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BWW Blog: An Interview with Brittany Proia

I always find it enlightening to talk to a professor about their experience with theatre.

BWW Blog: An Interview with Brittany Proia
Brittany competing in the
American Traditions
Vocal Competition in Savannah, GA.

I had the absolute pleasure to interview SUNY New Paltz Professor Brittany Proia who has taught me Speech for the Stage and Acting One in my time at the school so far. You may remember me mentioning her in my last blog "The Artist vs. The Technican." I recently had a Zoom call with her and I asked about what got her started in the arts, her journey and how she discovered what she wanted to do in theatre, and her opinions about the state of theatre and the world right now. I hope you find her story insightful and inspiring,

Brittany grew up in Olney, Maryland, and growing up she was a very shy kid, until one summer she was put into a theatre camp, that helped her step out of that shyness. Her grandmother was an opera singer and always encouraged her singing which contributed to coming out of her shell. Brittany mentioned that thinking back on what got her started in theatre is why she supports arts education so much. She believes in it because it helped her so much as a child. Theatre teaches empathy, and how to live in someone else's shoes, even if it is for a short while.

As she got older she continued to do theatre whenever she had the chance. Like many of us did starting out with theatre we did theatre camps, and did productions in our schools. Brittany ushered at Olney Theatre in Maryland just to be close to the stage. She joined the Young Columbians, an acting troupe that worked with Toby's dinner theatre where she met kids from all over Maryland. Brittany even had the chance to study at the Peabody in Baltimore with a pre-conservatory program they offered. Brittany spoke about these different experiences and how they all gave her the opportunity to meet people just like her. Who loved theatre as much as she did. It makes a difference interacting with people who share the same passion as you do.

Then as many of us had to, Brittany had to choose what she wanted to study, and she
ended up studying at NYU for vocal performance. However as much as she enjoyed singing, it wasn't necessarily the art form she wanted to pursue, or the art form in which she wanted to tell stories. Speaking to Brittany she kept bringing up over and over that what she loves most about theatre is the storytelling. She loves to tell a story, and as she went through the vocal program she realized as much as she enjoys singing, this was not how she wanted to tell stories in theatre. So she began to create her own opportunities to tell the stories she wanted too.

BWW Blog: An Interview with Brittany Proia
Brittany in Othello at Nebraska Shakespeare

Brittany at her time in NYU put on productions of Romeo and Juliet, The Laramie Project, Our Town, and many more. Helping produce and put on these productions were some of her most fulfilling artistic experiences at her time in NYU. Brittany graduated and worked to earn her equity card, she did workshops for new musicals, and liked being a part of new work. They were new stories to be told and she got a hand in telling them. However as Brittany and I talked she told me that she felt like she wasn't being taken seriously as an actor because she didn't have the training for it, so she decided to go for her masters.

Brittany studied at FSU/Asolo conservatory for actor training in Florida. The program
paid her to get her masters which she said wasn't bad at all considering she would also be studying by the beach for three years. Brittany talked about how much she loved the program and for the first two years it was all education and learning, but the final year in this program you became a company member and performed in many productions.

After this for a while Brittany booked a lot of work Off-Broadway, and with different
Shakespeare companies, yet in the back of her head was the want to create work like she did at NYU. She wanted more of a hand in telling stories. Then an opportunity arose to help start up The Denizen Theatre in New Paltz, New York. The Denizen Theatre's mission statement is to "explore what it means to be human in all its duality and complexity, producing new works that provoke, challenge and inspire often ignored conversations." She decided to take this chance and moved up to New Paltz to help start up this theatre company.

I asked her what her feelings were having to help start up a whole new theatre company and she said it was the most exciting and frightening thing she has ever done. When working on a project like this there is no time to doubt yourself, you have to trust your gut, and trust the people around you. And she said she loved every minute of it.

BWW Blog: An Interview with Brittany Proia
Brittany in 'Breadcrumbs' at Urbanite Theatre

For a few years Brittany worked with Denizin and then was offered an adjunct professor
position at SUNY New Paltz, and decided to take it. Her mother was a teacher and as she said before Brittany strongly believes in arts education. She felt like as a teacher she was able to solidify what she knows as an artist by imparting it on her students, and in return learn from her students as well.

The conversation then shifted from being about her journey as an artist, to more present day topics. I asked her with everything going on with the country right now, how will the arts survive? Brittany started to speak stating we are going through a massive transition right now but that no matter what the arts are resilient. She talked about how after the Great Depression people spent money on two things, food and the arts. People needed the arts to help them smile again, to help them understand what the world is going through. The arts are the foundation of humanity. It's hard now to feel like you can see the other side, but we must remember to exercise compassion and empathy always but especially in times like this. Her wise words made me feel a little bit better, and little more hopeful about how things will turn out in the end.

I always find it enlightening to talk to a professor about their experience with theatre and getting started because no matter who I talk to I always find one common thread. The desire to tell a story. To be a storyteller, Be it through acting, designing, producing or director, every single person has the desire to help tell a story. We are storytellers, and we have the power to choose the stories we wish to tell. The stories we believe need to be heard so people can empathize and understand others. Stories are the backbone of humanity, everyone needs stories. And everyone's stories need to be told. And I find it truly amazing that all of us in theatre are connected by this desire to tell stories. It is truly something special.



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