Many may think of Orange County as a breeding ground for soul-killing reality TV and its corresponding uninspiring “stars,” but what few may know is that our oft-misunderstood county is actually a hotbed of talent. We’re talking real talent – the kind of goose bump-inducing skill that makes you sit up, take notice and marvel at the infinite capacity of humankind to make and do such beautiful things.
This band of artists – actor, musician, dancer, and film reviewer – has dedicated their lives (along with their wallets, youthful joints and free time) to the pursuit of their respective crafts, sometimes to the point of obsession, but always passionately and without a smidge of regret.
While you won’t catch them on the latest Bravo reality series or courting paparazzi with all manner of shenanigans, this inspiring local crew is slowly and deliberately using its talent to redefine the artistic and cultural landscape of Orange County – one performance, song, dance, and film at a time.
Dennis Pearson, 26, Long Beach
Time in the acting industry: I’ve been acting since my senior year of high school.
Occupation: Actor, writer, waiter
Claim to fame: I was nominated for an Irene Ryan Award and I've appeared in South Coast Repertory's production of A Christmas Carol. I'm currently portraying Brutus in a production of Julius Caesar, which is receiving rave reviews.
Guilty indulgence: I love cheesecake. I mean, I really, really love cheesecake. I'm also a huge fan of “The Walking Dead” TV show. Put those two together and I'm a very happy man.
I get into character by... I do all of the groundwork very early on. I do all of the hard work, all of my back story and the character analysis in the beginning. That way when it's time for performance, I'm already so familiar with the character that I can just meditate and slip right into it.
Dream job as an actor: To work with the likes of Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington. I seriously don't care if my only line is: “Here's your pizza, sir.”
Inspiration: Hands down, I would not be the actor I am today if not for Karen Hensel, Tony Carreiro, Greg Mortensen, and Hal Landon Jr. They not only continue to give me great advice and techniques, but they are the living, breathing examples of the type of artist that I strive to be.
I knew I wanted to be an actor when... I knew for certain that I wanted to be an actor on the opening night of my first show, Dreamgirls. The positive energy from the audience and knowing that I had just provided laughter and a lifetime of memories to all those people reinforced my feelings towards this craft.
Watch Him on Stage
Dennis Pearson is currently assistant directing Out of the Frying Pan, a production at Long Beach City College.
Jameson Burt, 28, Santa Ana
Time in the music industry: 16 years
Occupation: Full-time musician
Claim to fame: I pride myself on being prolific. I'm constantly writing and producing more material. I made my last album at the legendary Henson Studios in Hollywood. Now my band and I are working out of our own studios in Orange County.
Guilty indulgence: Whiskey, followed by anything that's in the fridge at 3 a.m.
Signature music style: My style is evolving. A lot of my stuff is a blend of folk, roots rock and soul. But now with new material, I'm starting to incorporate more ‘80s pop/dance influences.
Latest album: Released full-length album "Out of the Canyon on Crutches" in December of 2012 (available on iTunes). Another full-length album, "Carnivore," is due out in late spring or summer this year.
Inspiration: Tom Waits, because he's a relentless risk taker, not afraid to push his limits again and again. And he's the greatest lyricist there is.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I was 12 years old. Some new kids in the neighborhood had a garage band. I didn't know what instrument I wanted to play, I just knew I wanted to be in a band and make noise.
See Him Live
Jameson Burt plays live with Jameson & Co. on April 8-9 at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. For more information about Burt’s music, visit his website, join him on Facebook and Twitter, or watch him play on YouTube.
:: detroitbar.com :: jamesonmakesmusic.com :: facebook.com/jamesonandco :: twitter.com/jamesonmusic :: youtube.com/jamesonmakesmusic
The Film Buff
Amanda Salazar, 26, Costa Mesa
Occupation: Director of Programming at the Newport Beach Film Festival
Time in the film industry: Seven years
FYI: I am a classically trained violinist; I have been playing for 17 years – not something everyone knows about me. I also record, perform live and play in different bands locally when I have the time. My latest project is an experimental indie band called Heavy Petal that includes four very talented dudes and myself – we are a new band but one that loves to play together.
Guilty indulgence: French fries (no, not sweet potato fries), donuts and movie trailers. Also pop music. I love it.
Signature film technique: Watching movies – and watching a lot of them. I am a fan of all films, from the latest action flick or schmaltzy romantic comedy to the quiet foreign art-house picture, I love them all and will give them all a fair viewing. It really is about enjoying films and filmmaking.
Inspiration: I look up to Kenneth Turan, film critic at the Los Angeles Times. You can tell that he truly loves going to the movies – something that I love as well. Funny story: I was able to meet him once at a film screening that he moderated, and when I shook his hand I was too nervous to say anything except, “I love your work.” Later that night I wrote him an e-mail telling him how much his writing has meant to my father and I (my father introduced me to Kenneth). Kenneth wrote me back, wishing me luck with the festival and everything that I do – it was a highlight of my career.
I knew I wanted to be a film buff when... At a very young age I found myself compelled to write down mini reviews of films that I had seen. I started noticing that family and friends would come to me for film advice. I started reading more about films and watching more films, and then I realized that I could go to school to study films - brilliant! I graduated with a degree in film studies. Once I got into the film festival industry, I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be.
Watch the Films
See the curated selection of films submitted to the Newport Beach Film Festival, taking place April 25 through May 2 at venues throughout Orange County. Tickets go on sale April 1. Visit NBFF’s website for more information.
Saleemah Knight, 29, Irvine
Occupation: Professional dancer and choreographer; graduate student at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts
Time in the dance industry: 26 years
Claim to fame: I have danced with several major productions and recording artists, including The Lion King Broadway musical at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas (over 1,100 shows over a two-and-a-half-year period); alongside Beyoncé at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards; lead dancer with Chris Brown in the “I Know What Them Girls Like” music video (Ludacris ft. Chris Brown); with actor and recording artist Tyrese for two years on the Tyrese Tour; and much more. I have also taught regular and guest classes at universities and dance studios across the nation, including UC Irvine, UCLA and Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy.
Guilty indulgence: I have a love for cooking competition television shows such as “Top Chef” and “Chopped.”
Signature dance move: I am great at multiple pirouettes and grand jetés.
Dream job in the dance field: I would love to choreograph a major feature film or Broadway show. I am currently choreographing a 60-person production of Grease, the Broadway Musical, in San Clemente, so I am well on my way.
Inspiration: The person I look up to most in my life is my mother, Gail Q. Knight. As a former dancer, she took the extra time to make sure that I was receiving the proper training and attention in dance. I also have several instructors that I consider keystones in my career. Three people that stand out immediately are Susan Quinn Williams, Michael Williams and Jeremy Miller, who trained me during a very crucial stage in my career.
I knew I wanted to be a dancer when... I saw the movie Flashdance for the first time at age three; from there I began training in ballet. I then choreographed my first piece at age five. I have been dancing and choreographing ever since.
Look the Part
Check out Saleemah Knight’s clothing line, Saleemahwear, on Threader’s website.