“So I thought it was pretty funny that they accepted me to do a speech,” he said with a laugh. “I was a different person then. They just went about it different ways back then. Now that I look back at it, I’m glad it didn’t go that way, because without that, I wouldn’t have gone to Libbey [High School] and I wouldn’t be who I am at this moment.”
The Libbey High School graduate has been living in Los Angeles the past four years working on stage and screen. Ponce came home for the holidays and wanted to give something back.
“I was nervous. I’ll be honest—I was more nervous than I am performing or working,” Ponce admitted. “The reason I say that is being myself I find it a bit more challenging than when I’m not being myself, working on stage or being in a short film.”
But the actor, who has some Nickelodeon shows among his TV credits, wanted to add a dose of reality to his take on the entertainment business, which he emphasized, in the end, is just that—a business. Ponce felt that was the most valuable advice he gave them to prepare—aside from acting as a craft and taking classes.
“I was nervous because I wanted to encourage them, not discourage them. I wanted to empower them and not steer them away from their dreams—yet at the same time, be as real as I can, let them know the reality of what I’m trying to do is difficult and there will be times when you struggle and times when you want to give up,” he said. “Those are the best times for growth—as an individual, as a human being—going through those trials.”
To that end, he encouraged students to never take rejection personally. He called acting “a profession” and that not being selected for a part in a play or a TV role, in the end, “is just business.”
“I feel I have a responsibility now to share, let others know that ‘Hey, you can do it, too.’ It’s not about what others think of you, it’s about what you think of yourself and what you want for yourself,” he explained. “Don’t let others influence you on what you want to do with yourself. I shared with them that I was a bit ashamed that I was an actor growing up.”
Ponce drew on his experiences at Libbey High School for that part of his presentation. He told the TSA students that growing up in the Old South End “that wasn’t the cool thing to do.” So he found it difficult to overcome and learn how to express himself in his own way and on his own terms.
“Going to Libbey, I didn’t have that many opportunities [to pursue acting], so I had to find other outlets—and through that, I was able to meet new people, do and experience different things—and be comfortable with saying I’m an actor,” Ponce said. “That also made me comfortable with opening up to the people I grew up with to say that I’m an actor. That’s what I want to do. I don’t want to go outside and play football. I want to get up on stage and work on other things.”
Ponce encouraged the kids to be themselves, especially since they have an outlet like TSA to pursue their artistic interests. The 24-year old actor warned that society itself may be the biggest stumbling block to pursuing their lifelong dreams.
“I feel I have a responsibility now to share my story and inspire others,” he said. “You don’t have to be whatever this image is that society creates for kids, that you can’t do this because of where you grew up or where you’re from, you didn’t come from privilege or this school or you grew up on the East side, so you can’t go there. None of that matters.”
Ponce admitted he’s earned enough screen and stage work to where he is able to pursue his acting career full-time and not rely so much on print modeling or commercial work anymore to make ends meet.
“It’s getting easier and harder at the same time,” he said with a laugh. “I’m able to speak up and let my voice be heard and make my own moves and market myself better, with more confidence and less self-conscious. But I’m getting to a point where I’m testing the waters and competing with people who are working consistently. I’m in the pool now.”
Ponce admitted that if there’s an analogy that people can relate to, his acting career has reached a point that’s equivalent to a minor-league baseball player moving up to the big leagues—where the competition is tougher, the talent is better, and everyone else has more experience.
“I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m trying to stamp my name on this city and on this industry,” he said.
While Ponce is still auditioning for roles, he is starting to get casting calls for small parts from people he’s met or have seen his work, including Nickelodeon. He recently had a role in a movie that was featured in the Los Angeles International Film Festival.
“It was shown at the El Capitán Theatre, which is right across the street from the Chinese Theater, right in the heart of the [Hollywood] Strip. That was a great experience, because that was my first red carpet,” he said. “That was the second time seeing my work on the big screen. There were so many people there.”
In the process, Ponce has met more experienced actors, such as Edward James Olmos.
“I do respect what he has done for Latinos and the direction he has taken his career as a man and as an actor,” he said. “I respect him for that.”
Ponce most recently finished a role in an original play called “Handball,” which was written by a New York-based playwright initially as a screenplay. The play had a six-week run in Hollywood and will be featured in New York City this summer for a theater festival called Summer Stage. It will be his first professional acting job in the Big Apple.
“It’s a cool thing to know that once it’s published, my name will be stamped on that play forever,” he said. Ponce, to date, has now had parts in three Hollywood stage plays.
The major TV networks are about to cast roles in pilot shows that may be picked up for the 2014 fall season. Ponce is hoping to land at least a small character that could lead to regular TV work when he heads back to Los Angeles in the New Year.
His mom arranged the TSA visit through a Buckeye Cablesystem program. Ponce hopes to one day speak to drama students at Toledo Public Schools to further his desire to give back to high school students.