Hello, it's Tony Howell, and I want to welcome you to our Season Finale of Conversations with Changemakers. One of my mantras is, “Honor your past, present your present, and design our future!” I've been honored to interview 23 incredible Changemakers on this show. And most recently, I listened to 23 hours of audio to present you with this recap, these singular biggest lessons. The throughline that I heard centers around authenticity. The ubiquitous Nathan Lee Graham says it best.
00:48 Nathan Lee Graham:
It all comes back to authenticity because when you are your authentic self, people can intrinsically feel that energy. Energy is palpable. Energy is real. So try to be that, try to find who that is as soon as you possibly can and just become more of it. I always say whoever you are, whatever you are, become more of it. And I mean that.
Rewinding to my very first conversation with my friend and client, Jen Waldman. She says the same thing, especially when it comes to your online presence and creating a brand.
01:25 Jen Waldman:
When it's honest, it plays a huge role because in many cases, we're finding people, meeting people for the first time on the internet. And so you can really smell a mile away when someone is full of it and when someone is authentically representing themselves. So when someone is authentically representing, that goes a long way. I don't even think of it as, we work in similar but different circles. So the word branding to me is not one that is really in my daily vocabulary. Mostly because most people don't approach it like you, Tony, they don't go to their clients and say, what change are you seeking to make in the world? Instead, a lot of branding looks like, well we've done market research and what people want is X. So you should modify your brand to represent what people think they want.
You would never approach it that way. But I think branding as a concept really has that stigma around it. What I think it is, and why I love working with you is figuring out what you're about. And this is also in very many ways my own why. Figure out what you're about and then express it. And so where are you expressing it? You're expressing it on your social media platforms. You're expressing it on your website. And so when you know who you are and you're able to express yourself, people respond to that. So I think it plays a huge role. What I see a lot of artists doing is looking around and going well, that person's very successful. So they must have figured out the formula for branding and marketing. So I'll just copy what they're doing and expect that it's going to work for me. Well, it worked for that person because that's really who they are.
I look at branding as sharing your humanity or tapping into the humanity of your audience. I do have a FREE Brand Bootcamp available on my website, TonyHowell.co, but my annual class on personal branding and photography is starting this January. So if you're interested in that, make sure that you check out Presence. You may know that I equate a lot of metaphors to my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz. So when it comes to branding and sharing your authentic self, your humanity, we've got to follow the yellow brick road.
First, we're going to listen to your heart. That's authenticity. Then you use your brain and you get into strategy, but then it takes courage. Listen to leading man, Telly Leung, describe putting himself out there, courageously on the cabaret stage.
04:16 Telly Leung:
It's hard to share personal stories about yourself because it feels like you're naked on stage and also at the same time you say to yourself, is it enough? Who wants to hear about my story? There's that little voice in the back of your head that goes, you are not interesting and your story is boring. But actually finding that courage to tell your story in the most authentic way and in the most truthful way and to actually engage an audience in your story actually helps move people. It actually helps people kind of look back at their own stories and maybe find the courage to tell their stories as well. So that's definitely something I've learned by doing concerts and by doing cabaret to just trust that my story is interesting enough and that if I'm truthful to that, somebody will connect to that.
And oftentimes, the more specific, the better. I talk about my family a lot in my shows and it's very specific. I come from a Chinese Cantonese immigrant home in New York City. It's so specific, but me being very specific about my upbringing and that household. I find that there are kids who grew up in Indian American homes, who are like, oh my gosh, that's totally my parents or kids that grew up in Latino homes that say, yep we have traditions, too. And they are sticklers about X, Y, and Z. And this is why. And so people connect and I think that's always the goal of doing concert and cabaret work.
When you get an intimate room like that. When you're at a place like Birdland or Feinstein/54 Below or any of these great little rooms where cabaret artists are working and you're hearing their stories. It's a chance for everybody to feel like we're not so alone when you share that story and you can share it in an authentic way. My goal is to always have people leave my concerts or leave my shows going, I know a little something about that person. Not that person's work, not that Telly was in Rent or Telly was in In Transit or in Wicked. That doesn't matter. The resume stuff doesn't really matter.
I know that person a little bit more and wow, how wonderful that he was able to share his story. Where are the opportunities for me to share mine? And I guess if I can get one or two people in that audience or more to leave and go: my family story is really interesting, or my story about me finding love is very interesting. Maybe then I feel like I've accomplished my job as an artist.
It is super scary to share who you are and your experiences, but let the words of these next two Changemakers inspire you to share your truth. First, the host of Future Hindsight, Mila Atmos.
06:53 Mila Atmos:
The biggest impetus to sharing is that I discovered that some of the feelings that I had about life in general are pretty common and that I'm not alone. And I think there's a feeling out there among many people that whatever they're going through is unique in this big life, on this planet. In these times, even 10 years ago, 15 years ago, there are a lot of things you go through and you think, oh my goodness, this is so isolating and it's so lonely. Am I going through this on my own? But it turns out we're really not doing that. All of us have something very similar going on. And a lot of these life milestones are so common, but we don't think about them that way. And we don't share about them that way because so many people hide these challenges. So we like to pretend, especially with social media, I would say it makes it worse, because we like to pretend that our lives are these perfect, shiny objects for show. And that's just not how it actually is.
And now Broadway recording artist, Kathryn Allison.
08:09 Kathryn Allison:
I was so grateful to get that job. I felt like there was something in my chemistry, I felt I learned what I could learn in this experience and I wanted to grow. I felt like I was keeping myself in a box that I couldn't remove. I was really lucky, I reached out to my agents about it and they were very supportive about what I was going through. And also I see a therapist every week and she really, really guided me through that process. I'm not saying it wasn't hard, it was hard. Talking to people who are close to you about it, I think definitely helps to release the burden.
I felt really guilty. I thought these people that I look up to and that have celebrated me in every moment, I feel like I'm not giving them my all. And I'm really a person that, they're working just as hard as me on either side of me on stage. I don't want to give any less than that. And that was hard to grapple with. So those are the things I would say. Therapy really helped me immensely and I wrote a lot during that time, I think writing and just talking to those in your inner circle and getting perspective from them. Because more often than not, there are other people that are going through the same thing as you and you can help each other through it. So yeah, that's what I would say. That's the first time I've like actually really talked about this.
Beyond authenticity the next biggest lesson that I heard, that is particularly helpful during this pandemic is that your job is not your identity. Your identity is not your job. So this goes hand in hand with both branding and business, but identity work is so much deeper. So here's Christine Cole, CEO of Flaweless sharing her career journey.
10:48 Christine Cole:
I actually came to the city to sing. I went to Ithaca College and always knew growing up I wanted to be a singer. And as soon as I graduated, I did the thing that many artists do, which was come to the city and get a job as a waitress and audition like crazy and take class like crazy and fight my way into a singing career. And I did that for a lot of years. And while I did that, I obviously continued to pay my bills between gigs I would land by working in restaurants. And my dad said to me early in my years he said why are you waiting tables? And I said, well, to pay my rent, obviously, duh dad. And he said, you're wasting your life.
And for my dad to say that to me hit me like a knife in the chest. And he looked at me and he said, you've got to figure out what you're doing in these walls, other than paying your rent. Find something that lights you up that is worth all this time you give to it. So I thought about that. And that's when my already love for food and wine really began to flourish. So I started to really invest in service and food and wine and have a delightful time while I was waiting tables in between my gigs. Then doors started to open up for me in restaurants. And honestly that success was really attractive. Even though I'd had success as a singer, the consistency and the perseverance that is required of an artist to keep going was waning on me. So I started to take some of the offers in management in restaurants. And my career just went crazy. So I've spent now the last 20 years owning or running New York City restaurants and managing teams and a year and a half ago, I left operations of restaurants to start Flaweless.
This is comparable to New York Times bestselling author, Marie Forleo. So here she is describing her path.
13:23 Marie Forleo:
When I graduated from school my first gig was on Wall Street, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I'm a human who has a lot of energy. And when I was an undergrad, I just couldn't imagine sitting in a cubicle, at a desk all day, that felt like death to me. So the notion of Wall Street was really exciting, but here's the deal, Tony. Once I got there, I was super grateful to have a job. I'm the first in my family to go to college. So having a job on Wall Street was like, whoa, this is amazing. I have healthcare. I have a steady paycheck, but within about six months, I realized that was not the place for me. I mean while the folks I work with, I believe they were good humans. It was quite a sexist environment.
It was like 99.9% men. The culture was such where, you go to work, the bell rings at 4 o'clock. You hit strip clubs. There are people doing tons of coke. And then you repeat that cycle over and over. I'm like, this is not my life, this is not my jam. This ain't my scene. I need something different. And I remember just feeling so confused because I knew I was meant for more. I knew I was meant to do something. I wanted to do something where I could make a difference to people in a positive way. I didn't know what that looked like or what that could be. All I knew was that I hated my job where I was.
And I remember one day actually feeling quite physically ill on the floor of the exchange. I heard this little voice inside going, this isn't you, this isn't it. You need to do something else but I kept trying to push it down because I was so scared because I didn't have another answer. And one day I was having basically a panic attack on the floor and I told my boss at the time I said, Hey, I need to go out and grab some coffee. I made a beeline to the nearest church. I was raised Catholic and I had just gone to Hall University, which is like a Catholic University. So in a crisis I'm always kind of trained to look up and just ask for some guidance. And I remember the first clue I got was to call my dad and I took out my flip phone because it was the late nineties and I called my dad and I was like crying the ugly cry because I felt so guilty.
I didn't want to be ashamed to my family for quitting a perfectly good job with not having any backup plan. I knew they weren't going to take care of me. I had to take care of myself and my dad really gave me a piece of life-changing advice. When he broke in after I stopped crying, he said, great. He's like: calm down. He's said you've been working since you're 9 years old. I'm so not worried about you, doing whatever you have to do to keep a roof over your head. He said, but look, you're going to be working for the next 40 to 50 years. If you can't stand this job as much as it's making you sick right now, you have got to leave and find something that you love, keep searching and searching until you find something that you're so passionate about that you find so engaging. That's really fun for you because then you're never going to feel like you work a day in your life. And I know it might sound a little cliché, but it's freaking true. And that was the permission slip that I needed to really figure out who I was and how I can make a difference in this world.
Especially for artists, it's important to know that your career is not your life. You can separate work and life, and here's Broadway, TV, film, and voiceover actor, Krystina Alabado sharing that point of view.
16:39 Krystina Alabado:
When I met my husband, it was so clear that you can have both and that you should have both and that you need both. Again, not only as a spouse, but as an actor. It's really both ways. And I think our relationship together is full support, but also we take our marriage so seriously. And there's something so comforting in a business that is so not consistent and not stable to have stability. I never necessarily thought that would be so calming to me. And the thing that keeps me, I have a lot of techniques on how to get over not getting a job or whatever. The main one is that I have my family, which is my husband and he is my rock and I'm his, so it goes both ways. And I believe in the 10 years, 11 years I've been doing this that you can't just put this first.
It wears on you in a way that can be totally detrimental. And also you won't make it because there's too much at stake with everything and life. Again with everything that I practice, life is so important and sacred, and life is not just your job in any career. It can be easy in ours, in acting, to feel that way because it's high stakes all the time, so much rejection, but it is still life. And so finding a partner that believes in the same things as I do and works as hard as I do as an actor was the universe being like, here you go, you guys are supposed to be together and help each other through this, all of this.
Many of my guests and many of my listeners are actors, that said everyone has to deal with rejection and loss. So to not let rejection or loss affect your identity, first up is leading lady, Sierra Boggess.
18:42 Sierra Boggess:
And I lost nothing by having done the amount of work I did to do the audition. The same with if, say with Ever After, too. I lose nothing by having gone in 100% and having done the show and at the Alliance where we just were or go to the Ordway and say that we don't get to move on. You lose nothing unless you have said yes to a job that you don't want and you're doing it for the wrong reasons, or I call it not playing clean in the universe. Something manipulative or something like, you can fill in the blank for yourself of what those things would be. Or a lot of times, you know what I find, is people taking jobs just for the money, especially in our industry. It's a tough one. And I know people have feelings about it because you do have to.
You got to, but I think it's important. Yes. Take a job for the money. And there has to be an and, or the weeks, like for our insurance weeks. For the weeks and. And that can be as simple as, and to practice having grace, practice my gratitude when I'm with people, practice being empathetic, practice being loving, it can be as simple as that. So go out of town. Maybe you're in a place that you don't want to be or something, but you need that money, but figure out something else besides just the money to work on.
And to learn
20:16 Sierra Boggess:
And to learn
Most of the time rejections or losses need to be reframed. We have to find the light. So here's Krystina Alabado once again.
20:30 Christina Alabado:
I wrestled with this for so long because I do so many developmental things, like I said. For people listening, readings and workshops and labs, which is pre when a musical or show goes to, it's full life. And with that, you don't have a contract. You don't have rights, you don't have anything. So you just do it. And I have been replaced a lot and that has been something that, I think more than the no's in the room, that's been the hardest. Because you can't detach yourself from a four week lab of a show that you don't know you're going to continue with, because the minute that you close off and say, this probably won't move forward with me or if it does, I need to protect myself because I can't feel anything about this. It's going to destroy me.
You do not do good work. You cannot connect to a piece if you are already protecting yourself by having one foot out the door. So the thing that I have done is really lean into every experience as something specific. And even if it's my one day being that person in the audition room, I get to be that person for a day, for 15 minutes, for four weeks doing a lab, for a regional tryout of a show. I've been through the gamut of no's in the room, no's after a workshop, no's after a full production that's transferring from out of town and it's really hard.
I think if you try to tell yourself, it's not disappointing is when you get in trouble, it can hurt. And if it doesn't, if you don't let yourself have that and allow yourself to feel strongly, you're not going to give enough to ever get anything. And so I do let myself be upset. I do let myself feel disappointed, feel hurt, feel betrayed, disrespected, whatever it is, whatever the emotion is with however it feels. But then you take a second and you go, what's next? That was not written in the stars for me. There is nothing I can do to change that. So what's next. And every time, maybe it's a practice. Maybe it's just my mindset. I have done that. And it really helps me. Because my agent gave me great advice, the first time I got replaced from a big project that hurt bad, very bad. She said, cry about it today, it's okay. But tomorrow get the F over it because this is going to keep happening to you because you have now done it. Congratulations, you're a successful actor in New York City.
You will never not be replaced in things. You will never not have to deal with this emotion of feeling completely dug into the ground, come back out of it. And if you don't, then you're not going to make it. And I said, cool. I take that wholeheartedly. It's thick skin, but it's also like, I'm good enough. I am good enough. And if you think for whatever reason, I'm not the person for you, it's not because I'm not good enough. It's not because I'm not capable. It's not because, and they can think whatever they want. But bottom line is, it's a business for them too. And so they're going to do what's best for them. And I need to do what's best for me. So to the listeners, it is challenging. It will never not be challenging, but you have to make the decision to get past it.
The only difference is when it's not a business loss, it's personal loss. Having lost my father and knowing that Broadway and recording artists, Desi Oakley shares the same trauma. I was delighted to hear her say this.
24:16 Desi Oakley
There is no grieving or healing rule book. There is no such thing as timing that's perfect in those ways. So loss can take a lot of different shape in your life, especially in your grieving and healing life. And if it's taking shape where it's still consuming you after a certain amount of time, I would say that doesn't deserve a label. But as each of us are growing towards healing, which I think is always the goal, is to not sit in the sadness. And as long as those tiny steps forward are toward healing, then that's enough. So there's no timing. There's no rule book, but each and every day, if the desire is to grow away from the sadness or the pain, then you're doing all you need to do, that's it.
Because there are some people and it could be the way that you're wired, or it could be this particular loss that you had that do feel the need to sit in the sadness and that they want to get comfortable there. And they want to build their home there and they want to stay there and they want to get cozy in that pain. And there is a human tendency that you will probably find that's tempting. It is tempting to cozy up in that pain. We feel sometimes safe as the victim. We feel sometimes safe as the one suffering. But as long as you're fighting against that every day, whatever that looks like, is like, no, I want to be healing or I want to feel better. Or I want this to become a part of my story.
As long as the desire is toward the light and toward the healing, then that's enough. And then suddenly you'll wake up after who knows how long. And you'll say, wow, this is a part of my story. And I might not be all the way healed and I might not never be, but gosh, I've come a long way. And wow, I've really used this. And I've really learned a lot from this. It will happen as long as the desire is there.
So if this season, at the end of 2020, if you are feeling down, I invite you to hear Sierra's words.
26:50 Sierra Boggess:
There's a quote. I don't know who says it, but I love it all the time, which is, remember why you started. And we can forget that with anything. I mean, that applies to every single job that you do, anyone.
Every role that you play in life.
27:05 Sierra Boggess:
Yes. Yeah. Remember why you started and there has to be something, nobody's here by accident. There is something within us that we started for a reason. There is no one on this planet that is here. That's like, oh, probably not you. We have to learn as much as we want to say that and be like, no, they, probably not them, but it's like, no them, because they are teaching us something. So remember why you started.
We are entering a new world. I never imagined I'd be in Mexico creating a podcast. So I want you to hear the throughline of these next three guests. First step, we have the United Kingdom’s media specialists, Jamie Body talking about how to stay open to your artistry.
27:57 Jamie Body:
I was predominantly a dancer. I could hold a tune and I had like one or two audition songs, but for me dance was what I did. And I think as all performers, we are in it, we attach our worth to our skills and what we produce on stage. And we sometimes don't see the value of them off of the stage or outside of the audition room. So it got to a point I was at Tokyo Disney, I got back in late 2011. I was there for the earthquake. So that in itself was an eye-opener because as a dancer, you never expect to be in a situation that could be so catastrophic.
They took care of us so well, but yes, I got home and then I'd always like enjoyed film and media and photography. And I did a bit at academic college performing theater. So I thought I'll do a few little long distance courses on journalism and writing to see how it felt. And I was realizing the more I was going to press events, I was getting the same buzz that I got when I was on stage. And that for me was such a light bulb moment. I thought wow, this makes me feel the same as when I'm performing or being clapped as a performer.
I think it took me a very long time though, to have the confidence to voice that in my circle. My friends are so supportive, but when you're actively auditioning, you don't want to take your eye off the prize because you almost feel a bit guilty because you've done that your whole life, since you were a child, it's been your focus. I remember I was very fortunate. I back up danced on The Voice over in Ireland. So the TV show The Voice, one of the best jobs of my entire life, LIVE TV each week.
And then when I got back from that, the very next day I had a casting and I thought, how lucky am I to have just done a job I love, got back to London and the next day I have a casting and someone said to me, well, what are you going to do next you've just done The Voice? You need to do another job or it won't be as strong on your CV and I just thought, I've not had a moment to enjoy what I've just done. And that for me was such a trigger. I thought no, I need to stop worrying about what other people's perceptions of what my career should be.
And I think that's great, that people are interested in me. However, I'm the one that's got to go home and live my life, not them. So then I voiced what I wanted to do and I found maybe more people in the industry who were like, that's great, tell me about that. Where can you study? What can you do?
I'm not sure if you found this Tony as well, but when you transition a bit from performing, you're not at all the auditions anymore. And if you say to someone I'm not going to that audition, they're kind of just like, oh, okay because it doesn't fall into their world anymore. And it's not them being selfish at all. It's just, their eyes are still on that prize.
So for me, I had a few lightbulb moments and then once I got more into journalism and press events and being on red carpets, I got that buzz. Then I found a way to combine my passion and my history and dance as an entertainment journalist on red carpets. I knew who the choreographers were. I knew who the directors were. I knew to ask questions that maybe mainstream media outlets didn't ask because they just wanted to know how it felt to be nominated for an Olivier when I would be like, you've just had a five week R&D process, into a rehearsal, and you've had to reblock it.
I was getting interviews and soundbites that other people weren't and that wasn't because I think I'm the best journalist in the world. But I think I knew to ask questions because it was my passion. So I think anyone listening, who's maybe thinking of a career change it's okay and sometimes you have to do something to know you don't want to do it and you can try something else. And if it's not for you, you can always go back to performing or if performing's really not get getting you where you want either financially or mental health, it's okay to try something else. I don't know any performer that just does one thing. We all have so many skills. So why void the world of those skills.
Now, said a different way. Hear the nurturing voice of my New York City Momma, Susan Eichhorn Young.
32:09 Susan Eichhorn Young:
You've gotta be pliable. You just have to be. And that I think is the big thing anyway. This time, we don't have a choice, but I think that's something we all can learn moving through this time. We must stay pliable. We must stay innovative and creative and be able to make adjustments and not get so stuck in one aspect of what we do or how we do that, that we can't make some adjustments.
Finally, here's actor and writer, Douglas Lyons.
32:43 Douglas Lyons:
But I want to be an artist of all facets. I don't want to be stuck. I think that's what I've learned this year is, I love the theater and adore the theater, but being an artist means you can be all these different things. I was telling a friend of mine last night, Janelle Monae, Lady Gaga, Arianna Grande, theater artists who have become pop artists. So anything is possible for any of us. Just being open to your artistry and not necessarily the lane that you thought you had to be in, I think is important.
So authenticity and finding an identity of who you are that isn't your job, still I know that art is your job. So let's look at creating art for a moment. Douglas Lyons, once again, shares some great advice.
33:43 Douglas Lyons:
I would say the most important thing is what are you trying to say? Not, oh, this really cool story happened where this guy flew out of a window and fell and then turned. Those are great details. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. But what's the take home a little bit, so that you know what you're writing towards. You know what the mission statement of your work is, of that specific piece is, that people know how to identify with you as an artist? So I would say knowing what you want to say is very important, not being afraid to put pen to paper.
Even if it seems really stupid, write the characters down, write the dialogue. I think what happens is a lot of people judge themselves too early on and think, oh, this is already not good. And it's like, well you don't know that just yet. You might be right, but you might be wrong. So something I do very early on in my process is I find a director that I trust. So I'm hearing another voice. Theater is collaboration. As an actor it feels a little singular because you're always prepping for yourself and trying to get a job. But as a writer, it takes 13 different departments for your work to even see the light of day correctly.
So you have to honor all those departments and one of them is direction for me. Very early on, I will lean on a director to go, how does this sound? And I have a core group of friends that I can send songs and text to, who will read and give feedback. I would say, don't go too far along alone. I would say reach out to people, you know, so that it's not a lonely process. And if it doesn't go well, you're not like, oh, it's all my fault, because that can happen too. But usually if you collaborate with people, you won't get to that point where it stinks.
And this is very similar to what Disney legend and Broadway icon Lea Salonga shared about not only crafting new work, but also her words.
35:42 Lea Salonga:
I try to make a decision on what I write. If I'm going to write an article, I try to make sure that I do enough research. For example, when I'm crafting Backstory, which is the name of my column, which I write for a paper here in Manila, I try to start it off with information and then in the last couple of paragraphs it's the, and now this is my point. For example, the last article I wrote was about “Dynamite” by BTS, which has been number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for two weeks in a row. And basically just exploded like dynamite! So I wrote an article about them, but there was another reason why I wrote it.
I started off of course with them. And here's the information of the group. This is what's going on. These are the stats for 2020. And now this is my point. My point was this, there was not just a little bit, but there was quite a good amount of racism against Asians and Asian Americans because of this pandemic. There were so many accusations against the people of my part of the world that we brought the virus into the United States, that we are spreading the virus all over the world. And so there has just been this anti-Asian backlash.
There have been a couple of campaigns that were set up because of it. There's the racism is a virus one and there's the fight the virus. There were a couple of campaigns. The response then of what is arguably the biggest K-pop boy band in the world was to release a single whose sole purpose was to put positive vibes, like crazy out into the universe and make people happy. I'm like, that is the classiest thing. That is the total embodiment of Michelle Obama's quote of "when they go low, we go high."
The first thing that hit me was like, oh my God, this song is so much fun. This is like song of the summer contender. And then the more I listen to it, the more I'm like, oh my God, it's subversive in a good way. It's almost as if you're representing every single Asian person on the planet saying you can kick us down if you want, but we're going to still respond with positivity and good vibes and making people happy and trying to comfort and cheer on this world in this time of COVID 19, it's classy. It's so classy. I still can't get over how classy it is. And as an Asian person, I couldn't be more proud.
So if art is figuring out what you want to say and then letting it come out or through you, what happens when the artist gets in their own way? I'm going to let Sierra take this one.
39:02 Sierra Boggess:
And Tyne Dale. The great Tyne Dale says, she always has some pearl of wisdom before we would go on stage or something. And one of the things that she says is "get off yourself and get on the other." So if you're going on stage even, and you're thinking how does this make me feel my character and stuff? It's not enough, get on the other, listen to the other. It can't just be for me, me, me, me.
This perspective of focusing on the other, is very similar to the success of vlogger Tyler Mount. And here is his process for peak performance through video.
39:41 Tyler Mount:
At the beginning of my career, I had such a mental block with, again, we kind of talked about it, about this idea of, who do I think I am? Who do I think I am to have a web series? People are going to think I'm a joke. People are going to think I'm stupid. Who am I to invite Broadway star X to my living room in Hell's Kitchen who has never met me and they're knocking on my apartment door and I'm like, “Hey, will you have a drink with me in front of all these cameras in my living room? And then will you kneel on the floor and let's dance?” Literally, who am I to think that I deserve to have any of that in my life?
And at the end of the day, I realize so many people, my age, younger, older would die for that experience. And that's why it was so resonant with so many people. I always like to say that I was channeling seventh-grade Tyler on my series. I was! Anthony Rapp literally came to my house and we sang “La Vie Bohème” on my couch. Seventh grade Tyler would still be in bed. I just would always remind myself before I started filming. I would look into the camera and I would remember that there was a seventh grade Tyler in small town Texas watching this. And this is the only thing that he or she would watch today to get them through.
You have to focus on your audience, which is a nice transition to my fourth point. Art is a business, here is what young artist and producer Jelani Alladin has to say about the arts.
41:15 Jelani Alladin:
It's not a fairy tale. I think that when you're on the outside, you really believe that wow, it's a fairy tale, look at all these stars and how pretty they are. But they're real people too, they eat and shit just like you. They also have stresses and uncertainties and difficult decisions to make and hard times and sad times. All those things exist within those people. So the fairy tale that you get to Broadway, or you get to a series regular job, and a TV show, a hit TV show, and you get a Tony award and an Emmy award. And everything's great. Your life is perfect. That's not real. I don't think that exists in any business really.
So I think that's just a misconception about our business in general. Because sometimes our job is to make it look easy. You don't want to see effort. When I watch anything, I'm like, I want to see the work. I just want to see someone living through something. And that is a misconception that people think, oh, it's so easy I can do it too, but it takes hard ass, mother fucking work to get this thing at a level that is great exceptional and I think that in the beginning, I was like, oh, this is gotta be so easy. They're just like on stage running around singing and dancing or they're on screen singing a couple lines and acting out on set. That's so easy, it's not. For some people, it may come easy but for me, it's always been hard work.
It does require hard work, but practice makes perfect and repetition is really great learning. So here is Nathan Lee Graham sharing his advice for the business of the arts.
43:17 Nathan Lee Graham:
Okay. Here's the thing. The business is very subjective. So I've seen people come and I've seen them go. I've seen them burn bright as a comet and then just like a comet burn out. What's most impressive to me is consistency and discipline. This is what I learned at Webster, consistency and discipline. It's my reputation on every set and every show that I do. To go along with that, my advice to students is really, really simple and you would be amazed how many don't do it, which is show up on time, know your lines, hit your mark, and don't be an asshole. You would be amazed how many of those things, how those four things, those four pillars are not heated on a regular basis. You would be amazed by that.
Interestingly, Tyler Mount says the same thing about creating content.
44:30 Tyler Mount:
The first thing I always talk about is consistency. As artists it is very, very hard, especially if you don't have a boss telling you what to do to remain consistent. And it is the biggest downfall of new content creators. For several reasons, A, let's talk about the very technical aspect. Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, they all have proprietary algorithms that crave, love, and thrive on consistency. Why? Because it tells the algorithm that you are a respected real brand that is posting real content.
So whenever I started, it was non-negotiable. I posted every Monday and Thursday at noon, without exception. If I had the flu, I was posting. If I was going out on vacation for two weeks, I would've filmed four episodes the week before, it was non-negotiable. Then on top of it, it is all about what is my magic word. It is all about being authentic. You can tell in the first three seconds, if someone is doing something for an ulterior motive. If I'm vlogging to be famous, I can read right through it and it isn't funny. It isn't cute. And I don't want to watch more of your content.
I gained a name in the Broadway community, not because I had a vlog, but because I was authentic on the vlog and people identified with that. So I think of some of the biggest content creators in the YouTube space. People like Tyler Oakley, who are famous because they are authentic. So I think first consistency, second authenticity. And you have to really, really, really be a business person at the end of the day. This is a business. So it is understanding why am I making the decisions I make?
We all like to think we have good taste. Everyone thinks they have good taste. They wouldn't be a content creator if they weren't. But I would be the first to admit that although I think I have good taste, I always don't have the best taste. Meaning at the end of the day, I look at the numbers. The numbers will never, have never, can never lie. I will produce something that I think is the best thing I've ever produced and it just is terrible, from an analytics standpoint.
People don't watch it. It doesn't resonate with people. And at the end of the day, you know what that means? It doesn't mean I'm terrible. It doesn't mean that I'm stupid. It just means the content I produce doesn't resonate. And it's "not good content for my niche audience," plain and simple. But then once you start producing more and more work, you can look at all the data and start to make comparisons and block trends and see, oh, this actually does resonate with my audience and starting to produce content that more stems to that thing, etcetera.
Now even two-time Tony winning producer, Ken Davenport, practices consistency and discipline. Listen to this.
47:18 Ken Davenport:
Listen, you get married, you have a child, you find yourself wanting to go home to spend time with that kid before she goes to bed. It's part of what happens, which is great, but I can't stop doing the other stuff. I hire myself. I don't have a 9 to 5, 10 to 6. I'm not going to get paid unless I produce, unless I create. And I'm really not willing to take that job in Wall Street that I talked about. It's not what I want to do, which means I have to figure it out. And that's what entrepreneurs do. That's what entrepreneurs do, you figure it out?
I get up every morning at 5 o'clock in the morning. I go downstairs to my Starbucks in my building and I spend an hour writing because that's the only time I can find to do it.
I go to Starbucks because we're living in a one bedroom apartment. My daughter is sleeping in a walk-in closet and it's tough. And it ain't easy, but that's what we do right now. And that'll change. We actually have an apartment, we're moving. I created a little workspace so I can be home more.
But it's about figuring it out. And again, however challenging it may be for you, me, everybody, we all have our unique challenges. There are so many other people out there that have it much more challenging than we do. And that's what I try to think about is that, wow, I'm blessed. Look at this. I'm so lucky I get to do what I love to do every day. So yeah, I can figure out how to find the time to do it more, how to find the time to spend time with my daughter.
I have a new business development mastermind that starts in January. It is weekly and affordable coaching with me, but one of the lessons I took from coaching artists and entrepreneurs during the pandemic is that artists are entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs are artists. So whether you are pivoting or preparing, I love what Built for the Stage founder, Joe Rosko shared about business.
49:21 Joe Rosko:
It's important to know why you're getting into it and what your vision for it is 5 or 10 years down the road. If it doesn't go that far, if it strictly is just a side hustle, then you might just want to dive in head first, right out of the gate and just start hustling. If you're wanting to really see this further down the road, 5 or 10 years from now, I would encourage you to surround yourself with as many people that have already done it. And it doesn't necessarily have to be the exact topic or business field that you are wanting to enter into. But just someone who has done the grind of starting their own business and seemingly is successful at it.
And you obviously can learn a lot from that. And then it's faking it until you make it, from that person or the other resources that you study or listen to. You then try to adapt that in your own way and just continue to figure it out as you go. As an entrepreneur, you have to be resilient. You have to be willing to pivot ball change for your life, just pivoting and pivoting and pivoting. And you have to have thick skin as well. And just like in a career of theater, you can't just like the idea of being an entrepreneur or the idea of being your own boss or the idea of owning your own business. But you have to be willing to do what it takes and to accept all of the responsibility that comes with it.
An employee might have a list of things that they can be upset about or not love. But at the end of the day, they typically go to bed at night not worrying about if their job's going to be there tomorrow, whereas the entrepreneur, especially in 2020 you're just maybe wide awake at night thinking, how will we survive? So whoever out there is looking to start a business: surround yourself with people that have already done it, make sure that it's not just the idea, but that you are willing to kind of dig your feet in the sand and get ready for some work.
With even more truth bombing, here's Jen Waldman with some advice for the artist.
51:51 Jen Waldman:
Well, I do think that it's an integrity crisis. So I think the first thing is to get clear on whether or not you are indeed a person of integrity. So when I look at integrity, what that means to me is that, what you believe, what you say and what you do are in alignment. And part of what I think is a big challenge, especially for interpretive artists like actors, dancers, singers, et cetera, is that it often feels like they have to wait for someone to give them permission to do their work. And so that component of what you do can sometimes feel like it's out of alignment because there's an abundance of people and not as much an abundance of opportunity.
So what I hope people will start to do is shift their mindset around how they are seeking the work that they want to make. So rather than thinking of it as seeking permission, thinking of it as seeking other artists who are trying to make the same change as you, and then make it together.
So authenticity, identity beyond your job, be an artist and business, but what makes someone an effective change maker? Well, Mila Atmos articulated that for us.
53:14 Mila Atmos:
I think the consistency is that they have confidence that whatever they do will work. I think a lot of people like to be naysayers or a lot of people try to talk themselves out of doing things, but not these people, all of them think I'm going to try it. I'm going to go out there and do this thing. And they are maybe just fearless. Fearless and confident.
People who are fearless, have the ability to create change. Here's casting director, writer, educator, speaker, fairy godmother, Kate Lumpkin, talking about fearlessness and making change.
54:01 Kate Lumpkin:
I've been very outspoken about this. I think we need to see not just women, but I think we need to see more GNC, non-binary, female identifying, male identifying, trans, people who are not just white cis men in positions of power. I think we're already seeing, I don't know if you watched any of the news yesterday, we're seeing what can happen when those people, when people of color, when women of color, trans people are in positions of power, what incredible fearlessness there is. And it's powerful potent stuff.
I think, it's really interesting, in casting there are a lot of female identifying casting directors. There are a lot of us, but there are still mostly producers that are cis white men. And the producers are the people who actually make final decisions, not the casting directors. So I think we have seen a lot of, especially female-identifying casting directors who are making bold moves and not just FI, but a lot of casting directors who are trying to create different stage pictures, something that I really, really, really set out to do, make the world on stage looked like the world we live in.
Why is that such a revolutionary thing? I don't get it. But I've been really fortunate to work with a lot of young producers, a lot of young GM teams, a lot of new writers, a lot of people of color, a lot of people of varying identities, backgrounds, experiences of life. And because of that, I think the pictures that we see on stage in a lot of the shows that I've cast are a lot more reflective of the world that we live in. I've been really fortunate to work with people who just aren't scared. I think that lack of fear does come from, we're just kind of throwing it against the wall, we're trying to make it happen and let's take creative risks and do interesting stuff.
So I mean, my hope is not just that we see more inclusivity and diversity, whatever kind of buzzword you want to use. More real people who live in this world, in real people jobs. But also I hope we see more vocal allies of our white cis men who are willing to stand up for people, who are willing to allow other people to work with them, above them and all these things. I've also had great experiences in that reality too, which is awesome. Now we just need to see more of that. I hope, especially in our political world, that we really, really, really start, I think for better or for worse, what's currently happening in our government, is at least getting people to wake up and to go vote and to show up and march and do things and we can't stop that.
My only hope for the future is no matter what happens in our next elections or any of that, that we don't stop staying awake and we don't stop voting that this continues and the cycle only increases, that we keep getting new faces in politics. I think we need a younger generation of people, no matter what they look like, no matter what their experience is to show up for positions of power across the board, in the arts, in politics. And when we do that, especially in the arts, we will see a reflection in our politics. Guys, entertainment is what shifts the world. We know this.
The stories that we tell, whether it's to ourselves or to the person watching the work.
57:37 Kate Lumpkin:
Yeah. I say this to all the kids that I teach across the country. We've been doing three things since the dawn of time, we've been eating food, making babies and telling stories and that's it. So the stories that we tell are what shape our societies. They are what inform our politicians. And they're what more importantly inform the voters, which is what informs the politicians. So I think it's our responsibility to keep creating art with people who look like the people in our world, keep creating opportunities for artists to tell their stories. And most importantly, we need to train the next generation of producers and we need to widen the scope of what that looks like. And we need to make sure that people in those positions to make final decisions, have had different experiences of a life.
The throughline here that we need to continue to hold our producers and writers accountable to was articulated by Kathryn Allison.
58:34 Kathryn Allison:
It's so important that we reflect the world that we live in. The world that we live in is not one thing that everybody looks the same. And that can be frustrating when you're entering a situation. You're like a wealth of perspectives gets lost. I think that's doing such a disservice to the art. The entertainment industry is one of collaboration. Not one person can do the whole thing by themselves without including multiple people along the way. And I'm not exactly sure where the fear comes from, I guess I have some idea, but I think every art form will be elevated by it. I think that's the exciting part. It's like, there's nothing bad that can come from including BIPOC, black indigenous people of color, the LGBTQ plus community and having all shapes and sizes on stage. Like that just sounds like a beautiful group of people making some incredible art.
I also love what constant ally, Susan Eichhcorn Young shares about the seismic shifts of 2020.
1:00:01 Susan Eichhorn Young:
We have unconsciously been kind of set up for lack of a better word to think we can only do X, Y, Z, or X, Y, Zed to my Canadian people. That we, we can't inhabit there, because it's not been allowed. That's where the Black Lives Matter movement is getting stronger and stronger where, artists of color, indigenous artists, Black artists are saying, wait a minute. And those of us who want to build allyship and go and work with anti-racism need to say, no, wait a second. What are we doing here? These are stories that need to be told. And in theater, are we not? Don't we learn that because of the archetype of stories that anyone can inhabit that to tell the story, because those stories are bigger than we are.
So we can't gloss over it. It was a rough year. I'll avoid mentioning a certain person, but two time Emmy award-winning journalist Roma Torre about the state of media here.
1:01:18 Roma Torre:
Facts today have tragically turned into the equivalent of mercury. It's impossible to convince people that a real fact is concrete, is unimpeachable. Everybody seems to have a different idea of what the truth is these days. And those of us trying to maintain the old standards are being totally drowned out by the whole sensationalist media mongers who naturally get more attention just because they're loud. The news business should be, and I know this sounds anathema to the whole notion of the fact that news is a business, but news should be boring essentially.
If we do it right, like CSPAN, you want the facts and you want to allow people the opportunity to make their own judgements based on just the very basic facts. And we don't have that anymore. So we are being led by the nose, by people who have an agenda, sad to say. And it should never be that way, but it is. Misconceptions about news anchors. We're all very different people. And I really hope that TV watchers, TV news viewers understand that they have to be very, very conservative about how they choose or who they choose to listen to in the news business, because there really is no regulation.
And as my mom used to say, there are no rules essentially pertaining to who gets to be a newscaster and especially today, but you don't need a license, there's no certification at all. You don't have to pass a test. So anybody can get on there and especially now with the incursion of social media, anybody with a microphone can get on there and just blast away, say whatever they feel. And it's very difficult for people to decide who's telling the truth and who's not. That is very disturbing to me. Now that the trend has really sort of taken hold, I don't know if we'll ever go back to any kind of journalism where you can trust the news person who's behind the camera or in front of the camera. You can't, you really can't. So I'm really kind of depressed over the state of journalism today. It's not very encouraging to see how it has transpired.
I really love the way that Lea Salonga shared her approach to handling political conflicts and debates when speaking out.
1:04:08 Lea Salonga:
There's always going to be an expletive, expletive, expletive person out there whose sole reason for living seems to be giving people a hard time or just being on the attack, which I really don't understand. I mean, this is a tough world already and I don't get why there are people who just want to spread negativity.
It's not about being critical. Critical is one thing. But the ad hominem times 100 attack is what I don't understand. So I try to be as good an example as I can be, even if I'm about to interact with someone whose views may not necessarily jive with my own, I have to try and keep it as classy and as nonjudgmental as I can, as difficult as it can be.
I figured that if I always try to stay, trying to use as much logic and reason as possible, while still passionately trying to defend my own views, then maybe we won't have to come to an agreement right now, but the other person engaging with me should know that they can safely share their views and not get insulted. I'm not going to go down to that level. I mean, why?
At the very least there has to be respect between myself and whoever's reading my stuff. I don't want to insult anybody's intelligence. And so the strategy I guess, is to try to be as transparent as possible, to always word things as simply and as directly as I can. And to time things for when I'm not so heated in the head. Sometimes though I can't help that and I get myself in trouble.
Now this might sound pollyanna and silly, but truly consider Christine Cole's idea for bringing people together.
1:06:35 Christine Cole:
I think that we need to have acceptance for the beautiful diversity that exists. And I think that food is an amazing connector. So I think that we should have dinner parties with world leaders and artists and children all at the same table. And then we should play UNO at the end and have people skip together down the street as they leave and allow service and food and experience of the evening to cause a connection to people who are very different in maybe their religious or backgrounds or their political philosophies.
The final lesson deals with success, Broadway Black founder Drew Shade keeps it real with his definition of success.
1:07:40 Drew Shade:
Success is being happy with what you're doing, with what you place your hands on. Success is yes being happy, but also being able to find a way to monetize your gift. What you're best at. And I know that a lot of people say, oh, well, the money is not the most important thing. Well bitch I got bills to pay. I got things to do. And I got life that I want to live. And I can't live life off of experience, as great as it is. Success is being able to find a way to do what you love and monetize it, and I've been able to do that. And so I feel as though I'm successful, even if I may be scraping by some days, my bills are paid, I can still eat.
I can still live life and experience life and not have to worry. And that wasn't always the case. There were some months and some days where I was literally going to events just to eat, I was going to events just to figure out, oh, well maybe somebody might let me sleep on their couch tonight. And I'm sharp to the 9s, dressed to the very 10s, and I didn't have a place to live. I didn't have food to eat. And that's a real experience and not everybody has to go through that in order to get to where they want to be, but that was an experience for me.
And so in order for me to feel as though I've been successful, I just wanted to eat. I just wanted to pay my bills. And so that's success for me. I enjoy doing what I love. I'm not sacrificing my soul for a coin either. I'm not sacrificing my morals and my values just to get paid. I'm doing what I love. I am being adamant about where I stand in my morals and values. And I'm also able to make a coin, that's success.
This is very close to the way Ken Davenport defines success.
1:09:48 Ken Davenport:
Success is doing what you love with the people you love and with people who love you. And that's it, it starts with doing stuff you love and then surrounding yourself with people that you love, who also love you back. Finding your community, finding your tribe. But it's really that first part about if you're doing what you love, I don't care where it is. Look, a lot of people say, I want to write, I want to act. I want to, wherever, period. It's not, I want to act on Broadway. That's a different goal. I want to write a Broadway show. That's a different goal. And comes with its own unique set of challenges.
But if you want to be an actor, you can be an actor, anywhere in the world we'll figure it out. You want to be a writer, we'll get your show up. Maybe your show is set for high schools or regional theaters, or maybe you want to do a show on a sidewalk, but we can get you to create theater. We can get you to act. We can get you to do all those things. Success is not defined, unless you define it that way by a specific theater in Times Square. Success is defined again by, I think just doing what you love and being surrounded by people you love.
Still my whole intent of creating this podcast. And two years’ worth of content was seeking practical ways that we as artists can use our gifts to change the world. So I want to share a little bit more practical advice from my friend Roma Torre.
1:11:20 Roma Torre:
I think you can't have success until you fail and fail a lot. And success is in the climbing. It's not in reaching something that you regard as success. It's in the effort. And so I look at each day as a challenge and if I can get through the day and feel that I did my best, despite all of the obstacles and all the odds against me and I can hold my head up high and say, darn it, I did what I could then that to me is a success. And so success is a day-to-day effort. I'm kind of happy about the fact that once we did file that lawsuit, whether we win or not, I don't care at this point. I take that back, of course I care, but we have done so much to start that conversation and continue the conversation that I feel that we have successfully made our point, no matter how it ends.
So if you think of the most successful people, picture someone in your mind who you deem as super successful. They are probably somewhat hard to get a hold of. So as you increase your own success, it's important that you take the best care of yourself. So here's Dr. Susan, Carol Burke, my therapist sharing some important advice for your long term health.
1:13:03 Dr. Susan Burke:
We assume that people are just always accessible and we allow ourselves to always be accessible. So we set ourselves up in many ways, to be contacted 24/7, friends, employers, family. And I think we need to do a better job of letting people know, there's a reason why we have certain hours. And it's not that you're not going to ever be able to reach me off hours, but here are the things that you can do. And depending upon what constitutes a crisis, and you can discuss what those things might be, here's how to get hold of me in the exception that there is something that is really critically going on, where you need to reach me immediately and not to abuse that privilege.
To end and bring us back to the beginning. Here's the way J. Robert Spencer talks about measuring success.
1:14:01 J. Robert Spencer:
I don't think anyone should be measured for success. I think that puts everyone in their own box and it separates us. I think that everyone has their own talents. There are so many guys out there that are better songwriters than me. I know that. And better singers and better actors and better humans than me. I know that. I think that if you measure success, then that's when you become unhappy. That's when you start picking away at yourself by saying, well, look what they're doing. Look what that person's doing. And believe me, everyone has gone through that of, look what they're doing and I'm not. And you cannot be in that “woe is me” world. You're allowed to go there every now and then we're human, but you can't stay in there. You can't let anyone else pick away at what you are and what you bring. And I bring a different thing than the next guy. I don't bring it any better or any worse. I just bring something different. I think we all bring something different.
So after two years and 23 conversations, my biggest takeaways and lessons are:
- Authenticity. You have to be yourself.
- Identity, discover who you are beyond what you do.
- Be an artist and a business, find the harmony between.
- Be fearless, it is required to make change and become a changemaker.
- And success is an action, it is a pursuit. You define what that word means.
Thank you so much for listening. You'll find links to each of these 23 changemaker conversations in the notes with this episode.
But I want to hear from you! Who or what spoke to you? What was your biggest lesson of 2020? Take a screenshot of this episode and tag me with your thoughts or leave a review on Apple podcast. As we head into not only a new year, but a new world, I'm going to be shifting to videos. We may create a special podcast episode here or there, but I'd invite you to make sure you are subscribed to the Changemaker Community.
Tonight, December 28th, 2020 and additional times throughout the years ahead, I'll be holding a free LIVE class for our members. So make sure that you are subscribed, hop over to TonyHowel.co. And I hope to see you very soon.
Thank you so much for listening. Thank you to Connor Lynch for guiding and editing this show for two years. Thank you also to all of the incredible guests for your contributions.
Now it's up to you. How can you use your work to change the world? Maybe you and I can have a conversation about it very soon.