Is This When Something is Supposed to Happen: Young Women in New York Pursuing Theatre


Written by Victoria Myers

Photography by Tess Mayer

May 23rd, 2017




Being a young person pursuing a career in theatre in New York City is really hard. Anyone who says otherwise is probably lying.

A while ago, a friend of our graphic designer and an Interval reader who has occasionally helped us out with some special projects, Lydia Paulos, sent me a message on Twitter asking if we’d ever considered talking to college students who were pursuing theatre. “Not really, no,” I replied, and then I begrudgingly asked her why. She pointed out that often the people whose experiences are discussed in our interviews are people who have already made it, who are operating under very different circumstances, and she would be interested in hearing from other students and seeing if they were experiencing the same things she was, if they had the same concerns.

We talk a lot about pipelines, but we have so far ignored the young women who desperately want to be in them—the ones who are trying to get to that place where they can even call themselves “emerging”—and who are dealing with an ever-changing industry. So often we respond to the situation that was, rather than looking at where things are headed, and then suddenly find that we’ve left a generation at sea in the muddle of it all. And we’re living in very muddled times. The theatre community has been having ongoing conversations about gender parity, racial diversity, finding new audiences, and paying people a living wage. Meanwhile, college BFA programs (many of them quite pricey) have expanded, graduating more students than there will ever be jobs; exclusive graduate programs promise a direct route into the pipeline, if you can get into them and if the faculty like you; audition times have gotten shorter and cast sizes smaller; there’s a pressure to have a robust social media presence; and nepotism plays a larger and larger role in who gets which opportunities. New York City continues to be one of the most expensive cities in the country, with a prohibitive cost of living that precludes many from taking unpaid work, which is a major factor for many early-career positions in theatre. In New York, everyone is always busy (doing what, I still couldn’t tell you). It is a competitive city with people always looking over their shoulder for the next cool thing, the next thing that will help them succeed. In a field where young people are always told to “find your tribe,” there is no easy way to make friends, and it’s not like it was on the TV show of the same name where your best friends all live in your building. It is hard to find connections, it is hard to find mentors, and it is hard to find anyone to help, period.

The college and post-graduate years are formative not only for building a foundation for the personal and professional aspects of adulthood, but also for the ways they construct people’s relationship to their environment: do they live in a world that says “yes” or one that says “no”? Societally, we like to tell girls to be ambitious—it’s a marketing campaign, it’s a slogan on a t-shirt—but for careers in the arts, is there really any groundwork for that ambition and for them to take up space?

Over the past month and a half, we talked to ten young women about their experiences, all college students or recent grads, to try to get a feel of what it was like to be a young woman starting out on the path of pursuing theatre in New York City today. Some are pursuing acting, like college students Nia and Victoria, recent graduate Emmy, and Mahima, who moved here from India; some are pursuing directing, like current students Emma and Juliana, and recent graduate Kate; and some are pursuing other areas of theatre, like Charlotte, who is studying to be a lighting designer, Danielle who is working in development and marketing, and Lydia, whose goal is to play in a Broadway orchestra. They come from different backgrounds and have different interests and goals, and represent only a small handful of experiences (for the sake of a practical and cohesive scope, we limited this piece to undergraduates/people with bachelors degrees). The following are edited and condensed conversations with them about their hopes and fears, what they think would make things easier, their experiences with sexism, their opinions on the effects of the election, and more.


Kate on the roof of her apartment in Brooklyn.

Kate Bussert, 22
From: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Currently: After graduating from Wellesley College with a double major in Theatre Studies and English, she moved to NYC and is working as a literary assistant at Bret Adams Agency while pursuing directing.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I did a lot of theatre in high school, both at school and in community productions, but I also started working for some professional theatres as a directing intern or a stagehand. I went to college at Wellesley College right outside of Boston. While I was there, I got involved with all of the theatre stuff that was available on campus. I studied English and Theatre Studies. I always knew that I wanted to be a director. When I moved to New York after college, I started working in the Manhattan Theatre Club’s literary office as a literary intern because I knew that I wanted to stay close to directors and playwrights and new work. Since then, I’ve done a couple internships. I worked for a while at a feminist nonprofit that does testimonial theatre with young women, and recently I’ve started as a literary assistant at Bret Adams, which is sort of taking me back to working with playwrights, especially those who are working on new plays. That’s where I’m really passionate about being because it’s important to me to build those relationships and understand how everybody fits together.

I’m so new in the city and it’s really, really hard to get into directing, and there’s really no way to overstate that. It’s really, really, really hard, and so I have no assumptions about what my artistic career is going to look like. It’s not realistic and it’s not really fair to myself to say, “Oh, I’m going to move to New York and become a director.” But what I can say to myself is, “I moved to New York. I’m learning names. I’m reading plays. I’m meeting interesting people. Some of them are directors and some of them are playwrights and some of them are designers.” The most important thing to me right now is to learn who those people are and what makes them interesting and which of them I like and which of them I want to get to know better.

How did you find the transition to moving to New York? 
It’s a mess. New York is unbelievably expensive, especially coming from Minneapolis, where you can reasonably have three housemates in a huge house with a backyard and a bunch of trees, and you each pay $350 a month in rent. It’s sort of unreal to me that people pay this much to live so close together. But I was really lucky because I managed to move to New York with my partner, Danielle, who you also talked to, and so we are not only happily keeping each other sane and loved, we’re also splitting a room, so it’s a little bit cheaper that way. In addition to that, we’re splitting our apartment with two other people who went to Wellesley. It is sort of frightening to realize that you can’t really save any money, especially when I work at this foundation. People were talking a lot about “Oh, you’re 22, you should start saving for retirement. Oh, don’t you have an IRA? Don’t you have XYZ?” We’re all like, “no.” So that’s been tricky.

In terms of making friends, it is also pretty busy. I feel like I don’t necessarily have a lot of close friends in New York, and the people that I do know well are people who I met through work. Because I hop jobs so much and have so many part-time jobs and so many internships, I don’t really have enough time to get to know any set of people, or any office culture or any sort of team dynamics very well. So I’m really excited with this job because I’m going to be here for a while, more than a year, so I’m really pumped about that. They’re really kind people and they’re people that I’m really excited to make friends with.

When I was in college and when I was in England [for a semester abroad], I made friends by directing plays, and so without having that sort of constant of producing art in my life and meeting people that way and creating relationships that way, it’s a little hard for me, frankly. I don’t know if this is pathetic to say, but it’s kind of hard for me to make friends without art as the conduit for those relationships. So that’s something that I’m still adjusting to.

What is your ultimate career goal?
The idea of being a community leader in some capacity is really important to me, and that’s something that I’ve been keeping my eye on throughout all of this—”Oh, will I be a director? Will I be a literary manager? Will I do something else?” Because whether or not the job lines up with the title that I want, the important thing for me is to surround myself with a community of loving, artistic folks who care about social justice, and who care about each other and who care about art. Honestly, I would be happy running a restaurant in which artists came to eat for free and everybody could sit and talk about the stuff they’re working on. That’s the sort of stuff that is important to me about the artistic world. It’s the people, not necessarily the work or the money or the fame or any of that stuff. I’m sure that kind of job doesn’t even exist, but maybe I’ll make it exist with time. That’s the hope.

You mentioned before that directing is one of those careers where there’s not so much of a clear path in terms of how to do it. Do you feel like you know how to be proactive in pursuing that? Or does even that seem a little mysterious at the moment?
That seems a little mysterious in a city this big. When I was in Minneapolis, I felt like I had a really solid base because I had spent so long building those relationships while I was a teenager. And I didn’t even know that I was networking and building relationships, especially with female directors who became my mentors and who let me shadow them and let me learn from them and ask them questions. But then moving to New York, it is such a competitive environment, and because a lot of the career tracks come through BFA and MFA programs, if you didn’t do that and you don’t know anybody, it’s like nigh on impossible to find a mentor and to find guidance in that capacity. But what I do know is that skills and relationships in the arts are transferable, so I’m not really worried about finding an important director to assist and then finding another important director to assist and building up a resume until eventually I get to do it for myself, because I know, in some capacity, that if I do good work in all of these jobs that I’ve been doing and meet interesting people, then somewhere along the line something important like that will fall into place. It’s not necessarily about following and cold e-mailing a lot of people who are already in the business. It’s about trying to build relationships with other people who are on the outsides of the business who don’t even know that they want to be making art yet.

In terms of your career, what do you worry about the most at this stage?
I worry about getting too scared about the money and chickening out and doing something else. I worry that there’s a lot of pressure to be a starving artist, and I think that there’s a lot of serious systemic flaws in the idea of being a starving artist, and even being an arts administrator who could work unpaid internships for a year and a half before you get a paying job. Because that’s not acceptable to most people, and that contributes to inequality in the arts. As much as I want to pursue my career single-mindedly and pursue my own success, I also want to be continually cognizant of the fact that I’m implicitly contributing to a system that is unfair and that’s keeping other people from pursing the kind of world that everybody wants. I don’t really want to participate in an arts culture that doesn’t help everybody out, so I worry a little bit about getting too caught up in the money and the “work yourself into the ground” ethos of it and forgetting the point of it all. The point being that you’re there for artists and to support artists and to make art and to support one another. The point is not necessarily to be the most successful. The point is to have integrity with what you’re doing and to love what you’re doing, not just love the money or the privilege of being able to do it. Again, that’s something that I am privileged enough to be able to say. I was lucky enough to do unpaid internships, I was lucky enough to assist people without getting paid. I just always want to keep that in mind.

Do you feel that there are gender issues that affect you at this point in your career, and which ones?
I’m not going to put too many specifics on this, but the majority of people that I have worked for in some sort of personal assistant capacity have been wealthy white men of a certain age. The fact that young women are continually helping out older white men has always been a power dynamic that I see repeated through a lot of other people’s experiences. That’s just sort of how the world works because the wealth is concentrated with those people and the wealth is not concentrated with people who are like me.

But in terms of women always being in an assisting role and women always being in a helping role, I helped the Wellesley Centers for Women in conjunction with American Conservatory Theater do a study on why women were not ascending to leadership positions in LORT theaters. Basically, some of the stuff they came up with was that women were caught in the associate artistic director positions and the associate manager/associate executive director positions and never getting to the top. That’s just a systemic issue that’s something that has been recorded with numbers and continues to be corroborated. Again, unless a lot of people do studies on it and a lot of people talk about it, it’s not going to change, and I still have to keep making noise about it. Especially my generation, who keeps being told that we are living in a post-feminist society, and of course we’re not, and we have to keep asking for things that we know that we deserve.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
Oh my God, yes. I had an interview the day after the election, when I thought I was going to be celebrating and super excited. I woke up that morning and I came into work and everybody was crying. I was working at a theatre company, and the general management office had brought donuts for everybody, and everybody was weeping and holding each other. I started prepping for this interview, and I realized that I didn’t want to work anywhere that wasn’t going to make some sort of substantive difference in the world. So I looked at my spreadsheet of all of the applications that I was working on and interviews that I was taking that week, and I started taking things off. I applied to Girl Be Heard, which is a social justice institute. I applied to Creative Capital, which is a foundation that gives grants to writers, and those are the two jobs I got in that cycle because I remembered consciously deciding that I was going to work somewhere that was going to make substantive change in the world for the better. I couldn’t get up in the morning and feel good about myself and the stuff that I was doing if I wasn’t contributing positively to the world in some way. I don’t have the time to volunteer right now because I don’t have any time, and I don’t have the money to donate right now because I don’t have any money. All I can do is get up in the morning and go to work. So that is the change that I’ve made for myself since the election.


Nia on the NYU campus.

Nia Farrell, 20
From: Thousand Oaks, California
Currently: Just finished her sophomore year at NYU in the Experimental Theatre Wing, working towards a BFA in Drama with minors in psychology and child/adolescent mental health.

Since NYU is basically part of the city, was it a weird transition to college because it’s not the traditional college experience?
Yeah, you don’t get that campus feel. No one goes to football games—I mean we don’t even have a football team. You’re really a part of the city, and I think that helps make the transition later in life easier because once you get out of college, you don’t feel like there’s a huger jump into the real world; you’re already a part of it, you’re already interacting with it. I think that’s really important to get used to now.

What’s your ultimate career goal?
Ultimately, I want to be working in the theatre, and work that I like creating is more abstract, so I’d love to continue devising stuff. I’m also looking into doing more interdisciplinary kind of things. But if I’m ever cast in a show, I would just love being on stage and being able to work with an ensemble, and really build things from the ground up.

In terms of your career, at this point in time what is the thing you worry about the most?
Especially at NYU because it’s such a big school, this idea that there’s so many of us that if I don’t put myself out there, then I’m going to get lost in this sea of aspiring artists. There is a kind of pressure that I put on myself to always be working on something, when I know plenty of teachers say that time off is just as important as active time. It goes back to this idea of space—I don’t know if the real world, once I graduate, has a space for a specific voice like mine or is willing to make space. That’s just something that I’m constantly going back and forth between.

In terms of what you were just saying about feeling like you always have to be out there, do you feel you don’t necessarily have time to explore or just be?
Yeah, I think there’s this pressure to put myself out there, even if it’s a part of something that I don’t think expresses new stories, or it doesn’t explore undiscovered territory. It may not necessarily be like what I feel, but in order to have a sustainable career, sometimes I feel like there’s this need to do things, even if it isn’t the trajectory of how you want your work to be.

Is there something you wish you had been more prepared for in terms of going to drama school, and especially one in New York?
I wish there was a little bit more attention to self-care, because they teach you how to be an artist, but sometimes you forget how to be a human being in the midst of all that. Sometimes your life can just become so overwhelming, you forget to do the little things to take care of yourself. I feel like they should put just a little bit more emphasis on sustaining yourself as a person. I think that would definitely help the work, because if you aren’t at your best, then I don’t think your work will be.

Last year, my first year, there was going to a new school, a new schedule, and I definitely took stress out on myself, whether that was not getting enough sleep or not eating correctly. It wasn’t until the summer, where I had a moment to breathe, that I was like, “If I want to continue in this path for a long time, I need to learn how to take care of myself, or I will burn out so much sooner.”

This could be related, but what do you think is something that could be done to make it easier for you and your peers to pursue the careers that you want?
I don’t know where it could start, but there’s this idea of an openness and more accessibility in introducing new ideas. I think we have all these new voices in this space, but unless the people who provide physical space or monetary space are willing to give access and opportunities, then I feel like those voices get lost. I feel like that might make it easier: if you let me have a place, then maybe we would be more forward, and open, and experimental about putting our ideas into it.

So you’re already worrying about that stuff, even though you’re only in your second year?
Yeah. I mean, it’s like the little things. Tisch is such a big school. There are so many kids, but there’s no rehearsal space. It’s very hard to choreograph a second year project inside of a dorm room. There’s that physical idea of needing space, but also being comfortable and confident enough in putting your ideas out there.

What gender issues do you feel affect you the most? Is gender something you think about as you’re thinking about your career?
I think about it, but it’s mostly in that I see growth happening. There is more female-driven work happening, and I think that the more that we support those [projects], then the gap in opportunities between males and females will definitely shrink. I don’t know if I’ve encountered that personally yet, but I know it’s definitely part of the bigger artistic world. I think the conversation has been so helpful, because I’ve been able to talk to these very powerful women who are also dealing with the same worries. For us to have a discussion and come up with ideas and just share our feelings, I think that’s so helpful, because then you don’t feel like you’re alone dealing with something that’s as big as gender inequality.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
The day after the election, my studio head who’s a female came up to me and she said, “We have a lot of work to do.” That is the mentality that I’ve had: Yes, I can go down this road. It’s going to be so much harder, but also I want to keep the idea that we must rise and continue. Yes, it may be harder, but that just means the work is going to be so much more fruitful, because we have something that we’re actively fighting against all the time.


Juliana in her apartment on Columbia’s campus.

Juliana Catherine Forrest, 21
From: San Diego, California
Currently: Just finished her sophomore year at Columbia University as a Theatre major, primarily as a performer, but considering pursuing directing as well.

Since you’re only in your sophomore year, how have you been finding the transition to New York?
I actually started off as a dancer. I’m from California, originally. I graduated high school a year early, moved to Chicago when I was 17 to pursue dance, and then ended up injuring my spine after two years there. I’ve grown up playing music and grown up in a family that loves the theatre a lot. I was always very passionate about the theatre as well, so it was sort of an easy transition to that from what I’d been doing before. But going back to school was a bit of a tough transition. Definitely much more so than moving to New York. New York is always where I wanted to live. Once I’d gotten here, that was like the easy part, and then I had to figure out going back to school. Columbia has a really amazing program for non-traditional students, which was how I first found out about it because I’d been out of school for two years. I’d applied to some other schools but was having a difficult time finding somewhere that understood my path and story. I’ve been really happy with the theatre program here. It’s really wide-ranging, which I really love. They make us do a little of everything. My parents are definitely glad I’m getting a more well-rounded education. After my dance career going so south so fast, they were glad I ended up at a liberal arts school.

Do you know what your ultimate career goal is?
Right now I would love to do sort of a mix of performing and directing. I still have two years left of school though, so we’ll see what happens in between now and then. Right now that’s the goal, though.

At this point, in terms of your career, what do you worry about the most?
So many things. Just whether or not I’ll be able to find work I think is something we all worry about at this point. Definitely the opportunities available for female directors in particular is something that I sort of stew and think about a lot. There’s been so much amazing progress in the last few years and there’s so many incredible female directors that I just admire and respect and worship so much, but I mean, obviously the opportunities are still not there as much as they are for men, which can be sort of frustrating and scary to see as a student and as someone who is interested in pursuing that.

Do you worry that with directing, there’s kind of less of a clear-cut path?
Sometimes it’s just how you work, you know? I sort of have been prioritizing making connections with other students who are looking to go into producing or looking to go into playwriting. I think working with people that you like and people that you’re friends with is really important and a really good way to do work that fulfills you. But definitely there isn’t a clear-cut path after school as much as there is for other things. So that can be sort of intimidating when you’re in your early twenties and in school and you’re like, “How do I do this after I graduate?”

Since you’re interested in both directing and performing, do you feel you have to be aware of how other people see you in making sure that they take you seriously as both?
Oh, of course. I’m really lucky at my school because Barnard College is an affiliate school of Columbia University, and Barnard is all female and it’s all one department for the theatre department, so my department is technically based on Barnard’s campus. Having that through an all female college definitely sort of takes some of that pressure off in classroom settings, at least, because there do tend to be more girls than guys in theatre classes. But, having said that, it’s something that I feel like women always [have to deal with]. It’s a fine line that we have to walk between having to be in control and then people making assumptions when you are telling them what to do, which is what you’re supposed to do as a director. It’s like the age old “she’s bossy,” versus “she’s the boss” kind of thing. Especially with your peers, I feel like it can be difficult just because I feel like it’s easier for guys to sort of take control, just societally. Then we have to sort of try to find this line to walk of people expecting us to be different or nicer or whatever when there are certain things that you need to do in a project, rehearsal setting as a director. It’s a difficult line to walk just because of expectations and the way society sees women in positions of power.

You kind of already answered my next question, which was going to be what gender issues do you feel like affect you the most, but do you find the conversations and the fact that there have been more conversations about it over the last few years helpful or does it just add more worry?
It was something I would have worried about anyway, so the fact that people are talking about it for me, at least personally, is helpful, because it means that the things that I’m seeing and the things that I’m worrying about are not just me. That they are real things that other people are also seeing and worrying and talking about. So for me, it’s helpful.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
Oh God. It’s affected everything, I think. It’s created sort of a new struggle of how to go about working and sort of walking a fine line between wanting the things you do to be affected by politics and the world that we’re living in, and also understanding that art sometimes should be an escape, because if everything in your whole world has to do with these things, it can just bog you down and make you feel awful all of the time. So just sort of trying to think about work that does involve politics and that conversation, but not letting yourself get too overwhelmed by it. I feel really strongly that the things we create should respond to the world we’re living in and should interact with all of the issues that face us as a country and as a world, but it’s just a really fine line to walk.


Emma in her dorm room.

Emma Hasselbach, 19
From: Seattle, Washington.
Currently: Just finished her sophomore year at Fordham University at Lincoln Center as a Directing major.

How did you find the transition to moving to New York and studying theatre? 
The transition was very big for me. I transitioned from having not practiced theatre or made theatre to fully immersing myself into it. My first year here in the city, I was highly involved in several productions at my school. Fordham is a really unique place, and our studio shows are completely run by students. They’re beautiful pieces of work, but they also provided me with a chance to experiment and try out different things, assist and design in media that I haven’t worked in before. The main thing that was challenging for me was the pace, and the time and the dedication that people have. I work constantly. I’m constantly challenged and learning, and that was a huge transition for me from coming from doing very little to just doing the thing that I want to be doing and learning through that process.

How did you end up pursuing theatre and pursuing directing?
I actually was home schooled for most of my education career. I was not a part of a school drama program, but in my junior and senior year of high school, I became involved with the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle through an internship in their arts administration program. I was working as a communications intern, but through that job, I was able to sit in on a lot of rehearsals. Having done a bit of theatre earlier in my life and having always loved reading plays and seeing what little theatre I’d seen, I really just fell in love with the role of the director. I decided that was something I was interested in pursuing and reached out to the program here at Fordham, and they were happy enough to give me an interview based on my production plan for a play that I had read. I came at theatre from not necessarily an insider’s perspective, but I think that that has given me a unique perspective, because I did not come from, say, any high school experiences in it. I started out watching professional productions and seeing how things worked and falling in love with the process and in love with tech and actors and that sort of thing.

What’s your ultimate career goal?
I would love to have my own company, but I am also really passionate about education. Right now, I’m hoping that when I graduate I can start to be involved in some theatre education programs here in the city and continue working on projects independently, directing smaller things early in my career and then finding my team of people from there. Perhaps start my small company or begin to work towards becoming a theatre educator. I always want to do my own work and produce my own work, but I’m also very, very passionate about education. Having experienced alternate forms of education all my life, I am really excited about giving people access to perhaps things that I didn’t have access to, which is something hopefully I can do in the future.

In terms of your career, what do you worry about the most?
I worry about financially being able to support myself. My parents are very supportive of me right now in school, and I thank them for it, but I’m also planning on moving to the city full time next year, and I feel like finding time to balance getting started in my career with being financially able to survive is something I have concerns about. I also am concerned about being able to find the freedom and the space to do the work that I want to do. I’m really interested in developing new work and working with new playwrights, and I just hope when it comes time for me to graduate that I can continue making connections with the playwrights I’ve worked with at school or that I can find and work with newer, younger playwrights too, that I can keep that energy alive, even after I leave this structure that I have.

Do you find with directing there’s less of a clear path and fewer resources for people just starting out than in some other disciplines?
Absolutely. My mom talks to me about this all the time. My mom is very concerned about the path forward for me, because she doesn’t quite know what it is. I find I don’t quite know what it is either. It is different. Whether it’s grad school or assisting or trying to do your own work independently, there’s no set path, whereas for actors or designers, they have a clear, step-by-step road towards getting hired to do something. I feel like to be a director requires a lot of trust with the material that you’re given, and it’s hard to figure out how to cultivate that and how to have those entry-level positions and build up the career that you want. That being said, I do have wonderful mentors that have shown me what they’ve done, and that has helped me have confidence in what I can do.

What gender issues do you feel affect you the most at this point in your career?
I feel like as a woman, because I’m the only female director in my class, that I feel that I have to push myself really hard to prove myself. In my career, it manifests itself a lot in learning how to work with people, especially men who are older than me. As a freshman assisting on things, giving a senior or outside designer who was a man a note was highly uncomfortable for me. I just, for some reason, found a block there for myself that I didn’t trust myself enough to think that I had the authority or I had the place to do that. That being said, I worked on that, and I’m getting better and better at working with people of all ages and genders, but I do think that there is a personal thing for me that I need to build up my confidence as a young woman to say that this is my place and that this is my job.

I do think it’s shocking sometimes to see the percentages of, for example, male to female artistic directors working in the world. Recently at one of our theatre meetings here at school with the whole department, we went through a bunch of statistics breaking down gender and race in the professional world, just to open up that dialogue. It was pretty disheartening to see those breakdowns. I don’t remember the numbers, but they were pretty shocking.

Also, as a woman, just seeing people like Rachel Chavkin on Broadway right now or just seeing a female designer like Mimi Lien really crushing it and going there and doing stuff that’s really bold and being supported for it, that is really gratifying and exciting to me. There’s a lot of directors that I look up to right now in the theatre world, and a lot of them are men, which is good, but also it’s heartening to see something that I love on stage and know that there’s a lot of female voices behind it.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
Absolutely. I was considering applying for a Fulbright when I leave school, and knowing that those administrators on that board are not going to be Obama’s people anymore, but Trump people, is something to consider. Knowing that a lot of funding is getting cut currently for the arts, especially in arts education, is really disheartening and makes me want to fight to keep it. Also, realizing this is the time to increase and amplify voices of women and voices of people of color and voices of people who have been most highly affected by this new administration’s policies. I think it’s super relevant for my future career, but also the careers of a lot of young theatre makers to consider the world we live in as ample material for us to affect people and bring about change and educate people. Theatre for social change is something I am passionate about, and I think with any issue that comes up we, as artists, need to stay informed and use that to fuel our perspectives and learn to offer a comprehensive and fresh perspective on this national experience that we’re all going through.


Emmy in front of her building in Astoria.

Emmy Kuperschmid, 23
From: A suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.
Currently: After graduating from Skidmore College with a BS in Theatre, moved to NYC to pursue acting.

What are you doing now that you’re here?
I’m living in Astoria and I’m working a day job—I work in an office part time, and I do like office assistant-y things—and I’m auditioning and I’m trying to make things. I’m a writer too. I kind of ended up being a writer; I fell into that. So I’m writing things and I just produced something, and now I’m taking that back and developing that further into a longer piece, and at the same time, I’m auditioning and I’m doing a lot of non-union unpaid things.

How did you find the transition to New York?
Hard. It was really hard. And part of that might have been because it was the New York transition and also the postgraduate transition. But there’s just so much happening in New York, and something I’m realizing is that all through school there’s kind of like a syllabus and a guideline like, you do this and you will get good grades, and if you get good grades, you will get cast in things. And then once you’re out in the city, there’s no real path. There’s no one path and you can do so many different things, and it’s hard to figure out, “What do I want and how am I going to get there?”

What’s your ultimate career goal?
My ultimate career goal is to be acting in project that I’m passionate about with people that I like working with. That’s super vague. Right now, I really like the independent theatre scene and I really like new work. That’s really where my interest lies right now—telling stories that haven’t been told.

You mentioned auditioning. Have you been doing EPAs and the whole waiting around for hours thing?
I did some this summer because nobody was in the city in the summer. I went to a few EPAs and I’m an Equity Membership Candidate, so I got seen. I went to two this winter, and I didn’t get seen and I decided it wasn’t something I wanted to do right now, wait at these calls when I could be working on my own stuff.

Can you describe that process?  
There’s no appointment, so you show up early and you get on a list, and because I’m an [Equity Membership] Candidate, I can’t make an appointment and I have to wait and see if there’s time. So for me, the anxiety-inducing part of that is the waiting and not knowing if I’m going to get seen. Because I just sit there all day. I always feel like I should be doing something productive in this time, and it’s just so many people in one room and it’s really overwhelming. I was telling one of my friends who’s not in the theatre that I walked in the room and it was all short, young-looking girls with their hair down in floral dresses, and I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone.

In terms of your career, what do you worry about the most?
I worry about making that step from unpaid work to paid work. And I worry about, if I don’t make that step, am I going to have to stop doing this? That scares me a lot.

What do you think would make it easier for you to be able to achieve what you want to achieve?
Maybe if I did have more of a mentorship relationship with someone who is on the path I want to be on, that would be helpful. So much of what I find frustrating is just things that are inherent about this career and also are exciting. Like the whole no-one-path thing. I find that terrifying, but also really exciting. So I wouldn’t want to change it. I think that’s just something I need to grapple with.

What do you wish you had been more prepared for?
The business stuff, for sure. Like, “What’s my type?” What kinds of headshots should I be getting? All that sort of business stuff. I feel like artistically I was prepared, but I think it’s hard when the industry changes so quickly, to keep up with that.

What gender issues do you feel affect you the most at this point in your career?
I think it’s a lot easier for a woman who’s just entering this business to be taken advantage of. I look at casting calls on Backstage, and for films everything requires nudity. I see a lot of male playwrights, I don’t see very many female playwrights. I think that there are more women pursuing this than there are men, or at least it seems like it in terms of the ratio of roles to actors. I think that people are willing to deal with less than ideal circumstances and contracts and pay because there are so few roles for women in comparison to how many women there are who are pursuing this.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
Oh my God, the election upsets me a lot. And it makes me feel like, right now especially, stories are so important. That’s what brought me into theatre, is the storytelling. I think that we need stories as a culture—to be human, to learn how to be human, and to be kind to people. I think the arts are so important now, and I think that they’re being incredibly undervalued and devalued even more under this new administration.


Charlotte on the Pace campus.

Charlotte McPherson, 21
From: Hilo, Hawai’i
Currently: Just finished her junior year as a Lighting Design major at Pace University.

Do you have any jobs outside of school?
Most of my jobs outside of school are theatre-related. I work as a master electrician at a high school in Brooklyn; I work as a freelance electrician throughout the city, just working on small shows that need the extra manpower; I am also a lighting designer in the city. I did a small show, What We’re Up Against, with the New Wave Theater Group.

How did you find the transition to moving to New York? 
Coming from Hawai’i, it’s a completely polar opposite world. It’s completely different in every way possible; the weather is completely different, the landscape is completely different. I had visited the city once before coming to school here, and that was the summer of junior year of high school when I was coming to look at places to go to school, and I thought the city was fantastic. But the people in New York are much more internal and focused and rude. Because the people in Hawai’i are very different. There’s this thing called The Spirit of Aloha, which is basically just this attitude that permeates the culture of looking out for one another and smiling at each other on the street and helping people out. It’s this courtesy and this hospitality that is just embodied in every nook and cranny of the islands. And I think in New York, it’s just a very different personal climate in terms of your relationship with the community that you’re in.

And then going into theatre and that community, they’re also very different. In Hawai’i, I grew up doing community theatre, which was basically like guerilla theatre—the show must go on. So we’re stapling together things and building things right before we go on stage, that sort of thing. And in the city, it’s very departmentalized: the electrics crew handles the lights, the props crew are the only people that can touch the props, the scenic painters are painting the set, no one else is really doing that. So it’s a very different community, even in the theatre.

What is your ultimate career goal?
Well, going into my senior year, I’ve sort of become unbalanced in that I grew up loving lighting design, and I still love it and respect it and it’s so beautiful, but through my education at Pace, I’ve been exposed to scenic design and that process, and the opportunities that are afforded through that area of design. I think my ultimate goal, career-wise, is just to be a storyteller, to be in theatre.

As you go into your senior year, do you feel like you kind of have the tools or know how to get the tools to pursue doing what you want, or does some of that still feel murky?
I think I have the tools. I think, especially going to school in New York City, I will be able to make a living as an electrician in the theatre world. Being in New York City, you make the connections that New York City has. I currently live with a working stage manager and lighting designer who graduated from my same school, and their opportunities were afforded to them through New York City.

At the moment, what about your career do you worry about the most?
I worry about being able to go for it and just be motivated enough to pursue it. It’s a battlefield of competition. And I think being a woman has some disadvantages in the prejudice that accompanies my gender. The technical theatre world, especially in lighting, is extremely male-dominated. I could name two female lighting designers on Broadway off the top of my head, maybe a third. I could name a few that are Off-Broadway. And it’s astounding to me since this industry of lighting is so rooted in mothers. Tharon Musser and Jean Rosenthal were both pioneer women of lighting design and turning it into an artistry and an art form in its own right. It was often something that was sort of just left to the side and put up last minute, but through their efforts it turned into something more profound and more detailed. I’m worried about the attitudes that I will face from some of my male counterparts and even some of the female counterparts—trying to explain to me how to my job and underestimating me in a way that is unfair and frustrating. That’s my biggest concern: how my gender will affect my ability to maintain a professional level of work and relationship with people. I don’t want to be pitied, I want to be respected.

What do you think would make it easier for you to pursue your career in theatre?
I really think that I need to make it easier on myself. The hardships I have faced have all been from me not being motivated enough to push forward and put myself out there. I have a lot of confidence to build in order to make things easier.

How much do you feel networking and who you know plays a part in opportunities?
Oh, a huge part. Someone just told me recently that there are three things that you need to be in order to get jobs, and you have to have two of these: you have to be easy to work with, on time, and know what you’re doing. And if you have two of those things, then you’ll have a job. The “easy to work with” is a huge part of networking, and if people don’t like you then it makes it hard to have a job.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
Yes, absolutely. I think, now more than ever, art and theatre and acceptance are needed and required. I think that theatre traditionally is a home for that. I would love to lend my art and my expertise to projects that highlight acceptance and question norms and put out a general sense of hope.


Lydia in the Steinhardt Building at NYU.

Lydia Paulos, 21
From: Pennsylvania, but grew up in Wisconsin.
Currently: Just finished her junior year studying Music Performance on the Cello at NYU.

Since this whole story came from one of your ideas, why did you think it would be a good story to do?
I think we hear a lot from women who have made it—who have a career and who don’t have to worry about, “Oh, gosh. How am I going to afford rent next month?” or, “How am I going to work?” I think their perspectives are fascinating and I love that, but at the same time, I know that for a lot of stuff, it’s really different for me. I’ll ask advice from someone who is working as a cellist on Broadway, and the advice that I get is great but also completely irrelevant, because the advice is coming from someone who has made it and I can’t do anything with the advice that I get. I think it’s just a whole different ballgame. It’s a different viewpoint, and I thought it would be interesting to hear from students who are coming at it from the opposite end of things.

Do you have any jobs outside of school?
I work a part-time job here at NYU at Ticket Central. I also work as an usher at the Lincoln Center for the New York Philharmonic. And then whatever [music] gigs that I can get.

How did you find the transition to moving to New York? 
It worked out well and it’s been great. I don’t know what I expected when I moved to New York, but it wasn’t what I got, but I think it’s better. It’s been better than what I thought I was expecting. I’ve definitely found places that I can just kind of chill and it’s a little more relaxed. Partly, I think it’s where I live. Since moving to Brooklyn, which was this year, it’s quiet when I get home now, and it’s nice. I have my own space, so it’s not always as hectic as it could be, I guess.

What is your ultimate career goal?
Ideally, I would like to work in a Broadway pit orchestra, but we’ll see. It’s a tough industry, obviously, so… TBD.

At this point, do you feel like you know how to pursue that?
No. Not really. There isn’t really one way to get there, from everything I’ve heard and people I’ve talked to, and it’s scary. For a symphony orchestra, you audition, and that’s how you get the gig. For theatre, there’s no one way to get there. 

In terms of your career goals, what do you worry about the most at this point in time?
I guess getting work at all. Just getting the gig in the first place, because it’s all who you know. It’s not really based on skill level at this point, it’s just assumed that you can play the music. And the way that theatre is going, there’s never enough money to hire a lot of musicians, there’s never enough space for a whole orchestra-type situation, so—especially with synth parts—they’re cutting down on the strings section, and so there are fewer opportunities and there aren’t really a whole lot of musicians that are leaving the industry. There’s no opportunity for people like me, graduating from college, to jump in and find work.

Does the who-you-know part seem intimidating?
Yeah, it does. I’m not great at networking and schmoozing, and so it’s hard for me to think about having to do that.

What do you think would make it easier for you to pursue your career in theatre?
Part of what’s frustrating is that my education is classical, because that’s all there is for strings performance. You could go to Berkeley, but that’s pop music. Other than that, it’s all classical. Right now, what I’m struggling with is whether or not I want to go to grad school. For music, grad school means another two years of just practicing eight hours a day, which is good and really hones your skill, but at the same time, as a cellist, the two options for me are a solo-performance track or an orchestral-performance track, and neither of those really fit what I want to do. I guess what would be helpful is someone out there who is offering some sort of education, or anything for students that’s theatre-based, but not just for actors.

Do you think about gender issues in terms of going into theatre? Are those issues you feel affect you now?
Yeah, it’s definitely something I think about, partly because it’s me, but also I’ve noticed, especially this year in some of the shows I’ve done, more often than not I’m one of, if not the only woman in the pit orchestra. I’ve only worked with a female Music Director once, and that was just this year. Before that, it’s always been guys. What usually happens is the women that are in the pit are only ever in the strings section, but the rhythm section is never women. It’s always guys. Going out for drinks after the show, it’s me and a bunch of guys, and that’s kind of hard. They’re all great and they’re all nice, but it’s hard to break into that group. Because it is so much of who you know and not how good you are, there is a lot of that, and they have to like you and you have to kind of suck up to that, and it’s tough.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
It hasn’t affected how I view my career as a cellist. I guess what it did make me question is whether or not I want to be a cellist as a career. I’ve always, in the back of my head been like, “Well, if this music thing really doesn’t work out, I guess I can apply to law school.” I like arguing with people. [The election] really made me think about what good am I doing a cellist? I’m kind of reevaluating how I can make an impact on peoples’ lives in a good way, as opposed to just, “I want to do this for fun.”


Mahima in an elevator.

Mahima Saigal, 24
From: New Delhi, India
Currently: Moved to NYC to study acting at the Atlantic Acting School and is pursuing acting.

Tell me about getting your visa.
I got my work visa. Basically, in order to do that, I had to present to the Department of Homeland Security that I’m a working professional, which is kind of ironic, because I came here to study. I used to go to school and then in the evenings I would do some plays in some Off-Off-Broadway venues, or I would do some sort of performances or try to have some school productions that I would get some of my friends to write a review about so that she could make it look professional. That was basically my journey in the past three years; school and then applying for my visa.

Now that I have my visa, it’s an interesting ball game all together because apparently the visa that I have is kind of restricting. I can’t really just show up for an audition for a Netflix show because, apparently, they like people who are green card holders or citizens. I just got the visa like a year back, so in this one year I’ve discovered that on a scale of one to ten, I’m on a zero when it comes to getting access to certain jobs. But then in that sense, I’ve really had great experiences being on stage because theatre is something that I think is all-embracing and you can do whatever you want to do. You can practice your craft the best way possible, and they don’t care what your visa is or what your background is. In that sense, I’ve had an excellent experience working with a bunch of theatre companies. I realized that there are some theatre companies that are led by South Asian women, so that was a great discovery. Now I’m auditioning and I’m trying to get my green card as soon as possible. That’s the first goal.

Beyond the visa issues, how did you find the transition to moving to New York?
I had graduated. I had completed my undergrad in Delhi because my dad was like, “Please have a back up degree plan.” I was like, “Okay, I will.” But even then, I chose to study history, which everyone knows, it’s very rare if someone can make a lot of money out of that degree. My dad was happy, so I was happy. After I graduated, I asked my dad, “Here’s the thing. I need to go to New York. I need to study there and it’s just something in me and I cannot deny it. It’s best if you support me.” He was actually very supportive. He comes from a generation of engineers and finance [professionals]. He was like, “Actually, you know what? Fine. You seem pretty confident. Why not?” He helped me with the transition. He actually came to drop me here.

We were finding apartments in New York. God, that was a disaster. We met all these brokers. We didn’t know anyone in New York. All our cousins were in San Jose. We had all these broker fees to pay, and one dollar is 68 rupees. With ten dollars, in India I could watch a movie, have a ride back home, and even eat a popcorn. It was a quite a transition in that sense for me. We found an apartment uptown near Harlem. But then I was just craving Indian food, so when my dad and my mom left, I was like, “I don’t know if I can live here.” I asked around and people directed me to the Lower East Side. There’s an Indian strip. Basically, I just tried to find a connection, something that could connect me to home over here. Indian restaurants were a great help. Homesickness was definitely a part of a lot of things. For some reason, my stress levels were very high and the first semester was very interesting. Now that I look back at it, it was completely worth it because of the experience in school. My first day in school was clowning, the most scary class ever. That was a big reality check. It sort of helped me realize that it’s essentially what I make out of it. Either it can be a disaster or it’s going to be some of the best years of my life, and I chose the latter.

What’s your ultimate career goal?
I’m just so obsessed with the TV world here, but deep in my heart I really want to do what Oskar Eustis does with the Public. My five-year goal right now is just to work with him, Oskar Eustis. I really, really feel connected with his mission and the work he does. Or maybe be the artistic director of a theatre company that matters. Because we don’t have that back home. If I do a play, let’s say it’s The Vagina Monologues, which is very popular all over the world, you have to censor so much of it in India. My friend was producing it, and the police came and they had to have a chat with them. That’s my background. So when I come here and I see something like the Public and see someone like Oskar Eustis, I’m like, “This is gold. Where was this all my life?”

How have you been finding going and auditioning and doing all that? You hear so many stories about people having to go and stand in line for hours and hours and wait around.
I stood in line for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for three days, for non-union. Because, I mean, I had to. The chances of my getting seen are better if I line up as opposed to sitting at my apartment. It’s actually very hard to be seen, but I got seen for Hamilton when they had that casting call for actors who are of color. That was something where I was really lucky that I got seen. But yeah, there are ups and downs. I continue to be on seeing what’s going on, or on Backstage or one of the sites. Just show up. That’s my mantra this year. Just show up. You never know what’ll happen.

Do you find that there are a lot of theatre roles that come up for auditions that you’re interested in?
Mostly when I see any audition call that says all ethnicities, I just show up. The fact that they have that awareness, that they’re willing to look at someone who does not necessarily look like a Margaret or a Marsha, but is interested in playing that, that gives me hope. In theatre, I think there’s so much room for experimentation. They’re so much more welcoming. I’ve never had any sort of inhibitions about showing up for auditions that are not looking for an Indian girl specifically, because I know these guys are open-minded. I’ve been approached to do a lot of workshops for reading and plays, especially by NYU playwrights. Writers these days are willing to do unconventional casting more than ever. They want people. They’re actually on a lookout. It’s been a very fruitful experience in that sense.

Do you feel that there are gender issues that affect you at this point in your career, and which ones? Is it something you think about?
Yes. The thing is for some reason I see, even in the Indian theatre community here, the Indian men are coddled so much for some reason. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s always expected that the woman will take care of herself and the guys are given all this constant validation, which I think is very universal. It’s not like an Indian thing, I think it happens everywhere. The interesting thing is there are always more roles for men. I can say the same thing for roles for Indian men too. For example, we were trying to do a Shakespeare play, so men were seen as the authority on something like The Taming of the Shrew. I’m like, “I studied Shakespeare. Do you mind if I also chime in?” It’s something about being not heard. Especially if a guy has gone to an acting school, he’s given more of, “Oh, he might be someone serious.” I was like, “Hey, I also went to an acting school. Excuse me?” That’s definitely something I face. The play I was in last year, one of the leading roles for men was given to an actor who didn’t even go to an acting school. I’m not trying to criticize him, but you know those basic rules of theatre, like be heard, don’t show your back to the audience? Those basic things, he didn’t even know that. Here he is, playing the lead just because he is a guy and they needed an Indian guy, and the ratio of Indian guys is quite less. It’s like, “Wow, you just got that role because you’re Indian.” That kind of explains a lot about casting in the world today. Experiencing it firsthand was disheartening.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
Where I come from, everyone was saying, “Hey, why are you ditching your own country? We have a big industry here.” Bollywood. I was like, “Here’s the thing. Bollywood was never the goal for me, and we don’t have great theatre. The theatre that we have has been very disrespectful to me.” It’s not about India vs. America. It never was. Now that Trump became the President, I got all these messages from all these people from my undergrad who were like, “What are you going to do now? He’s going to deport you.” I was like, “No, I have a legal visa. Do you realize there’s a difference between getting a visa and staying here [and not having a visa]?” But again, they were just like, “Oh, he’s targeting people of color, so are you going to pack your bags now?” That sort of inspired me to just write because I was angry and I just needed to vent. I just started writing and I started doing all this spoken word poetry. I realized there is an audience for it and people were responding well to it. Now I’m thinking of submitting a play, which is based on my visa experiences, like the questions I’m asked during my interview or the comments that are made about my career. It’s definitely something that I hadn’t thought about last year, but something I’m quite inspired to do this year. To write and write and write.


Victoria in her dorm room.

Victoria Tamez, 20
From: Whittier, California
Currently: Just finished her junior year at the New School majoring in Drama, and also studying Arts Education, Women’s Studies, and Spanish.

Besides school, do you have any other jobs?
Yes. One of the biggest jobs I work on is that I’m a RA at the dorm. That provides me with housing and some stipend and a meal plans, so it’s really helpful when it comes to the larger overall cost of attending the New School, which is quite pricey. When it comes to outside jobs, right now I’m doing some internships in arts education, which I got through the school. I always want to get more jobs outside of school, but my family is like, “No, you shouldn’t do that. You need to concentrate on your studies.” But, at the same time, always having to worry about money and finances, it manifests as a certain kind of nervousness that kind of eats away at you, at least in my experience. So it’s hard to balance being able to fully invest in your studies, not worrying about the financial stress of it all, and then wanting to take off that financial stress by doing other things outside of school. In a way, it feels like there are just never enough hours in the day for me to be able to do all the things I want and need to do in order to not only just survive, but thrive being a student in New York City.

I was actually going to ask you about how you’d found the transition to New York, and obviously money is a big part of that.
Oh my goodness, it was one of the biggest parts of that. Even just being able to say yes to the school. I’m lucky that I was able to get a scholarship when I auditioned, but still, for my family that wasn’t enough. And it was a generous scholarship. But for what my family makes and what we could do in our household, it still just wasn’t enough. So for me, it was being a senior in high school scrambling to try and just get myself out here.

When it comes to living in a different city, the transition was actually quite quick for me. I was surprised at how quick the transition was. I really fell into the speed of the city. I feel that I’m a city girl. I’m a girl always going. There’s a great energy in that that I feed off of. I think one of the hardest things was being away from my family. I don’t have any blood relatives out here on the East Coast, so that was one of the most difficult transitions for me and for my family as well.

I feel like any first year of anything is always difficult because it feels like a rerouting and a re-grounding of who I am in this new place. And figuring out where my tribe is and who my tribe can be. So it’s always difficult, but I’ve always felt that it was going to be difficult in the first year. Since then, I was able to plant a strong foundation and base that helped me really grow for the past two years. But it was difficult the first year.

What is your ultimate career goal?
My ultimate career goal is to keep following my passion. And I feel like my passion lies in being a storyteller through acting and playwriting, specifically. And equally, I feel like my other passion is to bring affordable, quality theatre education to primarily Latinx communities. I have a dream of setting up a type of theatre school/arts center back home in my area. Because I know if it wasn’t for one theatre teacher who was generous enough to give her time and volunteer at my middle school, I would’ve never had the kind of quality theatre education I had, which then led me to be able to go to LA County High School for the Arts, and that then led me to a whole other world where I was able to find out about all these conservatories and then audition for them and actually have a chance at getting into them.

I remember being little and wanting to do theatre and wanting to do acting, and in Los Angeles you’d think that would be something easy to find, but it is just so extremely expensive. The classes would be $1,500, $2,000 and I knew that my family couldn’t afford that. It was unnecessary. So one of my passions is to bring quality theatre education to as many people as possible because I feel that quality theatre education is really inaccessible right now, especially for young people.

In terms of your career and what you want to accomplish, as you start thinking about going into your senior year and graduating, what is it you worry about most?

Some of the things that weigh on my mind as I’m approaching my senior year of college are wondering if I’ve done everything I possibly can to make a great, smooth transition into the industry as a working artist. That’s a question I always come to. And for me, it’s a guiding question. I feel like I’ve been having that guiding question since my freshman year here. Leading up to graduation, what will make me the most confident? What classes should I be taking? How hard should I be pushing myself? As of right now, I don’t feel that I’ve passed up opportunities, or I don’t have too many “should haves” right now, which I’m really thankful for. Some of the things [I’m thinking about] now are trying to turn my internships into hopeful job opportunities for next year, trying to take as many workshops and classes outside of school as I can while I’m still attending school, and continuing to find opportunities outside of school to work, no matter what.

What do you think would make it easier?
I think one of the things that would’ve made it easier is to be able to have career counseling from day one as a freshman. I’m lucky that I had that here at the New School, but I also wish that that kind of focus would be intensified. With most college programs when it comes to theatre, senior year feels like there are all these classes like audition technique and “how to transition into the business,” and “on-camera acting,” and [rehearsing] for showcase. I think that it would be beneficial for so many students to be working that in throughout all four years. One of the reasons why I chose to attend the New School was because they let us do things outside of school. They allow us to audition for professional engagements. They allow us to go off and do things in the city as long as we make our classes and we keep our commitments academically. So, many of my peers and I have been working simultaneously as students and trying to get our feet wet in the New York industry at the same time.

Do you feel that there are gender issues that affect you at this point in your career, and which ones? Is it something you think about?
Absolutely. I’m looking back here at the New School, and so far and I have been very, very lucky to have so many amazing female professors in my drama program. All of my foundational teachers from acting to playwriting to directing have been women working in the industry. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had so far here was when I took a contemporary female playwrights class. The class was looking at contemporary female playwrights, and we would look at one of their plays and then we’d look at them as an artist and how they formed their work, but then we would also write our own pieces of work in response to the plays. And I didn’t know that last part. I thought it was more of a contemporary female playwrights appreciation class. So it was a very happy accident in the sense that I never felt that I had any right to possibly write anything—for some reason I didn’t feel I had the right to do that. I don’t know why, but I didn’t. And my teacher, Laura Maria Censabella, she really inspired us to go deeper, to have no fear and just jump in. She had a one-on-one with each of us in the class, and so she sat me down and she was the first person that ever told me that she thinks that I have something here as a playwright and really encouraged me to go further and study this more. If I had never heard that from her, I don’t think I would’ve ever continued to study playwriting or continued on this path of figuring out my voice as a playwright. Or to say that yes, I can write plays and I enjoy writing plays. I don’t know if the impact would’ve been as great if I didn’t have that amazing female teacher to tell me that. So she’s changed my life in that particular way. Then one of the next playwriting professors who was able to encourage me further was Carmen Rivera. If it wasn’t for these women I wouldn’t have ever explored this playwriting side of myself.

And as far as the industry beyond school, have you noticed gender issues? 
One of the things that’s very interesting as an actor is understanding that I play a part in furthering stereotypes or not. So going in to audition for female roles, [I can] give in and play to an idea of what a woman is in a particular play or context, or really dig in and find the truth of who this human being is. And sometimes those lines can get really blurry, but understanding that I share a responsibility in that along with the playwright, the director, and the creative team. And when is it my responsibility to speak up? And how I would do that respectfully and professionally?

Even just going into an audition room, it’s a very interesting journey finding that if I look a certain way, if I put a little bit more makeup on or if I wear something that’s maybe more fitting or just a tad bit more revealing or tight, I might usually get a callback. It’s happened before, already. So understanding that those things come into play, and then also figuring out what I can do to change them.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
Yeah. Absolutely. I just read the other day that “politics” really means someone’s world. And I believe that to be true. So I think what we do is very political because it’s all about our worldview, or a certain character’s worldview, or a time period’s worldview. In a lot of my classes, especially post-election, a lot of teachers have been telling me, in different ways, “What is your point of view? Bring that to the table first. That is what your job is. To bring your point of view. Do not shy away from it.” How can I not be political and show my point of view? It is inherently political. I must show my point of view. It is inherent to being an artist. But just knowing that there is power in showing my worldview, and that my voice is important, and once I speak out, hopefully it then inspires a ripple effect of other people sharing their worldview, and then we can all come to a better understanding of people in this post-election country that we live in. I think that’s what we really do. We come together in a community to share out story. How is that not political?


Danielle in front of her apartment in Brooklyn.

Danielle Zarbin, 22
From: Oak Park, Illinois
Currently: Graduated from Wellesley College in 2016 with a major in Women’s and Gender Studies with a concentration in Intersectional Arts, and currently finishing up her term as Individual Giving Intern at Manhattan Theatre Club. Will soon be starting at Playwrights Horizons as Marketing Coordinator.

So you started out pre-med in college?
I started pre-med at the University of Illinois. I could never really come up with a reason that touched me for why I wanted to become a doctor. I kept thinking that one of these days something would come to me. But the whole standard, “I want to help people,” it just didn’t ever really strike a chord. And so I transferred to Wellesley. I told myself, this could be the last chance to do theatre and be involved. So I auditioned for a show and it was the first time I had been on stage in five years. And from the moment I was cast, there was just no going back. I am now the current Individual Giving Intern at Manhattan Theatre Club.

How did you find the transition of moving to New York?
It’s definitely a transition. New York is not an easy place. I think even the most successful people will tell you that. And I’ve had very, very successful people come to our seminars, and the first thing they say is, “It doesn’t matter how incredibly successful my company is, but it is so hard to be in New York and it is so hard to stay in New York and to stay relevant. But for the few of us who do, it’s totally worth it.” And I’m really finding that to be true. The cost of living is outrageous. Everyone moves a mile a minute. And opportunities are so numerous, but also highly competitive. I found, though, that if you are willing to pursue things and to network and to really find the best way to sell yourself, that you can be competitive in this industry and in this city. It just takes a lot of work. And it takes a lot of learning that no’s are not personal. But at the same time, I really like New York. I like it for now. I don’t know if I’ll stay. Because I don’t necessarily know if this is where I want to raise a family and where I want to spend a large part of my life. For me, it really depends on, can I “make it” in the city. But I am comfortable with the fact that I might not. And I’m okay with that.

Do you have any other jobs on top of your job?
I’m also the Director of Development of the Joust Theatre Company. They are comprised of NYU grads from 2014. So that’s all volunteer. I’m not paid to do it. But I am in charge of cultivating a board. We’re becoming a 501c(3). I’m in charge of fundraising for our operating budget and I’m also in charge of any other Kickstarter or side campaigns. Right now, we’re trying to find a home. So we’re trying to find money to have an ongoing rental space and rehearsal rooms, etc. So that’s been really fun because, on the one side, I get to interact with a top Broadway producing company, and on the other side I’m allowed to exercise what I’m learning at my internship, but it’s really just me running the show. And that’s been really fruitful. It’s really fun to be able to work with both age groups—my peers and people who are much more experienced.

What is your ultimate career goal?
That is a complicated question. I’m at a point right now where I could see myself going in a few different directions. Artistically, I’d like to get more involved. I’d like to do maybe a bit more directing and a bit more acting, on the side. Administratively, I am looking to run one of the large advertising companies that works for Broadway. So maybe at SpotCo or Serino/Coyne. Or maybe create my own marketing consulting firm for the arts with a specific focus on serving nonprofits. But I’m really flexible right now, and I kind of want to remain that way for as long as possible.

In terms of you career, what do you worry about the most?
I worry about being pigeonholed. And I worry about doing one thing for too long—wanting to make a transition, and then not being young enough or nimble enough or have my skill set be transferrable to an opportunity that I may want to pursue down the road. I find that a lot of arts administration is very compartmentalized. You need a lot of different components to make a theatre company and to keep it running. But those components do very, very different jobs. The one thing I’d be worried about is wanting to try something else and just not being able to.

What do you wish you had been more prepared for in terms of moving here and starting your career?
I wish I had been more prepared to look for side jobs and to be ready to have to embrace the side hustle. Especially on an intern’s salary. I’m fortunate enough that MTC pays their interns a livable wage, but I know a lot of other Broadway-level companies really don’t. And most of us here do have to have some sort of a side job. I’ve embraced it. I’m working the patron’s lounge at MTC, and I get to interact with patrons, which is really good for my development job. But the willingness and the openness to really have to spend the majority of your time finding income [is something] I wish I had been more prepared for when I first moved.

This might be related. What would make it easier for you to pursue doing what you want?
Money. And I really think that, especially in the internship aspect of things, there needs to be a lot of self-reflection on the part of these huge companies that are asking for, and who rely a huge amount on, interns. MTC’s doing a great job. It has some new initiatives related to housing stipends and more financial aid for people who demonstrate that need. I wish that more companies in the city would take that on. When I first started applying, I was looking at all these internships and I was astounded by the variety and the choice. Then I started looking right at compensation and it’s not abnormal for some interns to be paid $50 a week. So I think that some sort of stipend or an education subsidy on the part of these organizations that have education departments would really, really help.

Do you feel that there are gender issues that affect you at this point in your career, and which ones? Is it something you think about?
I don’t think I can ever say no. Especially now. I will say, though, that I’ve been fortunate to end up in places that are flooded with incredibly powerful women and incredibly powerful non-binary individuals. So in terms of outright sexism in the workplace, right now, I don’t feel like I’m experiencing that a whole lot. However, in the city as a whole, I get catcalled all the time and men on the subway are kind of gross. But professionally, I think that I’m very fortunate to end up in an environment that really respects and prizes the advancement of women.

But I want to add that I feel like I’m getting a really, really good picture, a really good overview of a lot of the players and the subsets of the industry that I want to go into, in terms of the advertising side of things and the development side of things. I haven’t met a single Asian American woman—I mean, I haven’t met a single Asian American person, period. I feel alone in that respect, but at the same time, I feel like that is an advantage for me. I don’t know how I feel about that as a whole, because I’m all for equity and diversity and everything, and I also don’t want to be commodified. I don’t want to fill a quota, but I do feel that I am kind of alone in a pool, in that regard.

Has the election affected how you view your career or what you want to do with it?
I don’t think I could ever say no, again. I don’t think that it makes me worry more; I think that there will always be arts, no matter what happens. There will always be arts. And at the end of the day, I feel lucky to have found something that I love and I think I owe it to myself to not ignore that and to follow it for as long as I can. I feel like there are many, many other people in this world who feel the same way. And no matter what happens politically, I think that if there are people that want to create that space, it will always happen. And I have faith in that.