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Dream Hustlers: 10 Questions with Kilusan Bautista

Each month we sit down with a person who has recently plunged into entrepreneurship, to hear their remarkable story and gain insight on their day-to-day, what it takes to make dreams come true and the zen habits that keep them grounded.


Photo credit: Chauncy Velasco

Kilusan Bautista, performer, poet and playwright created a multi-media theater production and arts education movement, Universal Self. Using his life story as a first generation Filipino American raised in the heart of the Bay Area as a backdrop, Universal Self uses performance, animation, poetry and martial arts to communicate healing, empowerment and the interconnectedness of hip hop culture with indigenous Filipino cultural expressions. Here’s what Kilusan has to say about Universal Self.

1. How do you describe Universal Self?
Universal Self is a movement that encompasses a multi-media theatrical production and arts-based workshop series. The one-man production is the story of my life and how hip hop and being a first generation American shaped the man I am today. It’s a reflective piece that encourages the audience stop and think about their lives and how to process the life lessons. I encourage the same dialogue through poetry and acting with students in NYC public schools. We live in such a fast-paced society in which people are not pausing. We keep moving until there is an outburst or until there is a breaking point, one that unfortunately has negative consequences. I use Universal Self as a movement to get people to pause, think, learn and educate themselves on strategies they can use to process their lives before it’s too late.

2. How long have you been working to bring Universal Self to the people?
Since 2005. I had the shell of a script in 2005, but it didn’t become a priority until early 2010 because of personal reasons. That year I finished the script and work-shopped it. It took about six months of working with a theater director and three choreographers to get it up on its feet. In December of 2010 I lost my job and committed to Universal Self fulltime.

3. How many hours a week would you say you devoted to Universal Self during those initial 6 months?
I was so driven that I put goals, dates and deadlines for the production in place. I had to produce. At the time I was also working as a full time teacher. After work I would rehearse until midnight, three days a week. On the other days I would condition in the gym or take classes. Within that six-month period I didn’t sleep for more than 3-4 hours a night. I was also single (laughs)!

4. How many hours do you dedicate to Universal Self now?

Photo credit: Chauncy Velasco

It’s a full time job. The production is artistically developed, so most of my work is on marketing and business development. I work 60-70 hours a week on finding investors, working with new collaborators and outreach. Because I don’t have a team and am still developing my name, I have to do open mics, network and present my work in a variety of settings. Keeping track of time is an issue for me. I’ve gotten to a point where I have to write down everything I’ve done, so that I am aware of my progress. There’s always a voice in my head that says “I’m not doing enough,” so writing it down is proof that I’ve been productive.

5. Tell us of a time when you realized what kind of stock you were made of?
When I first started touring, I got booked for a $100 gig at a university and had to decide if I was going to take it. The student group organizing the presentation wanted to do a cultural exchange, but didn’t really have the budget. I had to negotiate, albeit unsuccessfully, for my cab fare! I knew I was worth more than $100, but because I was hungry and because I was aligned with their mission, I accepted the terms. But it taught me a lot about defining my worth and taking into consideration the intangible benefits of a potential opportunity.

6. Any regrets?
The only regret I have is not doing it sooner, but I feel like everything happens in its right time. When I was 19, I was already touring nationally with poetry, but I didn’t know how to speak to the public and the press. I was very insecure and I crumbled. The experiences I’ve had serving other people through my non-profit work and teaching has helped shape who I am today. I know who I am now, but that regret is still very real because I feel like I had a lot of opportunity in my 20s that I didn’t take full advantage of.

7. How do you define success?
In a very cliché way: waking up and loving what you do and being able to affect people with what you love to do.

8. Would you say you’re successful?
(Laughs) I laugh because my father would say “What? Let me see bank statements.” No I wouldn’t say I’m successful yet because I’m working towards it. I still have some traditional ideas of success. I want to be able to do more and not be constrained by finances.

Photo credit: Chauncy Velasco

9. What are your zen habits that help keep you grounded?
Performing and working in the arts and education is a very spiritual process; if one isn’t careful you can become consumed within the energy that’s opened up and the people that one is exposed to. I knew I had to protect myself and around the same time that I made the plunge into Universal Self, I discovered Santeria. Its traditional African practices are very similar to the indigenous practices in the Philippines. There’s a practicality to Santeria that makes perfect sense to me, in that I have to do things beyond praying that are very relevant to working the Spirit to my advantage.

10. What advice can you give to fellow Dream Hustlers?

  • Know that it’s your purpose and that it’s a life long purpose. I like to surround myself with elders because they help me put things into perspective, a life perspective. It’s a longer picture than right now.
  • When you say yes to your dreams, the world and the universe start saying yes right back. There’s a degree of faith in all of this and we have to remain grounded in the spirit to see how things are aligning around us.
  • Once that door is open, it’s up to you to make it work. This is where the hustle comes in. Every opportunity and every door is important.

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