When San Antonio content creator Hallease Narvaez says she’s “endeavoring to persevere as always,” she’s not kidding.
The 31-year-old YouTube producer lets nothing stand in her way, whether it’s being fired from her first production agency job, becoming homeless, or needing to raise $125,000 to complete all five episodes of “This Coulda Been an Email,” her YouTube comedy series on young Black women navigating corporate America.
Narvaez has been making videos since before she realized it was a potential career track, recording skits with middle school friends, then documenting life on Lackland Air Force Base with her military father. That led to her first on-base production job, which led her to the communication arts magnet school on the Taft High School campus, where she first realized her affinity for video work could turn into a professional career.
All that was before she burned the “marching band nerd” out of her system, about the only thing she hasn’t endeavored to persevere with. Narvaez studied saxophone and first chose Taft for its music program and marching band, even taking the drum major position leading the band.
This thing called YouTube
But the communication arts bug persisted, and she eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in radio-television-film from the University of Texas at Austin. During her time in school, she took advantage of the “UTLA” program, essentially a domestic version of study abroad where students can learn directly from television and film producers in Los Angeles, the nation’s entertainment media capital.
In L.A., Narvaez learned more than the standard media arts curriculum. “No shade to L.A., it’s great,” she said. “It’s cool to go now, when I’m not poor. But if you’re poor, it’s really sad.”
She also learned firsthand of some persistent limitations in the entertainment industry.
As a young Black woman, Narvaez said, “I just could not get access to the same opportunities in a traditional Hollywood setting because it is traditionally very white and very male. And it still is. You know, they’re working on it, but while we wait,” she said, YouTube offered a way to bypass the establishment.
“This thing called YouTube started existing,” she said, “where I could literally put a video on and 30,000 people got to see it.”
Narvaez is not exaggerating. Episode 1 of “This Coulda Been an Email” has so far garnered more than 35,000 views, and her YouTube channel is nearing 90,000 subscribers.
Getting there took some work.
Navigating the ups and downs
While in L.A. in 2011, Narvaez interned for Season 9 of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and a lesser-known show she described as “like ‘Judge Judy’ but not ‘Judge Judy.’”
Aside from the distress of being unable to afford to live in pricey Southern California, some good things happened. Her San Antonio boyfriend flew out to Los Angeles, and the two eloped. Christopher Narvaez joked that he was “just trying to give her a reason to come back to Texas,” but turned serious when he said that her leaving for a potential career in L.A. put him in a long-term mindset. “I just wanted to show my commitment, that I was there for the long haul.”
The two have been married for over a decade, and have helped each other navigate challenges, including losing their new house when the sale fell through in 2018. “My husband and I were actually technically displaced,” she said. “We were on the homeless spectrum.”
They ended up having to move in with their parents, but the setback only pushed Narvaez closer to her dreams.
“I realized at that moment,” she said, “‘Oh, you can do everything, quote-unquote ‘right,’ and in the traditional way, and still fail. So you might as well fail at something you want to do.”
Despite the lack of stability, she quit her agency job, started her creative production company Stumblewell Productions, and hasn’t looked back. Along with being the production home for the couple’s creative projects, the company produces videos for an array of clients.
When her husband burned out and quit his job as a registered nurse during the coronavirus pandemic, Narvaez encouraged him to follow his dreams as a writer. He is now finishing up and preparing to release Season 3 of his short fiction podcast How Does This End?
Such risk is counter to his own personality, he said, but his wife’s conviction and ability to see beyond the immediate horizon is what brings imagined ideas to fruition. “That’s the beauty of being with her,” he said. “That’s what she nurtures.”
Both sides of the camera
Narvaez brought her husband on as script supervisor for “This Coulda Been an Email,” though for the series trailer he was unexpectedly pulled into acting duties — as an employee fired from his job and escorted off the premises.
Engaging such spontaneity has been a hallmark of Narvaez’s career, according to Sara Robertson, senior vice president of production for Austin’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) affiliate KLRU-TV.
Robertson served as executive producer of “Say It Loud,” a 2019 web series on Black culture, context, and history made for PBS Digital Studios. Narvaez started as director of photography, producer and editor, until one of the show’s two co-hosts left mid-stream.
“We had to figure out how to fill that role,” Robertson said, “and Hallease suggested herself.”
Though she hadn’t tried out for a speaking role, Narvaez took on responsibilities on both sides of the camera. She and co-host Evelyn Ngugi had obvious onscreen chemistry while hosting Say It Loud, Robertson said, which remains evident in “This Coulda Been an Email,” with both women playing starring roles and writing episodes together.
Ngugi, a prominent YouTuber who goes by “Evelyn of the Internets,” plays the role of Vanessa, an Austin office worker who retains her self-esteem and sense of humor even as a clueless human resources manager commits repeated racial microaggressions. Narvaez plays Jolasun, a co-worker who overplays her kooky spirituality. “I am here to bring forth your vision,” she tells Vanessa when asked to simply take notes during a meeting.
The character is based on an exaggeration of one facet of Narvaez’s personality, which occasionally leans into crystals and incense and mindfulness meditation, but also shows that despite her focus, drive and ambition to succeed, Narvaez can laugh at herself.
Calm, controlled, confident
Beyond possessing a valuable skill set, Robertson said Narvaez’s personality has contributed to her success. “She always had a real good command and confidence” leading crew members on set during production. Despite what can become a chaotic situation, “Hallease’s sets are always really calm and controlled,” which helps put others at ease.
“She’s also really generous of her knowledge and her time and made everybody feel involved. And I think that’s something else that that shows through her work even today, is that she invites everybody into the process,” Robertson said.
Narvaez’s openness is plainly evident in her web presence, which routinely breaks the fourth wall of the screen by talking directly to the audience about her working process, her thoughts on the show, and her hopes for raising funds to continue the series.
“This Coulda Been an Email” Episode 3 is in post-production and soon to be released. Narvaez and Ngugi will then turn to crowdfunding for the remaining two episodes of the series through an Indiegogo campaign, which is how they raised nearly $50,000 for Episodes 2 and 3 — after Narvaez self-funded the first episode with the help of a 2021-2022 Adobe Creative Residency, the YouTube Black Voices Fund, and sponsorships.
Anyone interested can follow Narvaez’s trials, tribulations and triumphs, which she frequently posts about for her YouTube and newsletter subscribers. Such social media-era transparency connects her directly to her audience, a quality which ironically might one day soon find her back working in mainstream media.
Robertson said Narvaez’s authenticity is what people want in today’s media environment, and that her former producer is primed to succeed. “I think it’s only a matter of time before Hallease has her own project on a national level,” Robertson said.