true; it is somebody else’s voice in our head telling us that that’s the case.  Once we get through that and understand that it’s not us, it’s separate from us, then we’ll be able to accomplish anything.

We are capable, we are smart, we are deserving, and we can lead, that’s a fact. We need to start making small steps toward what we want and what makes us happy. We have to keep making these steps because one tiny step will lead to another and another, and soon we’ve put enough steps together that we’ve crossed an ocean.

Image courtesy of Nathalie Hennis

Is there something keeping you from getting to where you want to be?

I still self-sabotage, and I’m very good at catastrophizing. I can think of the worst possible scenario and make it seem real. It is an excellent skill for writing but not as a real-life practice. I have to aggressively work against this as it holds me back from taking steps towards my goals. I’ve accepted that I self-sabotage and I’m aware of it when it happens, so it’s easier for me to notice it and decide to make a different choice.

What would be the most significant benefit of having more women leaders around the world?

I believe the whole world is going to change and be better. There are many ideas, work, art pieces, and inventions that we’re missing because we don’t currently value women enough. We don’t value our own ideas and thoughts.

A great strength that we have is empathy, it is something that was beaten into us, or maybe we’re just born with it, it doesn’t matter, what matters is that we have it and it’s a gift. When women build businesses and communities or make art, they not only look at the creation and how it functions but also how it will be contributing to the people around them.

A lot of our art is based on what’s missing and what’s not out there. Lizzo is a great example; she looked at what was missing and realized it was her. So, she showed up and did what she loves doing, and that was enough to inspire millions of people around the world.  We are so good, capable and smart and we’ll change the world just by being who we are and doing what we love.

What role should men have in supporting more gender diversity?

They need to keep chasing the things that bring them joy because that’s something we can learn from them. But we also need to give men the permission to be in a supportive role and help them understand that it’s just as valuable a position as being in a leadership role. Our society has put a lot of pressure on men to be in charge, and that’s a big responsibility of having to know everything, do everything and be everything all the time. So, by taking this off of their shoulders, and showing them how critical supportive roles are, we give them the space to support someone else while still going after what they want. Then if they support us, we’re also going to help them, which leads to everyone lifting each other.

Do you think men are funnier than women in comedy?

Men are not funnier than women; we are both hilarious. We’ve just been accustomed to men’s type of humor, and we’ve never had the opportunity until recently to get to know women’s styles. When people comment on everyday life, that’s funny, but men aren’t used to hearing us talk about stuff that is unique to us, so they have a hard time listening to it. I think it’s hilarious when women talk about periods because it’s something most women have or have had at some point in their life, so we can relate to it. We need to allow both styles to exist and let everyone talk and joke about the things they experience, without being judgmental.

Image courtesy of Steve Rogers

Why do women get inspired by anyone, regardless of gender, while men usually stick to being inspired by other men?

I think it’s just that we’ve been trained, women included, to value men’s thoughts, feelings, opinions and ideas. And on the other hand, we’ve trained ourselves and other people to devalue women’s views and opinions. For men, the belief is internalized and reinforced to this day among their family and friends. Also, men have plenty of men role models to choose from that they don’t have to look at women for inspiration. It’s harder to seek out women’s accomplishments; it is something you have to do actively. It sucks, but it’s true. I actively try to make most of the books I read by women because I haven’t read that many books by women. I still read books by men, but I need to make sure I’m getting ideas and inspiration from women as well.

How can people be more accepting of one another?

By turning inwards and working on accepting the parts of us that we don’t like and the ones we do like, then this would automatically put us in a position where we accept others. I think that’s a life’s work and ongoing education.

What inspires you?

Other people’s joy; watching people be happy. I believe that when people are doing the thing they love, they’re embodying what it means to be human. That’s why we’re put on this planet; to chase after those things that we love. We all like very different things, but one of the things that we all have in common is seeking joy. When I see other people experience happiness, it makes me believe it’s possible for me too. So, when I experience joy, and other people see that in me, then hopefully, they also get inspired to go after what they enjoy.

Image courtesy of Nathalie Hennis

What makes you happy?

I’m the happiest when I accept what’s happening around me, to me, for me and with me. When I’m not worried about the future, and I’m not thinking about the past. I’m just looking at the ‘now’, and I know that it’s good enough as it is without changing anything.

Do you have a song that inspires you or lifts you up?

The song that makes me feel good these days is a song from the new album Beyoncé made for ‘The Lion King’, it’s called ‘Already’. It’s talking to men and saying: “Long live the king, you a king, you know it. King already, already, you know it”. I apply that to myself, yeah, I am a king, I am a queen, I am everything.

Do you have a favorite quote?

There’s this lesson from a book I just read. It says you already have within you everything you need to survive and thrive, you just need to find it. Anything that tells me I’m amazing, I’ll listen to it. It took me a long time to get to this place; I did not believe that before. I still have days where I don’t believe it, but then I read something like this and remember that I already have what I need.

Do you have a favorite book?

I’m really into science fiction and fantasy, so ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi is a book that I really like. Another book is ‘A Girl Named Disaster’, it’s about this African girl in a tribe who leaves the village on her own and turns to a woman throughout this journey. This transformation was handled beautifully in the book, and it taught me a lot about becoming a woman. I was thirteen when I read it. Another book that I read over and over again is ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar.

Image courtesy of Nathalie Hennis

What does life mean to you?

It is exploring, learning and experiencing. I feel that this is what I was put on earth for, and it makes me more empathetic.

How do you make a day count?

I figure out ways to choose myself by choosing the things I want to do that feel meaningful to me. This will depend on where I am that day, as I don’t feel the same way every day. Some days I might be full of energy and could do a thousand things, other days I can’t get off the couch and can’t talk to anybody. If I make space for all of the versions of me to exist, then that’s how I will have made the most of my day.

If there’s one thing you can change, what would that be?

The way people view themselves because I think that’s the source of all of the world’s problems.

What are you most grateful for in life?

The desire to want to learn. If I didn’t have that, I don’t know how my life would look like; I think I wouldn’t have liked it. It means I can learn anything, which means that I can be anything, and if I can be anything, then I can do anything. And I’m grateful that I get to go home to someone who loves me.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Somebody told me once: “that’s good enough”. When I heard that, I thought to myself, “nobody’s ever told me that”. It was the best advice I’ve ever heard because good enough makes me not try so hard to be great. Because what does great really mean? It doesn’t mean anything. But I know what good enough looks like for me, and because I know that, then I’ll try and work hard to get there.

What advice would you give to women out there?

You are everything you know yourself to be. You absolutely have permission to go and try the things you want to do. Just try, what’s the worst you can do? Maybe bad things happen, but you know what? You’ve tried, it’s an experience. And that’s what life’s all about, learning, experiencing and exploring.

Written by Yasmeen Smadi

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