While attending Sierra Canyon, Janelle Pearson was an extremely versatile student. From her involvement in the arts on campus to her role as a member of the varsity basketball team, Janelle’s spirit and energy brought her to each corner of success.
Now, Janelle uses that passion to propel her career in the arts—a career that creatively combines the work of both an artist and an entrepreneur. Read on about the inspiring words Janelle shared with us for this week’s alumni spotlight.
First off, what activities (clubs, sports, etc.) did you partake in while you were at Sierra Canyon? Did any of those experiences shape the work you do now?
So many activities! (My Step Brothers fans will get that reference.) Going into Sierra Canyon I was pretty confident that, aside from my studies, theater would be my main focus and activity. If I'm being totally honest, sometimes my school work played understudy to my time spent on stage. In these formative years, I can definitely say that the productions I got to be part of in my drama and voice classes further solidified my love and passion for the arts.
My junior year—by some miracle—I joined the varsity basketball team. I think it had something to do with the amount of team spirit I exhibited at the time. I wasn't any good at basketball nor did I care to be, I just really loved being part of that team. SC basketball practice is where I learned what it takes to be part of a dysfunctional/functional community outside of my immediate family. I saw what magic could be created when you bring a bunch of people together all working towards a common goal, both on and off the court. That's proven to be an extremely valuable experience for me, especially now as I'm just beginning to develop this production company and I'm starting to bring more people onto the team, and as I'm collaborating more often.
What’s it like to move from Los Angeles to New York to Ghana and then back to Los Angeles? How have your travels influenced you?
I LOVE to travel! When I was younger, we moved around quite a bit and so I get a little restless sometimes when I'm in one place for too long. I definitely needed those changes in environment, precisely at the times they came. I feel like New York, Los Angeles, Ghana, and Texas (I lived there until the age of 11) are HUGE parts of who I am today. It's funny… People often tell me I have New York Style with an L.A. attitude, and I like to add “southern heart” onto that. And as for Ghana, it completely catapulted me into a new chapter in my life. I went there searching and running and found everything. I know that's not specific at all, but the experience was too great to articulate. It's nice to know now that I have at least four places in the world that I can go to and immediately feel like I'm at home.
Tell us a bit about your production company. What motivated you to start it?
Highly Evolved Productions LLC is a company that I founded in 2016 along with two partners. We decided to create it the company shortly after I executive produced the first short film I'd written out of college. The motivation came from falling in love with the process of producing and finding out that I was pretty good at it. Producing is about bringing together people who are masters at what they do and guiding them towards a common goal with uncommon ideas. This is what I get to do for as long as it brings me joy and I love it. The company is still in its infancy but we're currently developing about six projects. We're slated to produce two projects this year: another short film and an unscripted short series.
With so many projects and the intensity that comes with being an artist, what’s a typical work day like for you?
I usually start with meditation no matter what I have planned for the day. That just gets me started right, most of the time. Other than that, I spend A LOT of time at my computer and on the phone. Since my company hasn't started making profit yet I still work odd production jobs and babysit for periods of time. When I'm not working a survival job, I work on my business, I send emails (SO MANY emails), I create breakdowns for the auditions we have coming up, I update our social media and website, I set and attend meetings with PR and Marketing Teams and our business consultant who helps us with our plan to gather investors, I'm in constant communication with the other manager of the company about what we're working on… You'd be surprised how much there is to do constantly. I have lists for my lists. I'm also personally writing on three of the projects we're currently developing and so I stay pretty busy always, but I love what I do so it doesn't feel like work, as some of my odd day jobs do. It just feels good and it's so much fun.
What advice would you give Trailblazers who are looking to pursue the arts?
Creativity comes from a place of surrender. If you're feeling anxious about what you're creating or what you're doing, take a step back and reexamine. Maybe you need to shift your perspective or maybe you need to change what it is you're doing. Art allows you to express some of the most profound parts of who we are; never forget that, and never forget that we are all profound. Janelle’s film will be showing on February 10th at 5:20 p.m. at Rave Cinemas in Baldwin Hills, CA, and on February 13th at 3:45 p.m. at the Pan African Film Festival. For more information about Janelle, visit JanelleReneePearson.com.