Cené Hale, Actor, writer, singer

Image courtesy of Aleksandria Rudenko

Cené Hale is an award-winning American actor, writer, singer, improv comedy teacher and storyteller whose work focuses mainly on complex female stories. Cené moved to Amsterdam from Texas in 2016 after auditioning in Austin for Boom Chicago. She was chosen from around 500 people to become a member of the cast, and that’s where she did improv comedy for two and a half years. She also performed on different stages all over the United States and Europe.

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

Cené said

Cené didn’t grow up thinking she will become an actress or an improv comedian. She did some acting and theatre when she was a kid but always thought she was going to be a rock star. However, back then, Cené never sang in front of people but did a lot of singing and imitating singers when she was alone. Cené didn’t become a rock star; she went to the University of Texas at Austin instead where she studied kinesiology and biology. She thought she would go to medical school after graduating or work for a sports team but decided that’s not what she’s going to do. Cené worked in sales, customer service, supply chain, logistics and procurement. 

I grew up thinking doing improv professionally or acting was impossible because I didn’t know anyone who did that. Even the teachers who gave improv classes had other jobs, which is normal. Improv being your full-time job is almost unheard of, there’s only a handful of people that do that. There’s not a lot of money in it currently. And I think it’s just because people haven’t figured out how to use it. When I started taking improv classes, I realized it was made me feel better about being on stage and was helping me be a better actor. I became a much better actor fast when I did improv.

Hale’s shift to comedy and acting started when at some point in her career, she felt miserable and sad, to the point where she was crying in the bathroom every day. She used to go home every day 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 piece of simple 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. The therapist told me I need to do something outside of work and outside of my home. She said, “Do the things you used to enjoy doing when you were younger.” So, I Googled “things to do in Austin,” and I found free improv classes. I thought to myself: I like theatre, I did theatre when I was young so it could be fun. And that’s how it all started.

While still at her full-time job, Cené started taking improv comedy classes and later performing 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 took acting classes and got into sketch as well and started learning about sketch writing and film making. She indeed led many lives!  

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

Cené recently wrote a new show “The Great Deception” in which she introduces the untold stories from the Bible and gives a voice to some of the 1.1% of the words spoken by women in the Bible, while exploring how and why they’ve been silenced. The show premiered in Amsterdam in November, ending with a standing ovation from the entire auditorium. It was intensely incredible!  The audience loved it, saying:

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.

When Cené Hale is on stage, she owns it by passionately and effortlessly doing the thing she loves and enjoys the most. Her exuberant energy fills the room and gives everyone a feeling of joy that they can carry around for quite some time after watching her perform. It doesn’t matter if she’s singing or acting or just making silly faces on stage; you will have a fun time and a good laugh! She’s witty, funny and authentic. She’s a fantastic improv teacher. Oh, and she has a beautiful singing voice and hilarious lyrics that go perfectly well with it. 

I’ve always liked being on stage; it’s probably the only place I feel the most myself. I’m more afraid of just being a person in the world than being on stage. I feel so much more relaxed. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s because I don’t have to be me when I’m on stage. It just feels empowering.

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. I think it’s essential to question and analyze everything; society, yourself, and other people. So, comedy is compelling in that regard.

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

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?

There are a lot of people I look up to for different reasons, in the art space I look up to Beyoncé, Solange, Mindy Kaling, and Shonda Rhimes. 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. In business, I look up to Beyoncé and Marie Forleo. There are a million people I look up to. Everybody’s inspiring.

Everybody who’s come into my life has inspired me in one way, shape or form, it’s just little things that they did, no one person fits all. 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 wants and what makes him happy.

How can people find their passion?

Some people just know it. I was not one of those people, so I started looking for it, and I’ve discovered there are a lot of things I’m passionate about. And for me I think the passion is in the search, I didn’t know that until I started looking for it. So, I think the first thing you should do is start trying different things. You should hold onto the way of thinking you had when you were young, experimenting and trying different things. The methods need to evolve, but the desire to try new things should be kept alive because that will lead to discovering what your passion is. You are passionate about something; everybody is, but a lot of us have been taught not to pay attention to it. So just 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 don’t know yet in what way I will be helping people, but I know I will be teaching and showing them how to accomplish the things that 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 at learning how to tell other people how to do it. So, I’m not only getting good at the “what” but also at the “how” so I can 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 of my life. 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, just like a child; if you overlook a kid, they’re going to make sure you pay attention to them. Then it becomes easier for me to move forward while keeping my steps small, simple and actionable. The step may be as simple 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?

I have a big problem with anxiety; I’m anxious a lot of days of the month. For me, it’s twofold; number one is keeping my steps as small and manageable as possible. The second thing and the thing that has made the most significant impact was figuring out what my priorities are. This means getting 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 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?

When I chose myself over money. 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.

This gave me space to go after what I did want and what was meaningful for me. And that led me to write a show that I’ve always wanted to do, 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?

There’s no such thing as failure. Failure doesn’t exist. 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, it might be a well-meaning friend, a family member, or an old boyfriend or girlfriend. It can come from anywhere, but it is not us, and it is not valid.

So, if we were able to get through that and understand that it’s not us, it is separate from us, then we’ll be able to accomplish anything. We are capable, we are smart, and we can lead. We do deserve it, and that’s a fact. There’s a history of women being Pharos in Egypt. Women were warriors, and they’re business owners. So, we need to start making small steps toward what we want and what makes us happy. We need 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. I have this great ability to come up with excuses for why I should or shouldn’t do something. And I’m very good at catastrophizing; I can think of the worst possible scenario and make it seem real. I’m very good at this, which is great for writing but not as a real-life practice. I have to aggressively work against this as it holds me back from doing simple things daily and from taking steps towards my goals. I’ve accepted that I self-sabotage and I’m aware of it when it happens. Hence, now 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.

Women are so good at looking at the big picture, how things work together, and how things affect each other. Another 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 us.

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 that 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, 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?

No, they’re not. 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 style. 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. Men comedians talk about daily things that men can relate to, so it’s funny for them. 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. I believe we just need to let both styles exist and let everyone talk about the things they experience and want to joke about.

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?

This is a great question. I don’t know. My boyfriend doesn’t know this, but I use him as a guinea pig because I want to watch what inspires him, I pay attention to it. It’s always other men that inspire him. It’s not that he doesn’t like women, but 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. I even catch myself reinforcing ideas that I don’t believe in, but I’ve internalized. I have to fight against myself actively, which is exhausting. 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. It’s not because I don’t want to read books by men, I still read books by men, but I need to make sure that I’m getting ideas and inspiration from women as well.

How can people be more accepting of one another?

I think turning inward is the first step because most of us don’t accept ourselves, and when we don’t, we project that onto other people. If we turn inwards and work on accepting the parts of us that we don’t like and do like, then this would automatically put us in a position where we accept others. And I think that’s a life’s work; it’s an ongoing education.

What inspires you?

Other people’s joy; watching people be happy. I believe that when people are doing the thing that they love, they’re embodying what it means to be human. I think 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. A lesson I learned from my dog, he was the best man!

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 is making me feel good these days is a song from the new album Beyoncé made for “The Lion King”. It is 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?

I collect quotes, but then I never remember them. I don’t know if this is a quote, but it’s a lesson from this book I just read, it says that you already have within you everything you need to survive and thrive. You already have it; you just need to find it. Anything that tells me that I’m amazing, I will listen to it, because 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 it makes me 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. I was thirteen when I read it. This transformation was handled beautifully in the book, and it showed me that I can still do all the things I need to do when I’m on my period. Another book that I read over and over again is called “Holes” by Louis Sachar.

What’s the minimum you can live with and the maximum you can put up with?

I can live with a roof over my head, enough food and warm socks. The maximum I can put up with is a lot, but it’s lowering. The only time I could put up with bullshit is when somebody acknowledges that they messed up. They’re trying to make up for it by doing something right, whatever that means, even if it’s as small as trying to make sure I’m having a good time. But when people aren’t doing that, then I’m not very pleasant to be around. I will set my boundaries and let them know that I didn’t like what they did or said.

Image courtesy of Nathalie Hennis

What does life mean to you?

Exploring, learning and experiencing. I feel that this is what I was put on earth for. Also, having lots of experiences makes it easier for me to empathize which is important.

How do you make a day count?

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

What are you grateful for today?

The weather was gorgeous. I’m grateful that I got to take some of my online classes today. That made time today. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to sit here and hang out with you. I’m grateful for how tasty this drink is and that I got snacks in front of me. I’m happy that I can ride my bike. I love riding my bike. 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, nobody’s ever said that’s good enough”. And good enough was good. This was the best advice I’ve ever learned 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 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. I think that’s good enough! Just try. What’s the worst you can do? And maybe bad things will 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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