Building Community Through Musical Theatre in New York

Colette Richardson ’16

Colette, you went to New York after York House graduation in 2016. Why New York?

I went to New York for the first time for my thirteenth birthday and it was love at first sight. There is a constant heartbeat to the city that pulses this energy of creativity and opportunity that truly makes me feel like anything is possible. I’m also very much a “places to go, people to see” kind of person, so the culture of constantly being on the go was a really good fit for me. Mostly though, as a performer with an eye on a professional musical theatre career, there’s really nowhere else to be. New York is the heart of the musical theatre industry, with new works being developed and performed here every day. I really wanted to be a part of that, so this was really the ideal place to try and get started.

Describe some of your experiences over the past two years.

Coming to a post-secondary institution that was less academically focused was definitely a shift (as was re-introducing the male species into my social circles), but it really allowed me to meet people from very different backgrounds from me and learn about how they grew up and it’s really allowed me to look at how much my experiences shape how I see the world.

 The Integrated Conservatory Program at AMDA was an amazing sandbox to hone my performance skills and really work on mastering the specificity that separates the “hobby” performer from the professional. I have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing professionals, ranging from Casting Directors who worked on Enchanted and Dirty Dancing, to director/choreographers who performed in national companies of A Chorus Line. I even had one professor who dubs over sound for Tom Hanks when he isn’t available to fix sound issues in his movies.

In addition, being in the city has allowed me to gain access to so many amazing resources that have helped me truly stay in touch with my art and my craft. The Lincoln Centre Performing Arts Library is my favourite place in the city, and has an extensive research collection including original scripts, archival footage and handwritten letters and notes by some of the Theatre’s greats. It has been amazing being able to spend a day reading through original materials from some of the most famous shows ever written, as well as getting first hand access to scripts and scores from some of the most recent work on Broadway, all because I’m a student and young professional in the city. I’ll spend entire days in the library just reading and watching because there is so much to learn and so many wonderful resources to discover. Not to mention being able to see dozens of Broadway shows in their original productions and meet some of the performers at the stage door. Being in the heart of the industry is so incredibly inspiring, I feel so lucky to be able to take every day to learn and grow and soak in what the city has to offer.

My most exciting project though was probably the show I produced in Vancouver when I came home last summer. Thanks to some amazing support from YHS, myself, some other amazing alumnae and some incredibly talented young Vancouver artists mounted a full scale production of Jason Robert Brown’s “13” the musical, which received rave reviews and  played several sold out productions. It was the most challenging project I’ve ever taken on, as I produced and starred in the production, but also one I’m most proud of. It was challenging and stressful, but ultimately so rewarding as it really proved to myself and to the Vancouver theatre community that young artists really are capable of anything. It was a really empowering experience and it’s really propelled me into some of my next projects in New York.

Have you stayed connected to the YHS network in New York?

I was absolutely thrilled to discover that the welcoming family community of YHS extends far beyond the walls of the school and the girls that I went to school with. I went to a “New Yorkies” meet up last spring, and was honestly a little nervous. I didn’t know any of the other alumnae because they had all graduated years before I’d even started, but I was so comforted realizing that it really doesn’t matter when you graduated, if you’re a Yorkie, you’re family. The other women were so incredibly welcoming and interested in learning about what I was working on, and shared really amazing advice and stories about being so far from home and navigating as a Canadian in the US, as well as having incredibly inspiring stories about their own exciting adventures. They even made sure to send me home with all the leftovers, because they wanted to make sure that the college student had plenty to eat in the dorms. I am so grateful and thankful to be a part of such an amazing and wonderful community. I can’t wait for the next event so I can bring some of my friends from my years at YHS who graduated after me and recently joined me in New York along with me and show them just how powerful and loving the Yorkie network can be.

What are you currently working on?

Soon after graduating, a group of friends and I submitted the paperwork to incorporate a state not for profit theatre company in New York: Our Time Players. I’m currently the sitting Chair of the organization. We wanted to provide a platform to empower emerging artists finishing up their studies to take control of their artistic careers. What better way to gain experience and exposure than to collaborate with other talented young people to create engaging and meaningful art that matters to you. We’ve got a season of cabarets, full scale musicals and plays lined up that tell stories that are immediately relevant and important to young people. Especially in this global climate, the voices of young people are becoming more important and powerful than ever before, and we want to harness our power as the next generation of theatre makers to prove that it doesn’t matter how young you are, or how little there might be on your resume, you have a powerful and valuable artistic voice that is worth paying attention to.

In addition, I’ve been working on several smaller acting jobs. I’ve become the face for a campaign encouraging young people to vote, done some extra work on a couple of well known web series and have done several cabaret gigs, and am looking forward to more in the near future!

As you finish up your two years at AMDA, talk to us about your immediate goals?

I’m currently working towards applying for my O1 Visa, which would allow me to continue to develop my career in New York for another three years. I’m hoping I’ll be able to score some principal regional theatre jobs, and lead Our Time Players into a successful inaugural season, and hopefully several more. I’m very excited to see what possibilities exist for me in the near future. I’m at this stage in my career where there are so many possibilities and I can’t wait to see what in the next couple of years have in store!

If you’re interested in following my journey you can check out my website http://coletterichardsontheatre.com/ or my YouTube Channel

To follow the adventures of Our Time Players, check out our website https://www.ourtimeplayers.org/ or support us by donating to our crowdfunding campaign https://www.gofundme.com/ourtimeny

 

Mentors & Mentees: They Lift as they Climb

The YHS Alumnae Mentorship program was launched last September and the feedback has been very positive from both mentees and mentors. We asked Ashley Williams ’12  and Salima Remtulla ’00 about their experiences.

Ashley, you were matched with mentor Shannon Trainor from the Class of 2005. Tell us about your experience and why you wanted a mentor?

I got involved with the Alumnae Mentorship Program because I wanted to learn as much as I could from a Yorkie who had gone through a similar university experience. I also wanted advice for upcoming interviews for medical residency in Canada. It was a very worthwhile experience because Shannon gave me excellent advice about how to prepare for interviews and shared her own experiences as a medical student studying abroad. Ultimately, I felt very supported by Shannon’s empathy and genuine interest in guiding me through my residency interviews.

Did you feel comfortable connecting with her?

It was effortless to connect with Shannon as she was very friendly and easy to talk to. She always left the door open for questions and future meetings. We arranged our meetings in a flexible way that suited both of our busy schedules.

How did she help you with your career journey?

In terms of my career journey, Shannon helped by giving me some questions to reflect on as I was going through my interview process. She gave me wise advice from her own residency experience and this helped me decide which jobs were better suited to my future plans. She also gave me a good list of interview questions to practice answering on my own or with family and friends.

How did you communicate?

Shannon and I arranged our first meeting on FaceTime. We then corresponded mostly by email and we also met for lunch when I was back in Vancouver. I hope to stay in touch especially since we are both in family medicine!

Do you think it’s important for recent grads to find a mentor?

I believe it is important as it can be difficult to navigate career options post university and so connecting with someone who has been through a similar experience provides reassurance. It is helpful to have someone to talk to who is objective to your experience because they might point out options or ideas you hadn’t thought of before. Finally, in a technology-run world, I think it is crucial to keep cultivating genuine human to human connections, which this program achieves.

Salima, as a mentor, you were matched with Skylar Gordon, Class of 2014. Tell us about that experience.

There was so much I gained from the experience – a new friend, a stronger connection with York House, the opportunity to reflect on some of the key decisions I’ve made in my own life as Skylar and talked through crossroads she’s navigating, fresh insights into current events, knowledge of the start-up scene here in Vancouver (and a delightful tea company in particular!), the list goes on. I’m looking forward to building on my relationship with Skylar now that she’s moved back to Vancouver, and am also excited about getting to know the new Yorkie I’ve been matched with in the second cycle of the YHS Alumnae Mentorship Program!

Why do you think it’s important to be a mentor?

None of us got to where we are today without help – whether it be from friends, family, teachers, colleagues, mentors, or others. Mentorship is about paying the kindness we’ve received forward so that we each lift as we climb. As women, mentoring is even more critical, as the ‘gender confidence gap’ is very real. To change the face of leadership, we need to encourage other women to set their sights higher and act with the self-assurance we wish we had ourselves.

Have you had many mentors throughout your own career to date?

Too many to count! And what the most impactful ones had in common was that each of them believed in me more than I believed in myself and pushed me to take risks, do better, and ask for more. All of us struggle to some degree with self-doubt – the more people you have in your life who think you’re more capable and amazing than you give yourself credit for, the more confidence and support you will have to take leaps, and grow.

Are there any tips you can give other alumnae wanting to be mentors?

Mentees give great advice! When we don’t actively seek out different perspectives, each of us tends to operate in an echo chamber. Consider how your mentee can offer you a fresh perspective on something you hold long-established beliefs about, or how they can help you understand a new trend (hashtags, anyone?). Skylar and I had a fantastic conversation about “Millennials” in one of our early meetings that fleshed out both of our understanding of generational biases – which run both ways! – and how workplaces and corporate cultures are shifting to address the needs of an increasingly purpose- and impact- oriented next generation.

Have you any advice for young graduates looking for mentors?

The hardest part is often figuring out what you want. Once you’ve identified what you want from a mentor (Help navigating a big decision? Career advice? Life advice? An introduction?), then do some research to figure out who might be able to give you what you’re looking for (Someone in your workplace? An expert in your field? A former Yorkie?), and ask!

I have yet to experience someone turning me down point-blank when asked for something I know they are able to offer – sometimes they’ll ask for some timing flexibility, other times they’ll refer me to someone they think is better able to help, but I always walk away with something! Similarly, I strive to pay that forward and give something whenever it’s asked of me.

Paying it Forward in Kenya

 

Jenna, you graduated from York House in 2011 and then went on to Claremont McKenna College. What did you study and why?

My passion for the social sciences and humanities was definitely cultivated at York House in classes with Mr. Cropley, Mr. P, Mr. Abt, and Ms. McIvor. It was not until university that I realized I was also interested in business and decided on an interdisciplinary major in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. After a trip to Tanzania in 2012 with my parents to explore their birthplace, I began to focus on development economics with an emphasis on East Africa.

You were until recently based in LA. You’ve now moved to Kenya. Please tell us how that came about.

Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I was recruited to join an economic consulting firm in LA and worked as an Analyst for two and a half years before moving to Nairobi. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to build a non-profit consulting practice at the firm. In addition to working on private sector client engagements, I also worked on a number of projects for non-profit clients in Haiti, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania through this practice. I was extremely excited about these projects and was passionate about their outcomes, and I decided to search for a position at an impactful social enterprise in East Africa as my next professional step.

Please tell us about your company and position in Nairobi and why you decided to work there.

Ever since my first trip to East Africa in 2012, I have not stopped thinking about the region, particularly about ways to combat economic inequality and provide basic needs to the ultra poor. During my search for a position in the region, I was introduced to one of Sanergy’s founders through a mutual connection. I was extremely impressed by their innovative and impactful business model. Nairobi’s informal settlements (slums) are not connected to the city’s sewer system and human waste is disposed in the streets and rivers, resulting in serious consequences for the community’s health. Sanergy has developed a sanitary toilet (see picture) and franchises it to the residents of the informal settlements who operate the toilet as a small business by charging customers a small fee to use it. Sanergy safely collects the waste, transforms it into fertilizer, and sells it to local agriculture companies. My role is to maximize operational efficiency for the division of Sanergy that produces and franchises the sanitary toilets. My work cuts across all areas of the business including finance, sales, customer support, and supply chain.

You exemplify the school motto “Not for Ourselves Alone” – Did this passion for community service flourish at YHS?

Yes, definitely. My desire to improve the global community is something that was nurtured throughout my 13 years at York House. I value the emphasis the school places on community service – whether that is through raising funds for the annual Terry Fox Run, committing to sponsor a child’s education abroad, or through disaster relief efforts. A particularly memorable community service engagement was my trip to Paraguay in 2010 with a group of classmates to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

What is life like in Nairobi for a young woman?

Nairobi is an incredibly vibrant, world-class city with an amazing culture and a fantastic food scene. People here are very welcoming and it has been very easy to build a community of friends. Nairobi’s nickname is the “Silicon Savannah” due to the city’s thriving technology sector and since many private sector and social impact start-ups operate here. It is a fun city to live in and I am really enjoying my time here.

Do you have any life advice for the newly graduated Class of 2018?

Some of the brightest people I have ever met were my classmates at YHS. As Yorkies, we are so lucky to grow up in an environment full of talented and driven young women. I would advise new graduates to continue to stay in touch, continue to build their friendships, and “pay it forward” – offer advice and help to each other and continue to build a community of mutual support.

Also, I would advise new graduates to explore the world and share your skills with the global community. You will gain personal satisfaction from working to make a positive impact on others’ lives, and you will gain confidence in yourself when you move to a new city and build a new network.