When you hear Nadia Guevara describe herself as “a hippie to the core,” and talk of how her “entire adult life has been a series of happy accidents,” you might be tempted to conclude this ebullient San Diego theater artist is kind of the flighty type.
Do not make that mistake.
Yes, Guevara is a free spirit and then some — but her passion for performing and teaching, along with her determination to push for greater inclusivity in the arts, are making her a fierce force to be reckoned with on the local stage scene.
Last July, Guevara was named associate artistic director of New Village Arts Theatre, becoming one of very few women of color in a top leadership position at a local theater.
She also was hand-picked to head Teatro Pueblo Nuevo, the Carlsbad company’s outreach initiative to the Latinx community, and directed that program’s first show — a bilingual riff on the Cinderella story — as well as starring in its first mainstage production, José Rivera’s arresting “Cloud Tectonics.”
And now, besides helping shepherd NVA’s “Men on Boats” and its all-women cast, she’ll be appearing at Cygnet Theatre in the world premiere of Nathan Alan Davis’ “The Wind and the Breeze.”
That work, developed in part through Cygnet’s Finish Line Commission program, centers on a young rap emcee in Rockford, Ill., and explores the “unspoken expectations of friendship and what happens when we choose to stand our ground on shifting sands.”
All of Guevara’s cast mates in the play are African-American, and Guevara herself identifies as Afro-Latina; she grew up in a music- and dance-filled Washington, D.C., household as the daughter of a Panamanian dad and a mom from Puerto Rico.
In certain ways, Guevara says, her own life dovetails with her role in “Wind,” which she calls “a beautiful and nuanced story.”
“My character Anna is very much the odd girl out — she’s new in town, she lives out of her car, sort of searching for meaning, and trying to find her identity as a singer-songwriter.”
Guevara was struggling financially as a college student in Virginia about a decade ago when one day, “very impulsively and randomly,” she packed a bag and headed to California, where she never had been before.
Things took a while to jell here; Guevara was scooping ice cream at a shop in Oceanside when (on another whim) she auditioned for and landed her first role at Carlsbad Community Theatre, despite having scant acting experience.
In 2010, NVA co-founder and executive artistic director Kristianne Kurner cast her in a production of Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke,” and became a key mentor: “She met me when I was a little theater fetus,” as Guevara puts it.
Acting eventually led to work as an artistic emissary in schools and on behalf of institutions including La Jolla Playhouse, which proved life-changing.
“I do theater and I perform, but at my core I’m also a teaching artist, and that is equally important to me,” Guevara says. “Art is not necessarily about me being out there, as long as I’m part of what’s being put out there.”
A highlight has been her work at NVA last summer on a production of “The Little Prince” with a cast of special-needs actors, through the theater’s “Monday Night Live” program: “I think ‘The Little Prince’ was one of the most artistically fulfilling moments of my entire life.”
And for Guevara, traveling into new artistic territory with a work like “The Wind and the Breeze” is the best kind of creative liberation.
“The ground floor is my favorite place to be, because we’re creating an entire universe that no one’s ever seen,” she says.
“It gives us permission to be so much more free.”
“The Wind and the Breeze”
When: Previews begin May 16. Opens May 20. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through June 10.
Where: Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town.
Tickets: About $26-$59
Phone: (619) 337-1525