The Rewards of Fierce Determination

From the Marine Corps to Meisner actor, model and entrepreneur, Cristiana Alvarez harnesses her fighting spirit to pursue her artistic dreams

By Cristina Schreil

At first, Cristiana Alvarez enrolled in acting school to supplement her modeling career. She viewed it as a practical business decision—something she’s steered with an especially entrepreneurial spirit since founding her own modeling coaching company, Protégée. Alvarez, a Milwaukee native, moved to San Jose in 2017. Since, she’s modeled around the Bay Area, grabbing gigs in print, editorial and runway modeling. She discovered the acting program at Academy of Art University and enrolled in Spring 2019. At first, it was just a way to expand her skillset.

Then, she got the bug.

“It was amazing. I actually felt like I knew what true passion was,” said Alvarez, lighting up. “Modeling, I enjoy it and it’s a way of expressing myself. But, with acting I felt, in a weird way, free.”

This came quickly, in her first semester. She was up on stage, doing an improv scene. Ironically, she grew up anxious around people, disliking big crowds. But on stage, this worry dissolved. “It was really interesting to see how once I connected with a character how it didn’t matter that they could see me, I was just having fun.” She now prioritizes acting, but still grabs modeling gigs and grows Protégée, where she offers modeling classes, one-on-one consultations, and workshops.

Alvarez, center, was in the United States Marine Corps before moving to the Bay Area and studying acting at the Academy. Photo by Dakota Metz.

She recently plunged into the School of Acting (ACT)’s first-ever Summer Intensive right after, even appearing in MPT’s summer web series for one episode. It affirmed that she loved the craft. She described enjoying even the exercises other acting students find more tedious, especially in beginning the Meisner technique. One exercise, which involves mirroring an acting partner in a seemingly endlessly repetitive manner, is something she actually enjoys digging into.

“You’re really reading that person and understanding them and being empathetic,” she said of the process. She paints the fun of wondering why another actor smiles—probing the inner world informing behaviors. “I think that’s useful in general, in life,” she added. Tapping into people is also something she admires of the ACT instructors. “They’re very tuned in with the students. Even if you catch a student who is having an off day and doesn’t want to do something, the teacher is able to pull it out of them,” Alvarez observed. “It’s really fascinating.”

Academic Vice President of Entertainment & Broadcast Media Melissa Sydeman taught Alvarez in the Summer Intensive. “Cristiana is a fantastically game actor who is rapidly developing her on-camera skills—she is so focused and excited to play. In her first semester here, Cristiana was cast in a number of M.F.A. film projects and did brilliantly,” Sydeman said. “Cristiana has a natural talent for comedy and a very polished presence on camera. What really sets her apart is her quirkiness—Cristiana is so uniquely herself. Her focused ambition is a level above: she is always going out for opportunities and getting a lot of experience auditioning both on campus and in the Bay Area.”

A core tenet of her career building is her hustle. While warm and sweet-spoken, she describes herself as fierce about pushing through to getting what she wants once she settles on a goal. It’s a quality she’s had for years—namely in the Marine Corps, where she enrolled at 21.

Born into a military family—with a father and brother in the army and another brother in the Air Force—Alvarez reflected that following their footsteps was always something she thought she wanted to do. Physical fitness was always present. Growing up, her father trained her in boxing, and she competed as an amateur fighter.

She first worked as an admin in the Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Meanwhile, she trained in mixed martial arts, going from a tan belt to a black belt within the first two years. Next, she wanted to be an instructor. But, after a few tries at applying, she wasn’t having any luck. She then made a gutsy decision. “I pushed the paperwork through. I wasn’t supposed to do that.” She smiles wide as she remembers. “I have this thing where if I want to do something, I’m gonna go do it, I’m gonna go make it happen.”

The same determination governs how she’s navigating acting and modeling. Upon moving to the Bay Area, she found she had trouble booking gigs. She scanned Eventbrite for fashion show directors and cold emailed them. She founded Protégée to create her own paths. As she’s taking classes at MPT, she reflects on how technology and platforms like social media, make it easier to create something herself.

Another surprise of acting school was a pivotal shift in her personal life. “I didn’t realize how spiritual I was until after attending here,” Alvarez declared. She describes herself as very inquisitive; investigating how she is responding to acting classes triggered a deeper journey inward. Her studies encourage her to examine how she behaves and relates to others. She cites the same empathy that’s foregrounded in her Meisner exercises and muses she’s become something of a therapist to herself. “I don’t think I would be aware of myself, my habits, and why I think a certain way, as fast as I do now.”

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