As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An Actor. Along the way, I found other creative outlets that proved equally fulfilling: writing and producing. But I continue to pursue acting when there is time. Why give up one’s passion?
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
This is a hard one. There were so many courses at Yale that I benefited from. My English seminar freshman year where we delved into Ulysses
was one of my favorites and most transformative. I just loved the small class and in-depth exploration of the work.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
Wow. That is difficult. What really sticks with me is the humorous advice given in the book, Rules for Aging
: Don’t worry about what other people are thinking about you. They are not. They are thinking about themselves. I love that. So often, we operate based on how we think the world will perceive us. We need to do our own things, pursue our own passions and honestly not give a damn about what anyone thinks!
Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and an arts & sciences education are important in today’s society?
I shudder when I think of all the schools that are eliminating the arts from their curricula. The arts are essential to giving all students a well-rounded education and giving them the tools to enjoy and fully experience their potential and their lives. This has been proven study after study, and yet pencil pushers are eliminating drama, music and dance. These studies show that the arts can truly save lives for students who don’t find their passion or their talents in other areas such as academics or sports. Theatre provides an outlet for expression that children cannot find elsewhere and a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.
You’re a producer, a writer, and an actress. What is your favorite part about your jobs?
I think my favorite part of all three jobs is creating something that will inspire and evoke emotion - whether by creating a character within a show, writing the work, or producing the play or musical. As an actor, I love working to understand what is motivating my character, what is that character’s background that provokes her to behave in a certain way. I love to move people and to make them laugh. Being on stage and interacting with the audience, feeling their presence, is like nothing else. In writing, I love creating a whole new world, creating the characters living in that world, having them impact one another as they go on their individual journeys. It’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. As a producer, what an incredible joy to be a surrogate mother, helping bring another’s production to life. It is a true joy helping to bring all the parts together, especially when the end result can have an impact on others and even sometimes on the world.
You’ve worked on many award-winning productions. What show are you most proud to have been involved with, and why?
That’s easy. The Scottsboro Boys
(by John Kander & Fred Ebb, directed by Susan Stroman) remains my most treasured project. It has changed lives and touched everyone who saw it.
Kander & Ebb’s magnificent musical tells the story of nine African American teenagers, who were wrongly accused of rape in 1931 racist Alabama. The trials, which helped spark the Civil Rights movement, led to two seminal Supreme Court rulings affirming that everyone deserves proper representation and everyone is entitled to be judged by a jury of one’s peers.
As a co-producer on Broadway, I got involved with the Scottsboro Boys Museum. I was so honored to receive the key to the city of Scottsboro, Alabama, for my work, and in 2013, I was honored again when I delivered the keynote speech at the signing of The Scottsboro Boys Act to exonerate the boys. Governor Bentley said I had helped change history.
After The Scottsboro Boys
closed, I was determined that the show be seen by more people. I was thrilled to get the rights to take it to London.
I brought The Scottsboro Boys
to London because I had to, because it moved me as no other show had ever done. The show changed my life. It changed lives in London as well as in New York. Wherever I go, people thank me for bringing the show and many say it was the best show they have ever seen. Priceless!
What advice do you have for young Phi Beta Kappa members?
Never stop enjoying the love of learning that helped you earn your Phi Beta Kappa honor. Follow your passions. Don’t worry what others think. The project I was told not to do turned out to be the turning point in my life. Trust your gut. Take control of your life. No one is going to do it for you. Collaborate with others. Benefit from other’s experiences. It’s OK to be scared. Everyone else is also scared. And if you’ve never done something before, don’t let it stop you. There always has to be a first time. Make it happen!
You can contact Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, and Instagram.