This phenomenal aspiring actress shows her fiery, raw passion for the dramatic arts in many ways. Whether it be fifteen second lip-syncing TikToks that she partakes in for fun, or full-fledged productions of Shakespeare at her school, she’s able to showcase how her outgoing personality can translate into her style of acting.
Kimani Culbreath, a 15-year old biracial teen, is a star in the making. She longs for the day she lands her most coveted roles, such as X-Men’s Storm or Spider-Gwen, and can walk down Hollywood Boulevard to see her name engraved in one of those shiny pink stars. The City of Angels isn’t just a glamorous, avocado-toast and Soul Cycle filled scene, it’s her drive, her dream, and her destiny.
They Called Her Eleven
Kimani Culbreath is a fifteen year old actress that attend High Tech High School. When she isn’t focusing on acting, she also partakes in choreographing her own dances, writing scripts, and coming up with concepts for films.
When Kimani was younger, she was captivated by the shiny world of the small screen. She would constantly watch television, and whenever it came to commercial, she’d repeat the last line given in the show before going on break. Kimani would deliver it with her own personal tweaks, displaying her bubbly, sassy personality with every imitation.
It came naturally to her, like lightning to the tallest tree, and her world was turned upside down when her music elective in eighth grade was replaced with drama.
This shift in courses occurred while Kimani began to fall in love with shows like Stranger Things and The Vampire Diaries, which she considers as her biggest inspirations to this day. For the drama elective, she received an assignment in which she could choose any scene to act out. Kimani selected one from season two of Stranger Things, the hit sci-fi Netflix Original series. The context of the scene included Eleven, the show’s protagonist, and Jim Hopper, a police chief, having an intense verbal fight. When she performed, the entire class was in awe. People started nicknaming her ‘Eleven’ after that. Inspired, she decided to act out the scene for her father, and after recognizing her pure, natural talent, he started crying, and encouraged Kimani to audition for High Tech’s Drama Program.
And so, Eleven did.
The Nerve-Wracking Audition Process
Kimani stepped into High Tech’s old North Bergen Campus in January of 2018 for her audition. She felt intimidated by the hundreds of kids that had been taking acting classes their entire lives and doing spectacular plays, when she hadn’t even set foot in a major production. The spots for the Drama program in High Tech’s Arts Academy was increasingly limited, only nine people making it in. Motivated by the late Cameron Boyce, who Kimani admired for his pure, entertaining, and beautiful soul, and actors like Zendaya, Finn Wolfhard, and Will Smith, she was able to pull through.
She remembered the audition to be stressful, but also an incredible learning experience. Kimani was to present her monologue piece to the instructor and two other seniors. It went smoothly, at least, for the first three lines. The teacher, Mrs. Arters, immediately said ‘stop’, and Kimani could feel panic coursing through her at a hundred miles a minute.
“Now I want you to do it in a SpongeBob voice,” Mrs. Arter said. “You’re very good at delivering the angry role, but I want to see your goofy side.” Kimani didn’t know how to do a SpongeBob voice, and it definitely was a challenge – but it pushed her out of her comfort zone, while at the same time letting her be silly and fun. Her drama teacher saw something special, and even with all of the obstacles, Kimani was accepted into the Drama Program later that year.
A Look Inside a Drama Major’s Day
A High Tech drama major’s regular school day involves having different objectives and exercises they need to tackle for the week. At times, they would focus on specific acting techniques, and then do celebrity impressions to enhance one’s ability to pick up different mannerisms.
On days nearing shows and productions, they would have ‘blackout days’, where they would be excused from class and spend the entire day in the blackbox theater. The drama majors would come to school on weekends, and put in hours of rehearsal and hard work — but it was worth it in the end, because their passion for acting triumphed above it all.
Kimani has so much love and support for her drama family. She enjoys how she can laugh and be crazy with them, how they “get one another”.
She learns from her talented peers with every passing day, and hopes they learn from her too. Whenever they’re upset, angry, or just generally emotional, Kimani embraces their mannerisms to incorporate a sense of reality in her acting. The Drama community gets to see a side of each other that people don’t normally see, they tell stories that have never one left their mouths, and support each other through thick and thin, through rain or shine, through everything.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Kimani’s first production at High Tech was A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare, which premiered May 16-18 in 2019. Kimani played the role of Peter Quince, one of the mechanicals. The audition process involved choosing a monologue for any character. Coincidentally, Kimani selected a script for every single one – except for Peter Quince.
She wasn’t entirely familiar with the character, but she was so grateful because he was a part of the mechanicals, the comedic relief of the show. She had a blast performing and grew so close to her cast mates. During the bows, when she was dancing and smiling and laughing on the floor of the Black Box Theatre, she realized – she was finally home.
A Woman of Action
Kimani’s dream roles include Spider-Gwen and Storm from the X-Men Franchise. She has a strong adoration for the action genre of film and TV, but also would love to star in a romance movie. She longs to even land a role in her beloved Stranger Things, the show that led her to where she is today. She even takes interest in thriller roles, such as assassins, psychos, similar to the Joker. Overall, though, superheroes, action, and rom-coms are her aspirations.
When Marvel’s Black Panther was released, the hit movie that celebrated African culture and even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Kimani was filled with excitement. It was extraordinary, showing the brilliance of black people while also telling a riveting superhero origin story. She walked out of the theater feeling empowered.
Kimani is mixed, she is half black and half white, and encounters something called lightskin privilege. Kimani notices how Hollywood tends to cast lightskin black actors in roles meant for darkskins and get away with it. She loves being African American, but at times she hurts, since her lighter skin tone can make her feel detached from the community. Kimani also discusses how lightskin women are automatically assumed as beautiful, and recognizes the beauty darker women hold, yearning for the world to embrace them.
When it comes to female and POC representation in Hollywood, she thinks it’s about time. Black women, along with women that are Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, etc., are somewhat more prominent now, but it’s certainly not enough. Though we’re making progress, with Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite sweeping the 2020 Oscars, and culture-based movies like Coco, there’s so much more to do. Kimani recalls how she rarely saw herself growing up watching Disney Channel, and expresses her dislike for racial stereotypes, like the smart Asian, the sassy black or Latina girl, and more. As our generation becomes more aware and show more acknowledgement towards these issues, we grow closer and closer to change. She’s glad to see that these barriers are breaking slowly but surely. She wants to see these immensely diverse backgrounds to be plastered on hundred-foot murals, shouted from the rooftops, starring in the biggest blockbuster movies – and Kimani is going to be the change she wants to see in the world.