Happy 2017! The new year brings new opportunities, new challenges, and more importantly for this space, new features! I’m absolutely delighted to dive back into desirae and kick off 2017 with the effervescent Benji. Watch out world! This captivating, genuine human has the heart of a hero, body of an adonis, work ethic of a singing, dancing, dance-captaining beaver and an appetite for the finest coffee to power him through.
Not only is Benji a fierce triple threat, he is a tride and true gentleman who brings joy and decency to every moment. Before he skipped town to launch the US National Tour of The BodyGaurd this week, we adventured uptown to capture his striking essence throughout Fort Tryon Park. He is a dream to work with, shoot and simply catch up with on life over a cup of joe. May we all take a note from Ben and lead with love this year. #LEADWITHLOVE
Meet Benji: Hey Friends, my name is Benjamin Rivera. Some of you may know me as Benji, some of you may know me as Ben, and some of you may not know me at all. So let's start at the beginning. I grew up in Muscatine, Iowa (and no, that's not the potato state, we're the corn state). I was born into a house of athletes. My mom and dad were all star athletes all their life and my two older brothers followed suit, in fact my brother Brance played baseball at the College World Series. So it only seemed fitting that I tried my hand at sports all the way through high school, but my heart was set on other things.
We were fortunate enough to also live with my Gma (my mom's mom) and she was the first person to spark my love of music. She used to sit and play the piano for me while I sang and she also got me involved in her church choir. Then once I hit middle school I began to audition for the school musicals and my love began to blossom from there. That is when I began training in gymnastics and dance, but I'll talk about that more in the Q and A's.
High school led to more exposure to different arts and performance opportunities such as barber shop choir, jazz choir, show choir, school plays, and school musicals. But at this point I gave up training in dance and gymnastics so I could focus more on swimming and high school. It wasn't until my freshman year of college that I started to figure things out. I began college at the University of Nebraska Lincoln as a Music Education Major. I knew that I loved music, but I didn't believe that I had the talent or skill-set needed to succeed in performing. But it took me only one semester to figure out that I was settling and wasn't pushing myself to my full potential. So I took a huge leap of faith out of my comfort zone and I transferred to Oklahoma City University to become a Dance Major. That was the hardest decision of my life and the most pivotal moment, thats when my personal journey as a performer truly began to gain speed. That was when I stopped letting fear and doubt take hold of my heart. That's when I truly decided being on stage was what I loved to do and what God had created me to do!
Significant Quote: "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and I could say, 'I used everything you gave me'".
BIO: Dance Captain and Swing on Disney Cruise Line (the Fantasy), Swing on the National Tour of Anything Goes, Ensemble on the National Tour of Elf the Musical, Swing on the National Tour of Dirty Dancing, Ensemble in Pirates of Penzance at Barrington Stage, Dance Captain/ Ensemble for the US Premier of The Bodyguard at Paper Mill Playhouse, and currently Dance Captain/ Ensemble on the first National Tour of The Bodyguard.
Q: Tell me about how you discovered your passion for performing? Any special teachers? Specific performances? Moments you remember as soul-igniting?
A: There are 2 people who I feel God brought into my life specifically to help me find and focus my love for performing.The first was Bruce Brown, my gymnastics coach. Bruce was a huge inspiration to me because he was a male performer who went out and did amazing things as a performer, so I looked up to him. He built a strong technical base in me as an athlete that I still use to this day. Then in middle school he suggested I begin training with him as a dancer because he said it would make me a better gymnast. He was very tough on me but he pushed us to always strive for better. The second person was my middle school Director, Marry Haaf Wedemeyer. She cast me in 3 musicals throughout middle school and pushed us as if we were professionals, not just middle schoolers. She had high standards but was always so loving and encouraging, so I always wanted to work hard for her because I respected her for respecting me. This was when I began to understand how much joy being on stage brought me. This was when the spark began.
Q: What healthy habits and/or positive anchors have you found along your way to help keep you grounded and focused?
A: As a male performer I have been unbelievably blessed with the constant support and acceptance from my family. From a very young age my family saw how much I loved performing and because it brought me so much joy, it brought them so much joy. So being a young male in a heavily female industry, I was always loved and encouraged and it meant the world to me. That was my positive anchor that I still hold to. Plus I've been fortunate enough to also have friends who love and support me. Friends who are always there to hear me vent about tough days or injuries and they are also there to celebrate triumphs and growth. My friends have become part of my family in my heart. My friends and family are my rock and they have always kept me grounded and focused. They have shaped me into the man I am today. Thanks to my mom, dad, gma, brothers, my girls back in Iowa, and my NYC roomies <3 you all mean so much to me. Thanks for loving me for who I am!
Q: How do these habits impact your performance and how do they inform the goals and next steps of your career?
Because I have always been loved, supported, and pushed to be better than my best; I find that's how I approach every new show/cast. I try my best to treat my fellow cast mates with respect and love for what they personally bring to the show. That's what is so beautiful about being part of a show. A group of random strangers are chosen to come together and create something special and meaningful--something that only that specific group of people are capable of creating. It is tailor fit to each person's individual talent and gift. All parts are necessary and should be respected. This is also how I view life when I am unemployed and trying to audition for the next show. My goal isn't to beat the other people in the room for the job, I am my own competition. I have to know what I bring the table and if they hire someone else it was because they are perfect for the show and what the show needs. So I walk into every show/ audition attempting to be my absolute best and nothing less.
Q: How do you take care of your body, mind and spirit?
This question is actually ironically relevant to me and my journey. As I said earlier, my first job out of college was on a Disney Cruise Ship. For those of you who have never been on a cruise contract, 7 months at sea is very difficult. You get lonely and feel the pain of the day to day repetition. So while on my contract I began to challenge myself to make sure I was personally pushing myself every day to do something that pushed me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I started running to train for a 5k race that Disney hosted every Friday morning, I started reading every day to keep my mind sharp and busy, and I started a small group with a few of my cast mates where we could challenge each other and provide community. So once I got off my ship this became a habit in my daily life.
Q: What's your favorite way to celebrate?
I love celebrating with my favorite foods and my favorite people. As long as those 2 aspects are present, the celebration could be anywhere and anything and I would be so happy! I could order a pizza with my roommates and just lay on the couch all night and talk about life. Or I could grab a cup of coffee with my mom at my favorite coffee shop. Or I could be making pancakes with a group of friends and playing card games all night. It's the crowd that make the celebration special and of course good food is always a great addition.
Q: What is the most delicious meal you've ever eaten?
For those of you who really know me, you probably already know this answer. Beef Pho is my ALL TIME FAVORITE meal! It's a Vietnamese soup served in a massive bowl with rice noodles, beef broth, thinly sliced beef flank, mung bean sprouts, and tons of Sriracha and Hoisin sauce. If you've never tried it, I highly recommend you go out and find some! It will change your life.
Q: Any words of encouragement for aspiring artists and leaders out there?
First and foremost, be You! Don't try and be what you think people want you to be, only you can be your best self. Also remember where you come from and how far you've come. This is how you stay rooted, focused, and grateful for where you are. Never take life for granted, because every day is a gift. Choose happiness, everyday. This may sound simple and cliche, but I truly mean it. Those days when everything seems to be going wrong, you have to consciously remind yourself how beautiful life is and how lucky we are to be able to stand up on our own 2 feet and go out into the world to fight and push for our dream. Finally, lead with love. In all that you do, make sure it is rooted in love first. The world needs more love and it starts by a simple choice of smiling at a stranger or forgiving a friend. Lead with love, 2017! LEAD WITH LOVE!