Canadian actor, YouTuber and domestic god Rajiv Surendra

He spoke to homestyle editor Alice Lines ahead of Semi Permanent — the festival of creativity and design, a must-see in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington from November 8 to 10.

So Rajiv, for those who haven’t been immersed in the domestic arts/creative corner of YouTube you occupy, what’s your elevator pitch? It’s Martha Stewart meets Mister Rogers — half how-to, half motivational therapy.

Not only that, and as well as being an actor and author, you’re a potter and a painter… have you always been interested in making things by hand? Yes. Both my parents were creative and adept and making things from scratch. I vividly remember making a sort of playdough with my mom and sister when I was about two years old.

It’s a bit of a pivot from playing Kevin Gnapoor in Mean Girls to documenting your craft and homemaking pursuits on YouTube — what was the path that led you here? The path was fairly unconventional, but not unexpected. I had a knack for performing and public speaking, and also for escaping into a quiet world alone, making things with my hands. It seems like it was inevitable that the two pursuits would eventually meet each other.

For good measure, you have a calligraphy business in the mix as well — what drew you to that? I came across a bunch of handwritten correspondence from the 19th century when I was around 12 years old. The script was so stunningly beautiful, it inspired me to try to attempt writing in that manner. That slowly led to being able to write proficiently in calligraphy, which turned into a business when I graduated from college and needed to find a job. Someone in the wedding industry saw my writing and enthusiastically insisted that I start a small business, convinced I’d be employed full-time.

I find my best ideas come by handwriting versus tapping away on a keyboard. There must be something in that with calligraphy too — the connection between hand and mind. Absolutely. Physically forming the letters that make up the words has scientifically been linked to the ability to string thoughts together.

How do you fit it all in? Is there such a thing as a ‘regular’ day? I spend as little time as possible on my phone and computer. I’m allergic to technology and wish I didn’t have to own a phone.

Given your work is so varied, what rituals and routines keep you grounded? I’m a creature of habit. I love doing yoga, meditating, going to the gym, reading and writing in my journal — all things that are ritualistic to me.

Working as a shelter magazine editor is sort of a similar role to sharing the sort of content that you create, and there’s no way I could make it work without the help of my three teammates. How about you, how many people are on team Rajiv? My team is small, about five other people. But I’m very grateful that the others involved believe in me and the work we’re putting out into the world.

Although the topic is handmade, how do you find the tech side of your work? I don’t do much of the tech side, so I’m grateful for the other people in our team that handle that.

Social media can be a bit of a drag but is a necessary tool — how do you balance the pros and cons of it? I treat it as a job. I try to have fun with it and see it as exactly that, a tool. I limit my time to scrolling to just a few minutes every day — no more.

How have you used YouTube in particular to share your message? I spent over 15 years developing and pitching an idea for a television show to networks all over the US and Canada. With multiple iterations of the show getting picked up and developed, I learned that my creative vision would need to be somewhat compromised to fit the demands of the television business. YouTube has become a means of sharing my creative vision with an audience without any compromise at all, and that’s thrilling! I can make exactly what I want and be in complete creative control.

What do you hope people get out of the content you create? I’d love for my videos to help people see that the key to a fulfilling life is actually much simpler than they might assume, and that they have the power to make their lives richer on a day-to-day basis.

Are you the sort of person who lives in the moment or is always thinking about the next project? One of the ways I’ve learned to live a life that’s extremely rewarding is by just living each day as it comes and not focusing too much on the distant future. I think about today, tomorrow and maybe next week, not really dedicating too much brain space for long-term plans.

You’re coming to Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington to speak at Semi Permanent in early November — have you ever travelled to Aotearoa before? Yes! In 2001, I entered the Wearable Art Awards with a porcelain dress I made. It won a prize, so I travelled to Nelson to see my creation on stage.

Are there any speakers you’re particularly looking forward to hearing at the festival? I like being surprised and walking into a movie or speech not knowing a backstory. I’m looking forward to hearing as many other speakers as possible while I’m there.

Is finding out about local crafts something that you schedule in when you’re travelling? Yes!

What are you interested in learning more about while you’re here? If possible, I’d love to see Māori carving techniques on jade.

What home comforts can you not do without when you’re on the road? I don’t need very much to travel — I’ve actually just filmed a video about travelling light. I can make do with the clothes on my back and being resourceful when I reach my destination.

Interview Alice Lines

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