Through curiosity, hard work and encouragement from her hometown of Waukesha, including the Waukesha Civic Theatre, Carmen De La Paz has made a dream come true on her way to becoming an international TV personality.
Carmen will return to Waukesha for a very special night of song and story telling about her Waukesha roots, beginning at 8 p.m. on Nov. 17 at the Waukesha Civic Theatre.
Carmen grew up one block away from the old Waukesha Civic Theatre located at 506 N Washington Ave. As a seventh-grader at Butler Middle School, she heard that the theater was looking for young kids to play in "Christmas on Angel Street" and was chosen for the cast. From that point on, Carmen and the stage were inseparable.
"Once I knew there was a possibility of the dream, I had to do everything I could to find out what that is and get ready."
She spent the following years learning everything she could about theater - from acting to how the lights and sound worked.
"I really took it seriously, even as a kid."
Her love for the stage was encouraged by Larry Nelson, a former Butler Middle School language arts teacher, former City of Waukesha Mayor and current Waukesha Civic Theatre board member. It was over coffee last year that Nelson and Carmen discussed the idea to bring Carmen's show to Waukesha.
"I can remember that Carmen, as a teenager, was already self confident, self assured," said Nelson, adding that she is very enthusiastic and charismatic. "I can't think of too many people that are a talented singer, a talented actor, as well as an artisan."
One woman show
The one woman show, written and performed by Carmen, will feature a mix of story and song recalling her life and crazy adventures as a Puerto Rican growing up in Waukesha.
She recalls checking the TV section of the newspaper for musicals when she was a kid growing up in Waukesha. "I would sit there and highlight it with red and yellow markers which musicals were on that week. I would plan my schedule to watch (those programs)."
Carmen's parents were fine with her watching the late night musicals, just as long as she got up to go to school the next morning. "My life is reflected in that." Carmen can tell you about a period of her life based on the songs and musicals she liked at the time. For example, her memories of seventh and eighth grade are filled with the music of "West Side Story."
Carmen will sing a variety of musical numbers including hits from "West Side Story," "A Chorus Line" and "Les Miserables," as well as disco, Spanish and romantic songs during her Waukesha Civic Theatre show. She has promised a little surprise for audience members at the end of the show as well.
"It's amazing to come back home and do this," said Carmen. She said it is wonderful to be able to share her voice since her popularity is focused on TV shows and power tools.
"People forget that I started (with) singing and dancing." Carmen's musical talent has taken her all the way to Broadway. She made her Broadway debut at New York City Lincoln Center's production of "In the Summer House" starring Dianne Wiest, Liev Schreiber and Frances Conroy.
"My parents are a huge driving force for me. My dad passed but still is very much part of who I am today," said Carmen. Her mom - also named Carmen - is Carmen's biggest fan and often travels with her.
"I'm just so grateful to have had the parents I have. I'm so thankful to Waukesha and to my parents for who I am today." She always remembers her dad's only rule: don't quit.
Carmen plans to take the show she performs in Waukesha on an international tour, allowing her to tell her story and honor the influences of the community that she calls home.
Carmen is perhaps best known for her carpentry and design skills on six seasons of "Hammer Heads." In "All American Handyman with Mike Holmes, Showdown," Carmen was featured for two seasons as the only female carpenter to compete in the show. She was also featured in "250K Challenge," "25 Worst Landscaping Techniques," "25 Worst Renovation Mistakes," and "Home for the Holidays." Last fall, Carmen made a special appearance as a celebrity carpenter on "Design Star," where she helped the cast win their challenge in the semifinal round. "Design Star" is Carmen's 10th production with HGTV.
Carmen has just finished production for several new television projects - including her own show - "Be Handy con Carmen." As creator, producer and host, Carmen brings a female perspective to home improvement, power tools, design and do-it-yourself projects. The show premiered November 2011 on FOX International's new Spanish language channel UTILISIMA!
"Be Handy con Carmen" airs in 17 countries. Carmen can also be seen in the second season of the highly successful Spanish language talk show "Hola Martin - Estilo de Vida," also on UTILISIMA!
She will be the first Latina woman to be featured on the cover of Country Woman Magazine next February/March.
Carmen was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is a Waukesha North graduate and an alumnus of Syracuse University and has a BFA in music theater. In addition to singing, she plays nine instruments and loves to dance. For more information about the show, visit www.waukeshacivictheatre.org or call (262) 547-0708. For more information on Carmen, visit www.carmendelapaz.com.
If you go
What: An Evening of Song with Carmen De La Paz
Where: Waukesha Civic Theatre, 264 Main St. in Waukesha
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17
Cost: $50 per person. Proceeds will benefit the theater
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