Everyday Creative People is a series of conversations and interviews exploring what it means to live a life driven by curiosity, creativity, and love, over fear. Through sharing our own journeys, we hope to inspire listeners to (re)discover their inner leader, tap into their creative potential, and welcome the challenging moments of learning and transition in the pursuit of a well-lived life.
If you're seeking to live and lead more powerfully, we invite you to listen in as we reflect on our own experiences, explore new resources, and chat with artists, leaders, and entrepreneurs who are finding creative ways to make the world a better place without burning out in the process.
Ben Falcon paints custom bicycles, motorcycles, and more. Having felt constrained by the opportunities available to him as an architecture student, Ben sought out something that would enable him to do more hands-on work. He found it in custom painting.
In this week's episode, Ben and I discuss how he stumbled upon this niche career, what he would do if he weren't doing custom painting, and what it's like to run a custom paint business in New York City.
Ben has worked with some of the finest bicycle frame builders in the world. After fine tuning his trade at the leading purveyors of custom at Seven Cycles outside of Boston, he moved out west to establish the state of the art wet paint department for Chris King in Portland, OR before ultimately landing in Brooklyn, NY, where he is currently devoting his talents to the paint enterprise at the Brooklyn-based Horse Cycles Paint.
This week I caught up with Vessna Scheff, an emotive, abstract painter and musician living in Philadelphia. Vessna has the attitude of a perpetual student, and has jumped into her creative pursuits more than once with little to no formal training!
In this episode, Vessna shares her incredible journey to becoming a working artist, and the attitudes, approaches, and beautiful moments of magic that got her there.
Vessna combines sounds, movement and color to create encompassing performances. Her work is inspired by stories of social and personal revolution and resilience, and seeks to fully celebrate the small yet powerful moments of freedom we experience within struggles.
Utilizing water as a main tool of creation and source of inspiration, Scheff energizes large brushstrokes and mixed media to add depth and dimension to her works on paper. On stage, she merges sounds with colors in an empowering and colorful musical and visual performance.
This week I chatted with artist, educator, consultant and coach Stephanie Simpson about the interplay between stress and creativity, and how to nourish and draw on the power of our full human selves.
Drawing on her background in movement, meditation, and psychology, Stephanie guides people to achieve their greatest potential by nurturing the connection between the mind, body, and spirit.
With a focus on helping people find their true balance and align with their authentic selves, Stephanie empowers them to live their lives unapologetically and to the fullest. An RYT-200 Hour Certified Yoga Instructor, Stephanie holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Emerson College and an MFA in Dance Performance/Choreography from Smith College. She is currently an MA degree candidate at Columbia University Teachers College in the Clinical Psychology program with an emphasis in Spirituality, Mind, Body and a focus in Organizational Change.
Stephanie presents and consults for businesses nationwide, bringing her expertise and passion for helping people thrive to audiences and organizations seeking to realize their fullest potential. Most recently, she launched her 21 Day Stress Management Program to help people redefine how they respond to stress. It comes with a cool guide to help you learn all kinds of stress management techniques that harness your creativity, awaken your body, and more!
“Leaning into a beginners mindset is really helpful for me.
I have some [internal] stories that I need to be great at everything, and a lot of times that keeps me from leaning into creativity where I can just be curious about what I’m capable of.
Not only in seeing what that first version is and almost how bad it is - because I do have a sense of taste, and can tell like, wow what I just made really isn’t great - but also being able to say, ‘If I practice this, if I really lean into doing this... I can see where that can head, where that can lead.'"
Todd Emaus is an executive coach and organizational consultant, working with founders and leaders as they seek to scale their organizations without losing their soul. He’s founded startups, raised venture capital, and burnt out in the process. All of these have been powerful teachers for supporting leaders in his work today.
In this episode, Todd and I talked about the role of play, connection, and belonging in business and in life. You can learn more about Todd and his work at toddemaus.com, and follow him on Twitter @ToddEmaus.
The goal of COTFA is to cultivate a positive and nurturing community for creatives who want to find time to satisfy this part of their identity - a perfect match for Everyday Creative People! Some of the things we talked about included:
- The power of self talk and the importance of choosing to claim your own creative identity
- How motherhood impacted both Heather and Marissa as artists
- How to make art amidst a busy life, even (especially) if you don't have a dedicated space to do it in
Marissa founded Carve Out Time for Art in 2015 after the frustration of being told she'd never have time to create once she had children. She didn't want to give up on her own dreams and felt being a mother made her a better artist. She set off to interview women who were making it work, and unintentionally created a community of artists. She teamed up with Heather Kirtland that same year to start writing a book on artist mothers, and they became partners in writing and in creative shenanigans for their COTFA community.
Marissa Huber is an artist, writer, designer, connector, and mother who lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. By day, she uses her interior design background as an Occupancy Planner, where she plays Tetris with space and is a friendly hostage negotiator for offices. You can visit her at marissahuber.com or follow her on Instagram and Pinterest, both @marissahuber.
Heather Kirtland currently teaches encaustic workshops and is focused on her own studio practice. She was awarded The Maryland State Arts Council Grant and was a resident artist at The Holt Center. Her work has been exhibited throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, abroad in Italy and Wales, and in Modern Home and Country Living UK magazines. Heather recently moved from Baltimore to a more rural part of Maryland where she lives with her husband and two children and Luna their rescue dog. When she is not painting she loves to read, run and encourage other mothers to find a creative outlet through Carve Out Time for Art. You can check her out at heatherkirtland.com or on Instagram @heatherkirtland.
“I never thought of myself as being creative. But at a certain point I needed to tell stories out loud on stage.
And part of that was because some of the social justice work I was doing, I felt people needed to change something more than their logic about things. You know, racism is illogical, but I felt like we had to get beyond that, that you couldn’t rationalize it. And also that emotionally, some people just feel different things along those lines.
And so my storytelling was a way for me to put something out there that was rational in thought, but also had emotion and could move the spirit and that’s where I hit on it: that being artistic means you touch people’s spirit. And so I started to come to terms at like, oh, maybe I am creative, maybe I am artistic, because I want to move and touch people’s spirit."
Rosita Choy has spent her career of more than two and a half decades dedicated to social justice nonprofit work, with an emphasis on immigrant rights, racial equity, and anti-poverty.
She's been on staff for organizations such as the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, American Friends Service Committee, and Amnesty International.
Rosita is now an independent consultant and coach helping to promote healthy and sustainable organizations and work cultures. She specializes in burn-out prevention and recovery. She is also a public storyteller who performs on stage as "Una China Latina," spinning tales about growing up immigrant and Chinese in Chicano L.A.
To learn more about Rosita and follow her work, you can check out her website RositaChoy.com, or follow her on Facebook. If you're in the DC area you can also attend her upcoming workshop on April 9th titled "Enduring Idealism: A Workshop on Surviving Nonprofits."
"I've worked with kids all my life, but when I became a mother myself, I realized how babies, that's the first thing they do before they even talk, you know, they just play and tinker. And that's how they understand the world and how they learn.
And then as, we grow older, play is our favorite way of coming up with new ideas, and... play often becomes social. So you start playing with others. And it's a key way, actually, for us to develop empathy, and connect with the people who we play with. Because the thing that happens with play is that, when you're playing, you're in what we call this 'magic circle.' So it’s this invisible boundary set by the rules of the play and you're present, you're connected, you're equalized, you're kind of ready to listen and learn from each other.”
Chloe Varelidi is the founder of humans who play, a new design firm with offices in Washington and (soon Nairobi) that uses play as a force for good.
Prior to starting her own practice she was part of the early teams at the Institute of Play, Quest to Learn, the Mozilla Foundation and littleBits where as a play designer she launched everything from top rated apps, to franchise products for Marvel & Disney, to a public school featured on the cover of the NYT Magazine.
Chloe has won multiple awards for her work along the way, including some from ISTE, TOTY (toy of the year) and Common Sense Media. She is recognized as one of the GOOD100 for shaping the world in meaningful and creative ways and frequently lectures about harnessing play as a force for innovation and doing good. Chloe is an Adjunct Professor at The Corcoran School of Art & Design where she teaches Interaction Design.
Steve Lucin is a creative entrepreneur who helps passionate visionaries bring in more cash to their businesses through creativity.
Lucin pulls his technical design, motion graphics, and entrepreneurial skills from running his own entertainment and nightlife creative business, Halucinated Design, Inc.
He was the VRFX supervisor at Michael Bay's 451 Media, where he oversaw the creation of VR/360 (Virtual Reality) content from creative to post-production. He also animated many of the original 451 motion comics.
Since then he has decided to pursue his personal mission in life, which is to uplift his community through creativity and to show people that life should be spent enjoying themselves, exploring, and learning.
He does so by developing passionate individuals in his community through the nonprofit that he is building, Support Creativity.
His third brand, Legacy Greek, focuses on strategy, branding, and marketing for community-driven fraternities and sororities.
At night he likes to animate and mix video live to electronic dance music as a VJ. He has performed visuals at NYC nightclubs such as House of Yes, Verboten (now Schimanski), Space Ibiza NY, Cielo, Jump Into The Light VR Play Lab, and Electric Zoo Festival.
Katie Visco, who has been called a "bubbly and offbeat running, biking, soup-making, people-loving, community-building exclamation mark," loves peoples' stories, healthy and delicious food, traveling, and human-powered adventures.
In 2009, promoting the importance of a bold and passion-driven life, Katie ran solo across America, from Boston to San Diego, and became the 2nd youngest and 13th woman overall to make the crossing. During, and the year after her transAmerican crossing, she raised funds for the charity, Girls on the Run, and also stopped to visit more than two hundred audiences en route to spread her message to young and old alike. Running has been a versatile cornerstone of her wellbeing for years, and she especially loves the trails!
Katie also has 10+ years of experience as a community-builder and entrepreneur. She has started eight businesses and campaigns, and is currently the proud owner and soup maestra behind Hot Love Soup, a soup and bone broth delivery company in both Austin, Texas and Missoula, Montana. She hails from Glen Ellyn, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and is a 2007 Economics graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Visco lives and works to see courage, community, and true connection happen in this world.
Besides trail running, biking, creating delicious food, and traveling, Katie loves her husband and family very much and enjoys getting to hear the stories of others. She's been writing since she was six and hopes to publish a book one day. She's stoked to share her journeys with you in hopes that you will glean something special from them for your own growth and joy!
"I believe that as we're being creative, sometimes we really have to practice creativity, as opposed to wait for creativity. And I found that that's such a powerful practice for me when I'm working with young people, because part of my job is to hear terrible things all the time. And to make those things playable.
And it's really, really hard. It's really hard and scary to play with things that you don't think you can play with. And in drama therapy, and in developmental transformations, we are talking about, how do I play with grief? How do I play with death? How do I play with sexual assault? How do I play with domestic violence? And I want to be clear, when I say the word play, that I'm not saying, this isn't mocking, and I'm not making fun of people with these things. I really mean, how can I help loosen some of this trauma that gets locked in our bodies? And how can I do that, using the dramatic medium?”
Rebecca is a mental health therapist specializing in working with adolescents and adults with trauma of all kinds. A former singer and actor, Rebecca found her way to drama therapy through her first degree in Drama Education. When she’s not pretending to be an anaconda or a ninja, Rebecca enjoys weightlifting, yoga, and hanging out with her puppies and birds. Yes, people who keep birds as pets are odd. She knows. Someday Rebecca will get a PhD to study trauma and play. Also someday, she’ll go back to writing short plays. Until then, she’ll keep building spaceships while being forced to finish her math homework (for pretend).
To learn more about Rebecca and follow her work, you can check out her website (and soon-to-be blog and podcast) at therapyaltered.com, follow her on Instagram at TheMentalAthlete and TherapyAltered, or shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Creativity goes hand in hand with emotional intelligence. The more self aware we are, the more we practice self awareness and empathy and all these things, the more we're able to be resilient, the more we're able to unleash that creativity inside of us. A lot of times in our workshops, we get people that say, oh, we're not creative, or, you know, I'm just not a creative person, and they have a lot of what we call limiting beliefs about themselves. And oftentimes, after going through our workshops, they're like, 'Wow, I didn't realize I had that in me! I didn't realize I could be creative, I didn't realize I already am creative. I just didn't know that!' And so, you know, it's just amazing to see the amount of creativity that is unleashed as people work on their emotional intelligence skills.”
Saleema Vellani is the Co-Founder and COO of Innovazing, an education and leadership development firm that strives to help organizations cultivate more impactful leaders. Innovazing uses emotional intelligence tools and techniques, based on neuroscience, in its highly customized programs for social enterprises, nonprofits, higher education, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. Aside from launching 5 fast-growing ventures across 4 countries, she has also provided consulting for over 12 years to a wide spectrum of organizations.
Saleema is passionate about empowering the developing world through technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Earlier in her career, Saleema co-founded a nonprofit language school in Brazil, which is currently the nation's top-rated and largest Portuguese school. Recently, Saleema co-led an award-winning, groundbreaking study at the World Bank on how existing climate-smart food production technologies, such as hydroponics and aquaponics, can be adapted and simplified to tackle food insecurity while increasing livelihoods for refugees and engaging the private sector in water-scarce countries.
Saleema teaches Entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and is a faculty member of Mavasive Leadership Institute. She also co-leads the World Bank Group’s largest and most inclusive mentoring program for the Youth-2-Youth Community and is the Career Advisory Networks Co-Chair of SWAN, the SAIS Women's Alumni Network.
Saleema has spent her life between Canada, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Italy, and the USA and is fluent in five languages.
“I literally spend hours just staring at my glasswork or my worktable, and think: 'Ok I’m gonna give it up.' And then my husband always says, 'Just go down there and work, go and try this, get in there and immerse yourself.'
You know, I struggle all the time. That’s part of it: it’s pain and pleasure. Pain, pleasure, and definitely passion. And sometimes the pain is worse than the pleasure is, or sometimes the pleasure of something coming out... is wonderful. And, you know, I think that they come in waves, and you gotta ride some waves harder than the others."
Anita Merina, educator and children's literacy advocate turned glass artist, talks about glass working as a form of magic. When working with glass, she says, there are so many surprises and possibilities that, "you become like the magician, the scientist, the mad scientist…"
After 28 years in the education and editorial field and leading the National Education Association's Read Across America program, Anita Merina picked up glassworking about 10 years ago. She is now following her longtime dream to be an artist with glass as her medium. She is the owner and creative mind behind AMerinaGlassworks and partner with Katherine Thomas in DC Glass Artists.
Some themes from our conversation include:
- The surprising nature of glass
- The importance of play
- Finding your own unique way in your art form
- Finding mentors
- Connecting to your heritage through art
- Passing on a spirit of creativity and resilience to others
“The more that I show up for myself and therefore am able to show up for others, it just, gets me into my purpose, and why I’m here. I think that when we do that, we're able to feel more joy, and when we feel more joy, we’re able to reap the benefits of that joy. And when we’re in our happiness and our joy, we’re able to just think more clearly, and we’re more inspired, and we’re more open to the possibilities of life and recreating ourselves...
I feel like I’ve opened this door of limitless possibility, that I went from someone that was like, yeah I like to dance, yeah I like healing, and, sometimes I do it, but I’ll also settle for working as an assistant at this architecture firm… doing these things that are kinda wasting my time in a way because I kept myself limited. Joy opened this pathway and now I’m overwhelmed with my dreams, I’m overwhelmed with possibility….”
Tatiana Zamir is a choreographer, dance instructor, performing artist and holistic healer. Tatiana earned her BFA at UCLA in the World Arts & Cultures Department with an emphasis on dance. She continued her studies in holistic body therapy at the Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing, also in California, where she honed her skills in the healing arts and integrative approaches to wellness. A unique, movement therapy-based practice for healing and upliftment evolved naturally.
Groups and individuals in the US, Southeast Asia and Southern Africa have benefitted from Tatiana's Radiant Healing Breakthrough Workshops -- which teach use of the body as a vehicle in overcoming challenges and achieving one's highest destiny. From these workshops to her inclusive Afro Hip-Hop dance classes and performance art pieces Tatiana proves herself to be a compassionate, outside-the-box creator of dynamic, expansive, empowering and joyful experiences that catalyze transformation. To learn more or engage with Tatiana and her community, check out her website TatianaZamir.com or follow her on Instagram at @TatianaZamir.
"I am of an immigrant family. So this is what we were taught: ‘This is, you know, America is the land of opportunity, and this is what you must do in order to become successful.' So, if this is what has been taught to each one of us, then me pursuing art was something very risky, and in that risk, and I think even behind the scenes, you know behind the Instagram photo that I would put up, there was a lot of that sacrifice, and struggle... My family and close friends saw that most.
So I did get a lot of like, 'Well, why don’t you try to look for another job in the meantime and do this on the side?' And I was like, 'No, that’s not what I want to do. I can’t do that, because, then, I feel like I’ve wasted all these years, and that’s only going to take me away from it further.' So it was a lot of resisting on both ends... Like, 'You’re crazy, you’re ridiculous for doing this,' but also, 'No, I need to do this or I’m crazy for not doing it.'”
Natalia, aka Naty, is an Argentine-born, NYC native creative free spirit. She is a henna artist, fine artist, muralist, graphic designer & photographer. Naty has been practicing the art of henna since 2009. She has a Bachelors Degree in Graphic Design with a fine art focus. She has participated in events & parties in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Art Basel, Las Vegas, Denver, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Burning Man, Cuba & Costa Rica
Her passion, expressed through all of her arts, is to build up & empower humanity through connection & unity. Much of her inspiration comes from the four elements of nature due to their reflected similarities within people. She hopes to bridge culture gaps by embracing, educating & demonstrating that henna is for everyone. You can check out Naty's work on her websites hennabynaty.com and natybynature.com, her Etsy store: Naty by Nature, or on Instagram and Facebook @natybynature.
- Loss as a catalyst for reclaiming your creative voice
- Making use of the tools at your disposal to boost yourself to where you want to be
- Making the leap from full time to freelance
- Defining "career" on your own terms
- The importance of overcoming the fear of asking questions
“The idea that the arts need to be something separate from your socially engaged life, or your community-based life, its really been created by institutions and it isn’t true. Every community... has been using the arts and creativity to thrive, since forever.”
Rebecca Kelly-Golfman is a facilitator, entrepreneur, theatre artist, and activist. She has spent her entire career figuring out how to integrate the arts and advocacy/activism work, and helping others to learn how to do this too. Rebecca is a true Renaissance Soul/Multi-potentialite, cobbling together a variety of different activities to build a life and career that really feeds her soul.
Amongst her various activities, Rebecca is the Founder of Black Abundance BK, a platform celebrating Black life in Brooklyn through uplifting Black businesses, creators, activists, and community members. As an Adjunct Professor at Wagner College, she was awarded The Diversity and International Action Council Award for Diversity and Inclusion for her course Race, the Arts, and Activism. She also devises plays with anti-gun violence youth organizers in Crown Heights through Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. Additionally, Rebecca is a former civil rights attorney where she focused on dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline as Associate Counsel with The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington DC. She was recently selected as part of the 2018 Create Change Fellow cohort with The Laundromat Project, and is co-creating a socially engaged art project in Brooklyn with STooPS Bed-Stuy.
Some themes from our conversation:
- Learning to accept various artist identities outside of a formalized/externally recognized space
- Getting self judgement out of the way
- The natural synergy of arts and activism
- A (very) brief history of the arts being used as a form of rebellion/resistance by African people enslaved in the US
- Making tough decisions about what is worth your time and energy, creatively
- Learning how to approach paid opportunities without letting desperation get in your way
Tomislav "Tom" Benzon taught himself how to play guitar in high school, winning his first band competition only two weeks after forming the band, at a time when Tom himself knew only a few chords.
The audacity and sheer determination behind this win is a theme seen over and over again, throughout Tom's career, which spans 25 years as a full time touring musician. A dynamic personality, Tom has organically lived his life by the principles behind "The Secret" since long before he even knew it was a thing with a name. He has played around the world with musicians like Jack Savoretti and Jooles Holland, and performed in films with the likes of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.
A few years ago, however, a motorcycle accident in the UK stopped Tom in his tracks. The long recovery process was a huge blow, forcing Tom to step back from his career. Now based in San Diego, California, he is working to regain his footing.
- “The Secret” and the idea that "If you want to try, go all the way.”
- Picking yourself up after a big setback
- The importance of good friends who can remind you who you truly are in dark hours
- Why building genuine connections with others is a smart career move
What does it look like to have a healthy creative career that brings together a wide variety of different mediums and practices under one umbrella?
I think Miriam Castillo gives us a pretty good picture of success with a portfolio of careers. As a visual designer and illustrator who also teaches yoga, paints murals, designs a line of yoga pants and makes vegan cheese (who knows what project may crop up next?), Miriam is going all out in pursuing whatever creative projects come her way.
If you're in New York on April 21st, check out Miriam's next event, Wild Nature: Creativity, Imagination, and Freedom.
Miriam Castillo is based in New York and Valladolid, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Her whimsical hand-drawn illustrations explore the world through both fantasy and the proximity to Nature. Finding a path in mixed media, Miriam is an artist that pushes the creative boundaries of her craft. She is an antiquarian, fascinated by mysticism, and draws inspiration from her journey as a yoga instructor. Yoga has bestowed her with a new invigorating source of creativity. Yogis’ connection with Nature, gives them a deeper wisdom and understanding of their own bodies. As such, she spends much of her life observing the natural world and exploring its intersection with the creation of art.
Highlights from today's episode:
- “Hiring yourself” when you don’t know where your work is going to come from next
- What is the separation between work and life? When you’re doing so many different projects that you’re so passionate about, is there a division?
- Our innate creative capacity and the childlike freedom that comes from creative practice
- Supporting people to tap into their creative centers - where creativity lives in our body.
What is your reason for creating? Majella Mark was raised by artist-activist parents who instilled a strong sense of social justice in her from a young age, and this has been a clear driving force behind her own creative ventures.
By day, Majella is an analytics professional in New York City, creating performance analysis and strategic planning for major television networks such as Spike TV, NBC and ESPN under the tech company TiVo. By night, she organizes a variety of arts-oriented social justice and community activities such as Perception Theatre (a monthly film discussion series focused on cultivating empathy) and Baha'i Millenials, a blog about spirituality and her journey in the Baha'i faith.
In this episode, we discuss:
- Immigrant parents and the heightened pressure to choose a “practical” career
- The data behind what kinds of perspectives get represented in our media
- How open-source media has enabled minority identities to get more representation
- Exploring social justice topics through the arts
- What it means to be a womanist (as opposed to a feminist)
Majella Mark is a native Connecticut resident born to immigrant parents who came to the United States as artists from the Caribbean island of Grenada. She graduated from UCONN with a degree in Media and Society Studies focusing her individual major on the influence media has on cultures and vice versa. She also earned an MBA degree in International Business at the European Business School of London. As a data story creator and progressive tech enthusiast with years of experience in advertising and marketing, she has worked for major corporations such as Turner Broadcasting and The Weather Channel.
In addition to the links provided above, you can learn more about Majella on her website, majellamark.com and follow her on Instagram @bahaimillennials and @majmark.
This week's guest is practicing creativity in a slightly different way from many of the folks on this podcast so far. Erica Soultanian is a co-founder of Mission Collaborative, a DC-based organization that helps professionals design careers they love through workshops and immersive programming.
Erica was inspired to co-create Mission Collaborative after struggling through a career change herself and realizing that there aren’t many resources or support organization to help professionals change careers once they graduate college. Erica also works at DC’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development where she helps grow DC’s private sector economy and entrepreneurial community. In her free time, Erica organizes Startup Weekend events in DC, which help bring new startups to life through 54-hour intensive weekend experiences.
Some of the highlights from our conversation:
- Being an entrepreneur while working a 9-5
- The ups and downs of entrepreneurship
- Dealing with the fear of failure
- How to know when it’s time to take the leap
“It’s a very weird job because you do all this work, and your whole life is engulfed in the show that you’re working on and every bit of attention to detail, and most of the people who come to the show have no idea that you exist... Most people know there’s carpenters, or there’s lighting people - but they don’t understand that there is somebody, who’s like a mystery person, that brings all of this together, and for some reason that attracted me. I want to be this person that does all this coordinating to bring everybody together to be able to create something every night, and I don’t need an applause."
This week I chatted with Caroline Watters, a Stage Manager for the innovative international circus arts company Cirque du Soleil. Caroline is currently touring Asia while stage managing on TORUK - The First Flight.
Originally from Toronto, Caroline became attracted to the unexpected art of stage management while still in high school and received her BFA in Performance Production from Ryerson University in Toronto. The stage manager's art is often hidden, beyond the sight or awareness of the audience, but ultimately there is a high potential for creativity on the grand scale of a live performance, and this is what drew Caroline to the work.
After Ryerson, Caroline went on to obtain her MFA in Stage Management from Columbia University. While working in New York, her Broadway dream shifted to more immersive and complex productions, and shortly after graduation, she accepted an internship with Cirque du Soleil which lead to working as an Assistant Stage Manager on Zumanity. After the experience in Las Vegas, she joined the Cirque du Soleil touring production of Varekai as a Stage Manager, which lead her to joining the stage management team of TORUK. Cirque du Soleil has provided the scale and complexity that she has desired for stage managing; her final Masters thesis covered all aspects of Cirque du Soleil Stage Management.
Themes from this episode include:
- The creativity of a stage manager - making the magic happen behind the curtain
- Creativity in the context of a multi-national for-profit company
- The rewards of being in a job that constantly puts you outside your comfort zone
- Self care practice
“Once I left college, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And I think for a lot of “former dancers” that becomes an issue, because when you’ve put every fibre of your being into your art form since whenever you started - at 3, 5, 13, or whatever - ballet is all-encompassing in a way that can be compared to training to become a professional athlete, or a professional musician. It takes up everything in you mentally, physically, emotionally and beyond.
So when you lose that part of your identity, in a way it’s really hard to recalibrate... College becomes a buffer in a way, and when you exit that scene it can be hard to really figure out who you are, and there isn’t really a whole lot of time to do it because everyone around you is going to med school or law school or doing banking... and you’re kind of grappling with who you were, who you are and who you want to be.”
Claudia Schreier is a choreographer who has been commissioned by organizations including the Vail Dance Festival, New York Choreographic Institute, and Joffrey Winning Works and has upcoming commissions with Ballet Hispánico and Dance Theatre of Harlem. But there was a time before all these accolades when she was working 9 to 5 in arts management, and finding time to create ballet on the side.
Claudia and I met in 2015 when my choir, Tapestry, sang behind Claudia's dancers for her piece Vigil (which you can watch here!). It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever had the privilege of helping to create. This was also one of the pieces that helped Claudia to launch her choreography career. Since 2015, Claudia Schreier & Company has presented several evening-length performances of her choreography and in 2017 made its Joyce Theater debut, featuring dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet, and other leading companies.
In today's episode, Claudia and I chatted about how she became a professional choreographer and where her work has come in the last few years. A few key themes that came up in our conversation were:
- The importance of academic pursuits to balance artistic pursuits.
- The benefits (and necessity) of working in arts management while building your artistic career
- Learning how to take care of yourself while giving 110% to your art when the work starts to pick up.
Ms. Schreier serves as Ballet Master and Rehearsal Associate to Damian Woetzel and has contributed to The Kennedy Center Honors and programs at the White House, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and New York City Center. She is the recipient of the 2017 Virginia B. Toulmin Fellowship at the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU and the 2017 Lotos Foundation Prize, and she received a B.A. from Harvard University in 2008. To learn more about Claudia you can check out her website, claudiaschreier.com, and follow her on Facebook at Claudia Schreier Choreography or on Instagram @claudiaschreier.
“It’s kind of like falling in love, you know? it’s like, oh my god this is the person! And then you go through all the difficult moments and you remember that first moment and you’re like, ok, this is worth working on because I felt very strongly about this at one point. And it’s kind of the same way with art - it’s like there’s so many hurdles, and some things are not going the way as planned, but I kind of think back to my original inspiration moment and I think, it’s my duty to this inspiration, to give birth to it.”
Natasha May Platt took a bit of an unusual route into the world of fashion - via a Religion and Philosophy major at Harvard. After graduating from college, Natasha spent three years in India training and working in embroidery design under designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee. She currently works in embroidery design for New York luxury brands.
An artist and designer based in New York, when she's not working in her dayjob, Natasha paints indoor and outdoor murals, inspired by beauty, spirituality, and the natural world. Her murals can be found across the five boroughs of New York, as well as in India and Bali. The rich textile and craft traditions of India have deeply influenced her art.
Some of the themes discussed in today's episode include: persistence, learning to separate the merit of your work from its suitability for a particular job, the value of practicing multiple different kinds of art and doing “art for fun” outside of paid work, and deciding when to take the leap and leave your day job.
"When you look at Thai cuisine and even Taiwanese cuisine, the use of things like the offcuts of meat and stuff like that, it’s like ok, this is literally something that most of the world will throw away. How do you make it delicious? And how do you make it so that you can sustain not only yourself but your family? And so some of the things that people come up with is absolutely amazing.”
Ben Blum is a chef who spent most of the first 8.5 years of his life in Taiwan, a country whose approach to food is an amalgam of different styles - Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese - with a rainforest climate. That’s where his love of food began. Later in life, Ben spent a year working in the kitchen at a school in Thailand before attending culinary school at Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island. He traveled to Australia to work with Ben Shewry at Attica and most recently worked at Commis in Oakland, California.
In this week's episode, Ben and I discuss the complexity of "humble food" and the power of constraints in the creative process, seeking out strong mentors, and giving it everything you've got.
“I needed to know that it wasn’t going to somehow be a failure if I tried this thing where there was no guarantee of success… if simply the attempt to do something would be seen as enough of a good thing, whether it led to any future in that subject or not. I knew that I would regret it one day if I hadn’t tried going down that path.”
This week I caught up with Clare McNamara, a Boston-based oratorio soloist, choral artist, and chamber musician. Clare, who initially intended to pursue a more "practical" career in engineering before switching gears to follow her heart, has been praised for her “lushly evocative” and “otherworldly” performances. She will be performing with Lorelei Ensemble in the world premier of "The_Oper&" at Duke University on March 8-10th, 2018 (visit her website for details).
Some highlights from this episode include:
- Choosing to pursue an artistic career over all "practical" considerations (5:30)
- Redefining failure (14:50)
- Learning to own your abilities and managing Imposter Syndrome (35:54)
- Being an artist as someone who performs work that was created by someone else. (42:00)
Clare's ensemble affiliations include Skylark Vocal Ensemble, Lorelei Ensemble, Cut Circle, Handel+Haydn Society, and the Boston Camerata. After making her New York debut as the alto soloist in St. Thomas Fifth Avenue's 2017 performance of Handel's Messiah, Clare makes her Boston Symphony Hall soloist debut in the Handel+Haydn Society's 2018 performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. International festival credits include Laus Polyphoniae (Antwerp, Belgium), Tage Alter Musik Regensburg (Germany), and the Tenebrae Holy Week Festival (London, England). Recordings of Clare’s voice also accompany the modern dance troupe Pilobolus in their acclaimed piece "On the Nature of Things." Almost an engineer, Clare’s very first job was at NASA. She holds an A.B. in Music from Princeton University and an M.M. in Early Music Performance from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. To learn more about Clare and see the full schedule of her upcoming performances, you can visit her website at claremcnamara.com.
Join me as I chat with Grammy-nominated songwriter Anousheh about what happens when a major illness upends your life, evolving expectations after a big success, day jobs that capitalize on your creative strengths, and much more.
Anousheh has captivated audiences both overseas and in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia with her epic melodies. Drawing early influences from some of her 90's music idols like Tori Amos, Bjork, and Radiohead, her songwriting style has always been rooted in introspection and metaphor. As an adult, Anousheh's love of pop music, hip hop and indie rock has focused her songwriting into hook-driven, thoughtful pop songs-- and in line with artists like Tove Lo, Ellie Goulding and Halsey.
Awais Javed is a neurobiologist studying the development of the retina for his PhD. He is a first-generation Saudi-born Pakistani who has been fortunate enough to live and travel to the U.K and Canada for his studies. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Awais had zero exposure to the act of artistic creation, and didn't really get into the arts at all until he was in London studying for his undergraduate degree. About two years ago, he started to dabble in oil paintings and now he is hooked. In his brief time as a self-taught visual artist, he has developed a surrealistic style. His influences include Salvadore Dali, Rene Magritte, and more recently, David Lynch. In this episode, we discuss what it's like to discover art later in life, we talk about the places where art and science intersect, the importance of choosing friends who will support your creative self, and balancing being a full time professional with an active creative practice.