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Student Blog: Sharing Their Stories: An Interview with Sultana Qureshi

 “Knowing your worth and knowing your value is just so important” – Sultana Qureshi

Student Blog: Sharing Their Stories: An Interview with Sultana Qureshi

Hello Broadway lovers, creators, and theatre students around the world! Welcome back to the blog, and to my ongoing segment: Sharing Their Stories. For the past year, I've shared the journeys and artistic discoveries of notable artists in my DC area, and around the world. Every person I've had the honor to speak with, carries unique experiences and perspectives about the constantly changing world of the arts. I hope their stories serve as inspiration, demystification of the road to artistic success, and as fuel to keep creating.

"Knowing your worth and knowing your value is just so important" - Sultana Qureshi

Since beginning Sharing Their Stories, I've gotten the opportunity to interview scores of incredible theatre creators, all established and highly successful in their chosen career paths. These artists' work brightens the theatrical community every single day, with success that inspires others to keep chasing the dream. But in a world of unemployment, student debt, and general pandemonium, how can today's newest graduates find their own paths to success? How do you shift from GPAs, grades, and dorm rooms to living as a working actor in the professional world?

Enter Sultana Qureshi, a recent theatre graduate from American University. This young artist navigated the space between graduation and the workforce with true grace, kindness, and authenticity. Sultana may have graduated a mere two years ago, but the way they spoke about theatre reminded me of a seasoned professional. Their journey serves as a powerful reminder for other emerging graduates to make connections, take chances and remember their inner power amidst an often-grueling career. This is Sultana's story.

Sultana's theatre career began at age nine, after moving to Indonesia from New York. Seeking new friends and connection, their mom enrolled them in a two-week performance camp. "I loved theatre a lot, but it hadn't really clicked with me that [theatre] was something a person can do. But, after performing [and seeing other kids perform], I was like...I can do that!" After those two weeks, Sultana never strayed from the theatre path. "I remember when I got to my apprenticeship at Olney Theatre Center, thinking...how did a summer camp production of Peter Pan get me here?"

Sultana continued performing throughout their childhood, working with community theatres right up until enrollment in American University. Initially deterred by the struggles of pursuing theatre professionally, they chose to study Communications & Gender Studies...which quickly changed after attending the theatre department's 'Welcome Back Night.' "Everyone was so nice and welcoming; I called my mom that night, crying 'I have to major in theatre!'" After swapping out gender studies for theatre, Sultana continued theatre throughout college before graduating the past spring.

When reflecting on their time in school, Sultana reminds students to remember their inner worth and value. "I went to an international school growing up, so it was a pretty racially diverse group. When I went to American University, I thought...well, here I am at this predominantly white institution, and theatre is not totally built for someone who looks like me. There were a lot of stumbling blocks comparing myself to others, trying to navigate the world of white western theatre in a way I never confronted before. I learned to remember that... even if they go with someone who looks more "traditionally" the part, it doesn't mean you're any less worthy of getting it. Don't lose that belief in yourself."

This lesson became increasingly relevant as Sultana accepted a yearlong position as Olney Theatre Center's (a professional theatre in Olney, Maryland) casting apprentice post-graduation. As an apprentice, Sultana's day-to-day mainly involved working within casting databases, assisting the Casting Director/Associate Artistic Director (Jenna Place), and helping other departments around the theatre. Besides learning the fundamentals of casting, this position helped Sultana further realize the importance of offering yourself kindness and forgiveness as an actor. "Auditioning is such a grind. Actors put in so much work for the opportunity to be paid. [Working in casting] has shown me that I deserve more than beating myself up about not getting a part. What casting is looking for is so specific, and they see so many incredible people. Just because only one person gets to have a part doesn't mean that the whole group of people isn't incredible."

Now that their casting apprenticeship has ended, Sultana prepares to continue navigating the working world...this time, with a greater sense of self-worth and love. "Theatre is not the end-all, be-all. My worth is not tied to work. I don't have to hinge my whole well-being, worth, and self on what I do for a living. I'd love to continue working in arts administration, but I'(M) Willing to veer off this path for the first time. It's important for me to continue to facilitate art, even if I'm not the one making it directly."

When asked for advice to share with the next generation of college graduates, Sultana reminds current students to protect our inner peace. "Theatre, as much as we love it, is not worth your sanity. You have to remember that you have worth and value in what you do. The art that you put out into the world has intrinsic value because it comes from you. Know your worth, what you're willing to do, and what you're willing to stand up for." If we learn how to live like Sultana, with true love and respect for ourselves as creators, then we too can successfully navigate the crazy world of post-collegiate theatre.

*On a personal note- this will be my last blog for the semester, as I continue to navigate this crazy workload of senior year. Thank you all so much for tuning in to my monthly writings, your support and love means the world to me. Until I write again, feel free to reach out to me at vettegirl17@verizon.net. Talk to you all again soon!*


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