star secrets

‘West Side Story’ star Yurel Echezaretta shares his secrets to looking great

 

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This post is part of a series of Queerty conversations with models, trainers, dancers, and, well, people who inspire us to stay in shape–or just sit on the couch ogling them instead. With this profile, we recognize Yurel Echezaretta, star of the shows Head Over Heels now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse through December 12, and the new film West Side Story opening in cinemas December 10.

Name: Yurel Echezaretta, 33

City: Los Angeles, CA. Spent 12 years in NYC. Born in Miami.

Occupation: Actor, Singer, Dancer.

Favorite Gym: Any Crossfit Gym…I’m obsessed with the total body workout. Love feeling pumped and sore afterward. The next gym I’ll be trying is BRICK in West Hollywood.

Favorite Work Out Song: I love me some Ariana Grande… probably “Break Free” because the build-up and belting are so good… it gets me fired up and feeling my queer muscle fantasy.

Recommended Work-Out Foods: I love having a banana beforehand to start to help with staving off cramps. And also something with substance like a sandwich. But in a pinch, I’ll pop in a couple of protein bars and save most of the calories for after the workout.

Best Workout Outfit: I always do an above-the-knee sweat-resistant short, and a breathable racerback tank top. Although if the gym is cool with it, I love working out topless. I’m such a naturalist. It turns on my primal side and gets me working out harder.

 

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How do you balance staying in shape and having fun?

Staying in shape is fun for me. But it’s not all about going to the gym. I love being active outdoors and playing sports as a fun cross-training tool. I love hiking and mountain climbing too. So it’s all connected and fun for me.

What about as a performer? What special considerations do you have to make to take care of yourself?

Well, when it comes to acting, I have to consider the role I am taking on… and what kind of physique they have. Sometimes, it’s quite appropriate to be leaner and not as cut. Other times, I have to bulk up. In terms of singing, I have to be careful not to be too strenuous in my activities as to not strain a neck muscle that can affect my singing. As well as being very vigilant on my hydration and the quality of air I am breathing. And for dance, I just have to be sure to be stretching out my body after working out. Remaining flexible is key.

You play a variety of characters in Head over Heels, some very masculine, others very feminine. You’re also very scantily clad throughout. How do you, as a performer, avoid feeling self-conscious about members of the audience judging you?

I feel very safe expressing myself in every way in our show. The patrons are coming in and visiting our world. This is for them to broaden their horizons and be exposed to new types of human expression that they may not surround themselves with.. so I feel empowered to proudly shine my light on them. If they don’t like it, they can always leave, but more often than not, they have a great time, and I can even feel audience members getting little crushes sometimes. It’s really cute. I love making friends with them every night.

 

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You’re also appearing in the new version of West Side Story. That show and the original movie are very special to the singer/actor/dancers that I know, particularly those who are of Latino descent, like you. Tell me about the responsibility in that. Does that add to the stress of performing?

To represent my Latino community in such a high-profile project is an honor and privilege. I don’t take it lightly. And I am confident that myself and my fellow actors have done our community proud. Our main responsibility is to just reach back into our family history and share the nuances that we grew up in. Hand gestures, vocal inflections, el sazón (the flavor) of our Latin magic. However, being raised in Cuban culture, I did have to learn the dialect shift and expressions of Puerto Rican culture. I remember being very respectful of the distinctions.

Related: Celebrity trainer Raneir Pollard on staying fit through virtual reality

Do you find yourself preparing differently—mentally, emotionally, physically—for a film dance number, as opposed to a stage performance?

They are completely different beasts. For stage, you start the show, and around two hours later it is done. It is a completely different stamina. For film, I found myself needing to focus in on my energy expenditure because you never know how many times they will want to reshoot a certain section. You are not doing the whole number, but you could repeat the same section to the point that you have done more than what the whole number would require. Or you can be done in one take! You just never know. And because there is no instant audience feedback to the performance, there is a certain amount of innate trust you have to have to the performance you are bringing to the camera. That is a really nice perk of theatre, you not only feed off of the audience’s energy, but you also know immediately how they feel about it.

How does a director like Steven Spielberg prepare you for a scene? What mood does he create on a set? How does he coach you as a performer?

Steven’s energy is infectious. He’s like a kid doing what he loves. With such curiosity and openness. He would invite us under the director’s tent to watch playback and share with us the bits he found most exciting. Any time he needed to give us direction, he would approach us calmly and focused and share what exactly he needed from us… where the camera would be positioned, where he needed us to throw our focus, but he would trust us to bring our own interpretation and essence to the performance. He guided with an open palm. And between takes, he would hang with us and share stories. It was a very safe and welcoming set, and that only allows for better performance.

 

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How does being a song and dance man prepare you for everyday life? What kind of physical, mental or emotional strength does it give you?

It really prepares me on how to deal with other people and scenarios in a graceful and open way. For me it allows me to bring people joy and positivity easier, and I hold compassion for others more. I feel like I am more readily tapped into the spirit because genuine performance comes from there, so I am always ready to engage with the pure spirit of others in return. I think it brings out a vulnerable and authentic connection with the people around me.

Tell me about aging. Obviously, as a performer, your body is your instrument, and you’re in a very demanding profession. How do you take care of it to ensure you’re able to perform as you get older?

The roller is my friend. Making sure that I am stretching and loosening my muscles after working them out. Cooling down my voice, my body, and my spirit after a performance. Finding my center in whatever way that means. Meditation is key. Hydration. Having a healthy mental perspective I think filters into all things of the body. Self-care and a mindfulness practice I think set things up in a way to operate seamlessly and smoothly. And rest rest rest. Recovery is essential. Taking vacations, visiting family. Just having a balanced life in general. The happier I am, the better I will feel, the better my performance will be.

Basic tip for staying in shape that anyone can follow:

Adding just a little to your daily routine can offer long-term benefits. Setting a new habit to incorporate more exercise in your day can be a powerful tool. Like, anytime you exit your bathroom, drop and do 10-pushups. Or as soon as your feet touch the ground in the morning, you get on the ground and do 20 crunches. Anytime there is a commercial, go into a downward dog. After a while, you will see and feel the positive change in your body and mind and it didn’t require you to even hit the gym.

What do you keep on your nightstand?

A succulent plant that I love. And my lamp. I keep it simple. I try to maintain my room simplistic and clean as often as possible. My desk on the other hand… a dish mosh of mail, books, and gluten-free Oreo cookies. [Laughter]

Bonus Pics: 

 

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