We are celebrating the completion of MP2, which wrapped mid-June, and loved sitting down with this group of incredible women who worked with another class of bright and eager mentees! As our Mentorship Program continues to grow, we know that none of it would be possible without their dedication, passion and willingness to be so giving of their time and energies to help the next generation of artists! Check it out below!
What made you decide to apply to become a Mentor with Off The Lane?
Annette: College had prepared me on how to book work, but when I decided to make my move to NYC 3 years later, I was overwhelmed with questions on apartment hunting, finding side gigs, navigating the city and doing the hustle. This was my way of hopefully helping out an artist who felt just like I did 6 years ago.
Sarah: I guess it coincides with how I feel about working for Mustard Lane (OTL’s parent company). Everyone I work with around town maintains this level of enthusiasm and generosity of spirit toward the job, and the leadership at ML is so collaborative and kind. I knew this would be a valuable experience, because I know the quality of work that Mustard Lane invests itself in, and it’s always above expectations. There’s also something exciting about being part of Off the Lane’s first year—you get to be involved in the groundwork of a program as it grows, and I think it’s a great way to learn about yourself and others.
Cristina: When I heard about the concept for Off The Lane I knew I had to be involved. In fact my first words were, “man, I wish I had heard of something like this when I was first starting out.” The opportunity to give a student a real life perspective and an understanding ear is something that would have been such a game-changer for me when I first moved to the city. I’m so happy I could be a small part in helping my mentees transition go as smoothly as possible.
What does being a Mentor mean to you?
Ayana: Being a mentor means sharing the knowledge that I have in hopes you can avoid making the same mistakes I did, and be able to approach your creative career with more confidence because of what I shared.
Sarah: When we were trained for the Mentor position, one of the exercises we did was to each bring up a memory of a person who we considered to be a personal mentor, and then to identify the qualities in them that made them so great. It was a surprisingly emotional experience for the group of us, and I took away from that a hope to be the kind of mentor that I would’ve wanted when I first arrived in the city. Being the person you once needed has been a great guideline for me in this process.
Annette: It means I can give someone the advice, tools, and guidance to make their dreams a reality!
Cristina: As a student, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really wonderful mentors in my life. To me, as a mentee, I needed someone who could listen to my questions, my fears, my aspirations and offer a voice of clarity and understanding. These are the same principles I try to bring to the table as a mentor now myself.
Do you have a favorite Mentorship Program highlight?
Annette: When my mentee said in our last session “At first I had so many doubts about moving to NYC, but now I think, Yea, I can do this.”
Sarah: My favorite highlight was the exit interview, because it was fun to watch my Mentee handle it like a pro—he was so confident and genuine, and I loved witnessing the reactions from the OTL Board to his great energy.
Ayana: The first email that said we have a mentee for you!
Cristina: I truly enjoyed the entire experience. I will say though, becoming a mentor during this global pandemic made the mentorship so much more profound to me. Now more than ever we as a society need to band together and extend our help, advice, and methods for healing to each other.
What lesson did you learn from your Mentee?
Ayana: To continue to nurture the optimistic creative in myself. Being in the business can weigh you down to the point you want to quit. So having a mentee who was fresh and full of dreams reminded me to keep that going within myself.
Cristina: No matter how far away we are from each other or how different our daily lives may be, ultimately everyone just needs someone to hear and see them. I think my mentee was so brave for trusting me, a complete stranger, with his thoughts and feelings. I’m honored to have been given that chance to listen and give back.
Annette: Watching my mentee’s transformation made me realize I need to trust myself more often and know that I can do it too when it comes to future endeavors.
Sarah: My mentee always showed up with appreciation, preparation, and an authenticity that made him so approachable. I loved getting to see the way he interacted with the other members of the OTL team. It was such a lovely reminder that being genuine is a magnetic quality, and it gives other people a very apparent window into who you are, and that’s relevant both inside and outside the industry.
What made you decide to move to NYC and how long have you been living here?
Annette: I moved 6 years ago to pursue a career in Musical Theater, Plays and Film.
Sarah: I moved to NYC when I was found by a talent agency through a YouTube video I’d made, and they encouraged me to move up here right after college and sign with them (my initial plan was to wait at least a year). I moved here in 2013, and I’m so grateful for every experience and friendship this city has afforded me.
Ayana: I was born and raised in NJ, only 30min from NYC, so since I am so close I still live in NJ!
Cristina: I moved here in 2009 straight out of high school to study and like many others, pursue my dream of being on Broadway!
What would you describe as one of the pivotal moments in your career?
Annette: Getting to perform with Broadway stars such as Titus Burgess and Arielle Jacobs.
Sarah: The first time I hit 100 performances of a single show felt like a major moment, because up to that point, I hadn’t experienced an 8-show week with a role that was as intense as the one I was in, and that experience felt very sink or swim in regards to figuring out how to enjoy the process of an extended run while traveling and doing press and finding consistency. It was a touring production, and I was exhausted a lot of the time, but it was a sort of joyful exhaustion. I learned that I LOVED doing the same show every day, and I didn’t ever get bored or tired of the experience—it was a sort of challenge and a ritual combined, and I felt really grateful every night for the opportunity to perform. The show went on for many more performances, but hitting that first 100 felt like the first confirmation to myself that I could do it, and I could love it, even on the hard days.
Ayana: After grad school when I moved back to the USA and booked my first lead role. Then having that validated by a little black girl running up to me after the show and hugging my leg because I looked like her. That was the moment I realized I became the representation, just like Audra McDonald was for me so many years before.
Cristina: My first national tour was really exciting. For the first time I had that feeling of, “I did it!” I actually got the voicemail while I was serving at a restaurant and was so eager to check what they said (this is before you could read voicemails) that I hid in the liquor storage closet to listen. I screamed so loud a manager came in and wrote me up for being on my phone. Totally worth it!
Who do you look up to in your industry and why?
Annette: Sara Bareilles is one of my favorite female artists who inspires me with her beautiful voice, genius songwriting, and being such a kind human.
Cristina: Honestly, I look up to my industry friends. The ones who aren’t famous. The ones that have been on the pavement flyering, and grinding away, hustling at audition after audition to pursue their dream of being on Broadway while working full time side jobs. They are the real deal unsung heroes.
Ayana: Audra McDonald. She has always been my hero! Looking at her career and what she had been able to accomplish has been my driving force, If she can do it, so can I.
Sarah: I really look up to all those who have invested their lives in their work. Seeing people find parallel careers so they can continue in the industry and also build a life and a family is so inspiring to me. There’s no one path through this industry, and I love hearing the stories of how people find creative ways to continue wholeheartedly in a tough field. Seeing older working actors who are still in class and still learning is so encouraging. The practice never stops, and I love that mindset—it feels connected to the pulse of this city.
If you could offer one piece of advice to incoming Mentors, what would it be?
Ayana: You are enough and so are the experiences you are going to share with your mentee.
Annette: You don’t have to know all the answers, but learning to listen and share your story is more invaluable than you think.
Sarah: Just try to be the mentor you wish you’d had when you got here.
Cristina: Listen and respond in the way you wish someone would have done for you. Compassion over everything.
If you could offer one piece of advice to new creatives to the city, what would it be?
Annette: Don’t wait for someone to hand you work. Create it. And don’t feel like pursuing other interests is a distraction to your main career. Sometimes it is those very “distractions” that enrich us as artists and that bring us back to what we were looking for in the first place.
Sarah: Don’t let anyone tell you what your experience will be here. This industry isn’t linear. At the same time, find your community and find your champions. Find the people who will build you up and also challenge you to be better. Don’t try to be an island—it’s the networks of other artists and creators that will keep you sane and help you find your way.
Ayana: Find your tribe. Whether they are in the arts or not, find the people to surround yourself with who will support you through your creative career.
Cristina: Be kind to others, but don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well. Being a performer can be tough, but remember: this isn’t something you “do” it’s something you ARE. Never stop yourself from experiencing as much as you can in life for fear of being “out of the game”. The best performers to me, are those who have gone out and tasted as much of the world as possible. Live FULLY and never hold yourself back.
Any fun plans for the Summer?
Sarah: I plan to take a lot of walks, and that’s all the excitement I’ve got in store for now!
Annette: Go hiking, make picnics, write music, photograph more, and learn graphic design.
Cristina: This summer I have actually made the decision to further my passion for health and wellness by going back to school to study nursing. It’s challenging, exciting, and will be a long road ahead but I can attribute a great amount of my self discipline to the training I received as a singer, actor, and dancer. I would not be the person I am today without my experiences as a professional performer in this great city of New York!