We recently connected with Jessica De Maria and have shared our conversation below.
Jessica, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Looking back on your career, have you ever worked with a great leader or boss? We’d love to hear about the experience and what you think made them such a great leader.
I worked as the Development Manager for Actor’s Express for about 4 years. Working in Fundraising was my “hustle job” as a pursued a career as an actor and writer. My boss, and my mentor, and now one of my dearest friend-was Freddie Ashley. Freddie is such an exceptional leader. He always has his finger on the pulse of AE’s mission and is diligent about making sure the theatre’s programming aligns with that mission. As far as his influence on me is concerned-it is impossible for me to imagine having any success in my creative life without his support and guidance. Freddie invests in people, and I am so fortunate he chose to invest in me. Beginning when I became a staff member, and continuing well beyond my leaving as a staff member-Freddie provided me with free space to rehearse my original works, as well as hosting not one but TWO staged readings of material I had written. Actor’s Express also planned to host a fundraising cabaret for the world Premiere of my original musical, THE PRETTY PANTS BANDIT, which was being produced at another theatre. He’s always been there for me with exceptionally straight forward and honest advice on my career and on my material. His breadth of experience and work has been essential in building me into the creative I am. I know that when employers say a workplace is like a “family” it can often be a giant red flag-inductive of a lack of life/work boundaries or a penchant for taking advantage of staff. But Freddie is in fact the patriarch of a family at Actor’s Express. It’s not a red flag-it’s unconditional love, it’s investing with care, honesty and faith in the community and the people that continue to help him build it.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?
I was born and grew up in small, historic, north shore town in Long Island, NY. I did community and regional theatre on Long Island growing up and I was dedicated to our awesome High School program. I relocated to Atlanta to attend Oglethorpe University.
While I was in school I got my first job in the artistic community at the Center for Puppetry Arts as a weekend instructor. They are an incredible family, that I’m still so happy to be a part of, and helped me get connected to the right people. This led me to a job at Horizon Theatre as the Young Playwrights Festival Coordinator. I spent two years working on that festival, which cultivated my love of writing and the related skillset.
I then took on several arts administrative jobs while I was pursuing my career in writing and performance as well as becoming a well-used teaching artist. All of these “hustle jobs” assisted keenly in my ability to make connections and network. As well as learn about how my industry functions from the inside out.
I must say that the single most important thing you can do is cultivate relationships with like minded people in your field. You have to invest in people if you expect them to invest in you. I have often been, dare I say, chastised for how much I care-how much energy I give. However, the same folks that make that comment are the folks asking me how I’ve had a successful career in so many areas of the creative sphere. Turns out-that’s why.
I’ve been working as a performer fairly consistently since 2012, along with a growing writing career that kicked into high gear when I went to the New York Musical Theatre Festival with my first co-written piece. I met my current writing partner, Chase Peacock, in 2015 and we just closed the World Premiere of our third co-written musical, “The Pretty Pants Bandit” at Georgia Ensemble Theatre. Our second musical, “Vivian-a ghost story” is being developed into a podcast, and I’m currently working on a play with music called “La Maupin” as well as a short straight play entitled “One More for the End of the World.
Is there mission driving your creative journey?
To connect artists and audiences to stories that remind us we are all members of the human community-and it is our responsibility to enact positive change in that community through empathy, compassion and understanding.
How can we best help foster a strong, supportive environment for artists and creatives?
Attend live theatre. Then get your friends to attend live theatre. Advocate for arts funding in your school districts and your larger community. Raise your children to value the arts as the deep tool for human connection that they are so they can become the next generation of arts supporters.
Casey Gardner Ford BreeAnne Clowdus