Primarily known in Fort Wayne for hisrole in the rock band Downstait, Sean Arata has spent the past few years making a name for himself in local theater.
He remembers himself as being a shy kid who didn’t speak until he was four years old.
“But my mom says I always made friends on the swing sets once I decided to speak,” he says, “so maybe I was less shy than I thought.”
Regardless, Arata believes that he and his sister Emily Arata Grillo inherited their parents’ musical genes.
“Mom is possibly the most shy person on the planet,” he says, “but when she does sing – once per decade, quietly, while alone, for maybe one bar of a song – she’s actually super good. Dad is a karaoke legend, so I think we got a mix from our parents.”
At an early age he found a creative outlet in music.
“I started playing drums and guitar in third grade,” he says, “and since I was never a coordinated athlete, instruments became my main hobby quickly.”
Emily was involved in theater while they were young, and when he was in seventh grade at Memorial Park, he followed in her footsteps by auditioning for the school production of Oklahoma!
“I sang a single verse of some cowboy song, stood there awkwardly for probably a whole minute while staring at our music director,” he recalls. He finally admitted that he had forgotten the rest of the song and sat back down. “I got cast as Will Parker, so I guess quality over quantity is a thing,” he says.
He still counts his sister as his main acting influence.
“Emily has helped me learn as many tricks as I can fit in my brain to not look like an idiot onstage,” he says. He has only performed in around a half dozen plays and musicals as an adult and feels fairly comfortable singing and acting.
“My troubles typically appear when they ask me to dance,” he admits. “Figuring out how to not trip over myself takes a lot of focused effort.”
Otherwise, he feels perfectly at home onstage, having spent countless hours performing with Downstait.
“It’s been really helpful for theater because I’ve been onstage so many times I can’t even count them,” he says. “It takes a lot of the fear of performance away and helps you read a crowd. The mental aspect of performing is huge, and it translates between the two mediums.”
Arata joined Downstait while still in high school, and the band has seen some success on the national level.
“Somehow we got mixed in with MTV and the WWE, and that’s helped us to continue putting out music for the last decade or so,” he says. “We’re still on TV with WWE weekly, and we’re in a Cricket Wireless commercial that’s currently airing. The Roots once played us on Jimmy Fallon, so it’s been an extremely strange ride that seems to be continuing as we’re currently writing new music.”
He took some time away from performing to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University and a law degree from the University of Oregon in Eugene.
“I didn’t study music or theater in college,” he says, “but I did drop out twice to go on tour, so I guess I studied music and performance quite a bit during my college years while not going.”
During his college years he made time to perform in a number of theatrical productions, including one at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, one at the IPFW black box theatre, and three at Arena Dinner Theatre. He also played bass for a few performances of Bat Boy at Arena two seasons ago. “I had to take a break during law school,” he says, “because I was swamped.”
He has chosen to concentrate all his theatrical efforts on Fort Wayne productions, even while in college.
“Eugene, Oregon, was more into weird performance art with bongos and spoken word poems than actual theater,” he says. “I don’t miss that aspect of Oregon.”
Arata is more interested in the more traditional type of theater – drawing from his own experience and observation when creating characters onstage.
“I start out by picturing a person I believe resembles the character, and then I base the shell of the character on them. The little intricacies of character interactions seem to come a little easier for me when I have a broad idea in mind from the get-go.”
The majority of the six roles the actor has played as an adult have been teenagers, including his current role of Peter Pan (“that guys who flies around and fights pirates”) in the Arena Dinner Theatre production of Peter and the Starcatcher.
“I’m not sure if it’s my personality or my face, but I’ve only played a person over the age of 20 on one occasion,” he says. “I’m not very good at acting like an adult in theater or in real life, I guess. I’m almost 30, playing a 13-year-old.”
Arata describes the show as “sort of a prequel to the Disney version [of Peter Pan] we all grew up watching.”
He says that despite his youthful appearance, the show has taken a bit of a physical toll on him.
“I get thrown to the ground a lot,” he says. “After the first few rehearsals, I came home battered and bruised. But I’m getting the hang of it and building callouses on my entire body. I’ll probably survive this production. I’m working through it with ibuprofen.”
Nevertheless, he says the experience “has been a blast. It’s just a big ol’ group of adults making pirate jokes at each other for several hours a day. That’s not something you get to be a part of often.”
He says that the cast is so packed with talent that “learning by watching everyone has been phenomenal. Except Joel Grillo,” he jokes. “That guy is the worst – and also my brother-in-law.”
He also has nothing but praise for the show’s director, Gloria Minnich.
“She’s great,” he says. “I’ve acted in two shows with her, so having her as a director has been a comfortable transition. She has such creative ideas for this show, and it’s been great to be a part of that process.”
As so many other Fort Wayne actors have experienced, the intimacy of the Arena stage adds an interesting flavor to a performance.
“You walk to the front of the stage, and you’re looking directly into the eyes of some person,” he says. “It’s kind of nice to be able to feel the demeanor of the room while you’re up there. Terrifying, but nice.”
Although he doesn’t have aspirations to making performance his career for the rest of his life, he is continuing to write music and perform with Downstait and has no plans for slowing down his theater participation. His eyes, however, are on a different prize.
“I get to start studying for the bar immediately after this show ends,” he says. “My career aspirations are to pass the bar on my first try and hopefully retire before I’m 90.”