Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Playwright in the Windy City: Interview with Caity-Shea Violette

Ordway Education is taking the opportunity to feature professionals in the world of theater, as well as check in with Ordway Education alum. This month we chat with Chicago based playwright and actor Caity-Shae Violette.

Photo Credit: Tom Vin
In one sentence, what is your job description, and why do you love it?
I am a playwright, actor, and the manager of marketing and communications for a non-profit serving people living with mental illness; I love that these roles allow me to continuously learn how to share captivating stories that ignite compassion and inspire others to engage in larger social conversations.

How are you connected to the Ordway? 
In 2009, I was an education and community outreach intern to help organize and execute the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival for the spring semester of my senior year of high school at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists (SPCPA).

My time as an intern at the Ordway allowed me to practice professional communication and collaboration while being able to seek guidance from a mentor and network with theatre professionals in the arts administrative field. This was absolutely invaluable to both my college experience and my post-grad career as it gave my relatively blank resume a variety of administrative, organizational, and collaborative skills, backed by the credibility of one of the leading artistic homes in Minnesota.

What is your favorite memory of your time at the Ordway?
I loved seeing the variety of performances that took place at the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival. My personal favorite festival performance was the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia’s presentation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favourites.

When did you decide to become a professional actor/playwright?
I discovered my love for playwriting in my junior year at SPCPA, when I was selected to participate in a new play intensive program created in partnership with the Playwrights’ Center to complete during our J-Term session. J-Term was a few week session where SPCPA students took a break from academic classes to only take artistic classes. Around the same time I was cast in my first regional theatre production at the Children’s Theatre Company in a show with a similar new work atmosphere called Fashion 47 co-written by Randy Weiner and Diane Paulus. I think being able to see the new play development process from both the writer and performer perspective is what solidified my decision to pursue storytelling as profession.
Photo Credit: Tony Adams

What is the most unexpected place your career has taken you?
The theatre department at the University of Minnesota, Duluth (where I earned my BFA in Theatre with an emphasis in acting) participated in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festivala program that begins with nine regional festivals of thousands of undergraduate and graduate theatre students from around the country and culminating into a national festival based on the results of the previous regional festivals. Festival attendees are students who have been nominated for a particular artistic achievement and gather to network with professionals, take workshops, and celebrate each other’s work.

After attending both the regional and the national festival in Washington D.C. when my full-length play Target Behavior received the National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Excellence award in 2012, I was fortunate enough to return once again to both the regional and national festivals in 2013, this time as both a playwright and actor. That year, my ten-minute play Disconnect was selected as one of four national finalists for the Kennedy Center Ten-Minute Play Competition and received a staged reading. Later that week in the festival, I had the tremendous honor of performing a section of my ten-minute play, Save The Date, on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center as an Irene Ryan Acting Competition Region 5 winner and National Finalist. That was definitely a wonderfully unexpected surprise to say the least.

What is the most rewarding part of writing a new play?
My favorite part of writing a new play is being able to share that story with people outside of the artistic community. I’m fortunate enough to be active in mental health advocacy and some communities of survivors of sexual and physical abuse in Chicago. As the majority of my work centers around silenced stories of gender-based violence and oppression, I am able to learn from and share this work with the phenomenal individuals in these communities.

What is the best piece of career advice you have received? Worst piece of advice?
Best piece of advice: People want to work with people who love what they do. If you’re nervous for an audition or interview, anchor yourself in the joy of being able to share what you love to do most with someone willing to be an audience, even for 60 seconds.

Worst advice: You can be a playwright or an actor, but you need to choose which you want to be great at. (Almost all of my best work as an has come out of things I’ve written for myself, if for nothing else than audition material).

If you won the lottery, and never had to work another day in your life, what is the first thing you would do?
Pay off all bills for my mom, my best friends, and myself, then start finding organizations I want to support and travel around to be involved with them.

Who is your mentor, and how have they shaped you?
The biggest mentor in my career as a playwright was absolutely Tom Isbell at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. In addition to being an accomplished actor, playwright, and author, he was also my acting professor, academic advisor, the supervisor of four undergraduate research opportunity grants I received to write new plays, the director of plays in which I acted, as well as the director of my first full-length production. After reading the first play I had ever written, a quirky, messy one-act play, he offered to teach me, mentor me and encourage me to apply for various grants and Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival submissions. As my school didn’t have a playwriting program beyond an intro class taught every other spring semester, Tom spent countless hours reading over 20 drafts of my full-length and several drafts of multiple shorter plays, then meeting with me to discuss overall feedback and go page-by-page to discuss individual moments, dialogue, and stage directions.
Photo Credit: Tony Adams
While he insists on never taking credit for the accomplishments of his many fortunate students, I truly cannot imagine any part of my creative career without his unwavering support. I’ve learned to be confident in owning the work I’ve put into earning opportunities I’ve received because the ability to create is the only constant in an artistic career, recognition is most certainly not. This confidence, however, and everything I have achieved thus far in my career is the direct result of Tom’s guidance. My career as a writer truly began when he believed it was worth fostering.

Tom’s new book, “The Capture”, comes out January 19th, 2016! Support an educator, a mentor, a sensational writer, and read the sequel in this thrilling trilogy while you do it.

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