BEFORE SHE BECAME director of original series at Netflix — back when Netflix was still an online DVD rental store — Carolina Garcia was a Thespian in Claremont High School’s Troupe 2129, devoted to both musical theatre and dance.

Carolina Garcia

Carolina Garcia

“I have to give a shoutout to my theatre teacher, Krista Carson Elhai,” Garcia said. “She was a game changer. She created a community, a home, and at the same time demanded excellence from all of us. My best friends to this day are from my time in theatre.”

During her high school Thespian days, Garcia played Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, Nickie in Sweet Charity, a featured dancer in Evita and Hello, Dolly!, and Grace in Annie, to name a few roles. Garcia assumed she’d pursue theatre professionally. “But when it came time to pick a path,” she said, “I surprised myself and chose to study business and political science — two things I had zero knowledge of. I figured why not try something new and eventually marry the two?”

Born in San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina, and bilingual from a young age, Garcia deftly navigates different cultures and modalities: Spanish and English (later also French, Italian, and German). Musical theatre and classical ballet. Show business and executive leadership.

While earning her business degree at the University of San Diego, Garcia interned at 20th Century Fox, which led to her first full-time job as executive assistant for then-CEO Dana Walden (now chair of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment). Garcia remained at Fox for nearly a decade before joining the nascent young adult programming team at Netflix.

In November 2019, Hollywood Reporter named Garcia to its annual “Top 35 Executives Under 35” list of young execs leading “a seismic change” and poised to take the industry into the future. In July 2020, she began a four-year term on the Educational Theatre Association’s board of directors, helping to guide the future of EdTA and the International Thespian Society.

Meanwhile, Garcia made her musical theatre comeback and now performs regularly at The Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz Village, California. She also dances whenever she can. Before the pandemic, she took classes almost every day at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles.

For Garcia, being a Thespian “absolutely prepared me for my career. It taught me how to be part of a team, and it taught me the value of supporting and rooting for each other. 

“Theatre people are a special kind of tribe,” Garcia continued, and we operate on the basis of acceptance and inclusion, two things that are critical in the workplace. It provided a safe space to be who I am — a judgement-free zone, and that’s how we all thrive.”

In high school, Garcia danced in shows including Oklahoma, Sweet Charity, and Annie.
In high school, Garcia danced in shows including Oklahoma!, Sweet Charity, and Annie. Photo courtesy of Carolina Garcia.

What is a typical day like for the director of original series at Netflix?
The beauty is that every day is different. On a weekly basis, I’m taking pitches, reading scripts for current series, reading books and scripts that could be interesting to develop, watching cuts and giving feedback to our showrunners and producers, weighing in on casting decisions, going to table reads, meeting new and emerging voices, and spending time with our creators, whether on set or in pre- or postproduction. COVID has impacted my job in that I’m not currently traveling to sets, and I’m taking all meetings from home. Naturally, I miss the in-person human connections, but that will come with time.

I currently have several shows in development that I’m excited to share with audiences around the world. I also have lots of shows in various stages of production, including Stranger ThingsRaising DionDash & Lily, and Atypical, to name a few.

What was it like working so closely with Dana Walden, one of the most powerful women in American entertainment?
My foundational knowledge of the entertainment business came from Dana — and for that, I am so grateful. It would be impossible to describe all the things I learned, but one of the most important lessons was how to focus and be in the moment. So many women are mothers, wives, and run companies — and you must show up 100% for all those jobs. Being where your feet are, in the midst of all the things on your to-do list, is critical to being an effective leader.

Why and how did you make the transition to Netflix?
Curiosity is what led me. I had been at 20th Century Fox for almost nine years, and I loved it. But I also knew that it was time for me to challenge myself and try something new, otherwise I’d never grow. Netflix was just getting started in creating original series when I stumbled upon their culture deck online. I was so curious about how the company worked that I sought an informational coffee with (my now-boss) Brian Wright. He was just starting the young adult/family programming initiative, and I became one of the founding members of that content team.

Do you still dabble in musical theatre?
Yes! I stopped performing when I got to college, but as the years went on, I noticed that little voice inside — the one that said, “Yo, girl. Why’d you stop singing?” — kept getting louder. Honestly, I was scared to admit that because I wanted to be taken seriously in my job. It was an either/or at the time.

The day finally came when I realized that leaning into who I am was going to make me a better executive and a better human. I couldn’t show up fully to my job if I wasn’t fully myself. I acknowledged that life is short and made the decision to start performing. And after a 15-year hiatus, I took the stage once again.

Prior to the pandemic, Carolina Garcia regularly performed at The Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz, California.
Prior to the pandemic, Carolina Garcia regularly performed at The Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz, California. Photo courtesy of Carolina Garcia.

I started performing at these “Broadway Bar” nights at The Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz and eventually worked my way up to having my own show. I put on “An Evening of Song with Carolina & the Singers of Soul,” and the shows were sold out. Before COVID, I was performing at Rockwell about once a month. My dear friend Dedrick Bonner runs a gospel choir, Singers of Soul, and they back me up. And by “back me up,” I mean bring the house down with their incredible magnitude of talent.

My first “solo” show was terrifying. Tickets were sold out before I knew what I was going to sing. My only goal was to make sure people left the show feeling better than when they walked in, and I think we did that.

What advice would you give current high school Thespians?
Follow your curiosity. And, if you are able, continue your education. Use this precious time to be a sponge and absorb all the things that spark joy and interest you. Remember that your first job out of school won’t necessarily be the end all, be all. And, of course, wherever you are, do your best and be kind to everyone. You never know where life will take you.

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