Mentorship Program 1 (MP1) Mentor Q&A

Our entire team here at Off The Lane couldn’t be more proud to celebrate the completion of our first session of the Mentorship Program! We thought it would be fitting to sit down with three of our mentors, Erica, Jillian and Vincenzo, who helped pave the way and set the bar high for many successful sessions to come. Check it out below as they speak about their experiences with the program, why they decided to become a mentor and where they are drawing their inspiration from during this time in quarantine!

What made you decide to apply to become a Mentor with Off The Lane?

Jillian: I have a lot of experience as an educator, and I’ve always had a knack for helping guide people through difficult or complicated situations in their life. These two things made me feel comfortable with the idea of becoming a mentor. I’ve found mentors of my own along the way through my life, but the idea of coming into someone’s life with the sole purpose of being their mentor was such a nice thought. I would’ve loved to have someone designated to help me achieve my goals and follow my dreams – especially right out of college – so it made me really happy to think about doing that for someone else. I think that was the deciding factor!

Vincenzo: I wanted to provide a younger generation of artists with resources that would have made my professional journey a bit more streamlined.

Erica: I had been entertaining thoughts to join some sort of volunteer organization, where I could give my time to help other people for a while, but dragged my feet. Then I received the email about this program and leapt into action! I could really have benefited from having a mentor during my senior year of college and this felt like a great opportunity to right that wrong!

What does being a Mentor mean to you?

Vincenzo: It means being both a guide and a friend. As a mentor I think I strive to be a facilitator between the individual whom I am, hopefully, helping and their desired destination, or rather, the best version of who they want to become.

Jillian: It means not necessarily having all the answers but being willing to find them. I’ve also discovered how important it is not only to do everything I can to relay useful information, but to also help my mentee feel confident, calm, and excited about going into the next phase of life!

Erica: It means I can put my mistakes and hindsight to good use. I can serve as a source of guidance, resilience, and proof that you can figure things out moving to NYC!

Do you have a favorite Mentorship Program highlight?

Erica: Two moments really stick out for me. The first being, once we got to know each other a little and settled into a consistent meeting time, she mentioned how she really looked forward to connecting with me each week for our quick conversations. The second happened when I connected her with my friend who started his own theatre company. I got to introduce her to a part of NYC that she was very curious and excited to learn more about.

Jillian: I think the training was my favorite part. Being able to spend the day with the board members and other mentors to talk about who’s inspired us in our lives and why this program is important to us was so wonderful and invigorating! 

Vincenzo: My mentee verbalizing that what I provided made an impact and helped him grow. Which is all I can ask for.

What lesson have you learned from your Mentee?

Erica: To stay busy! When her plans got all knocked out of whack because of this pandemic, she did not hesitate to find a way to stay connected to things that made her happy creatively. I can definitely steal some of her focus to follow through on projects!

Jillian: My mentee is so positive, especially with everything that’s going on in this strange interim. The real world is exciting, but it can also leave you a bit jaded after a while. My mentee gives me the reminder that even though I’m no longer a kid fresh out of college, it’s still important to look at the world as a positive place full of opportunities!

Vincenzo: To stay positive and motivated, not to forget that beautiful quality of dreaming as a youth. It’s very inspiring and refreshing.

What made you decide to move to NYC and how long have you been living here?

Erica: I’ve been living here since 2009. I decided to come here because it seemed like the logical place to go if I wanted to be in the business of musical theatre. I wanted to be as close to the action as possible.

Vincenzo: This October will be three years. I fell in love with the city on a Youth Orchestra trip. Eventually I moved from music to acting and since NYC felt familiar and it’s a hub for Film/TV/Theatre it seemed to be the next logical step.

Jillian: I was doing a lot of theatre and film in Pittsburgh after graduating from Pitt, but I realized that a bigger pond was calling me. I moved to NYC six years ago, and at times I’ve been doing a mean butterfly stroke, other times just treading water, but always staying afloat in this giant pond!

What would you describe as one of the pivotal moments in your career?

Jillian: I would say it was when I realized I didn’t have to do or be just one thing. I could do comedy or drama. I could do musical theatre or TV. I could create my own work. It’s definitely important to know your “brand” and create specific goals to work towards, but at the same time you have to do what makes you happy and challenge yourself. At the end of the day, it’ll make you a better artist – and probably a better human, too.

Erica: Getting hired to do a regional production that gave me my Equity Card.

Vincenzo: I worked with a well-known actor in early 2012 on only my second film and during one particularly long day, after shooting our close-ups, he turned to me and simply said “You do good work.” The remark was candid and unexpected and stuck with me because it made me realize that what you want you can achieve and I look forward to nourishing a similar career, attitude and welcoming nature to young artists in their beginning stages. It has definitely colored how I approach the industry.

Who do you look up to in your industry and why?

Erica: Jessie Mueller, Laurie Metcalf, Leslie Kritzer, and Ilana Glazer. They are all extremely talented women who are not the typical ingenue type, but who command each role they do with a wonderfully focused energy. They are able to portray raw humans on stage. Leslie and Ilana have a fabulous weird sense of humor that just hits it out of the park for me.

Vincenzo: I have been blessed with a close group of friends all of whom are very successful, not just in their careers but their lives and I think their capacity to enjoy life is what makes them successful. 

Jillian: There are so many! I look up to people who are unapologetically themselves while still being good people. People who have tons of talent but still work hard. People who make you remember tiny parts of their performance weeks or years later because they were 1000% in it. People who aren’t afraid to fail. And the thing is, I’m surrounded by so many of these people! It’s crazy how many talented, good, hard working people you come across in NYC!

How are you finding joy amidst the quarantine?

Erica: I’m cooking more and not feeling so stressed out about doing so. I’m starting to adapt recipes and substitute things for what I have and that’s a great feeling.  

Vincenzo: Family, staying connected and sharing a space with my lovely girlfriend.

Jillian: I’ve been finding joy through baking, crosswords, game nights with friends and family, virtual performances with my comedy show, writing, exercising, playing/writing/listening to music, podcasts, making art – whatever that means depending on the day, and of course, Netflix!

If you could offer one piece of advice to incoming Mentors, what would it be?

Erica: Meet your match where they are. If they only want to talk about apartments – do it and talk about everything. If they seem to be curious about how to navigate networking in the city, go deep into that world.  

Jillian: Be yourself!

Vincenzo: Give them everything you’ve got. You may not have a chance to go back in time and give yourself advice but you sure can steer a young artist in the right direction. Look to their future and not your past. You’ll learn more than you expect.

If you could offer one piece of advice to new creatives to the city, what would it be?

Erica: Say yes to everything at first so you can gain experience being in different neighborhoods, meeting different people, seeing different art, etc. Nothing will be gained from starving yourself of opportunities right off the bat.  

Vincenzo: Be bold and take risks, within reason. Most importantly know yourself and be happy. Life is about living, it’s not about a career. You can have both. 

Jillian: Keep that creative part of you alive however you can, big or small. NYC can be tough, but art is the reason we’re here. We’re all on our own journey, but art gives us a sense of community, so don’t be afraid to ask questions! We were all starting out once, and some of us start over many times in our lives. We create new lives, reinvent our old ones, and maybe that’s an art form in itself.

Stay tuned for next month’s blog with our Mentorship Committee Co-Chairs!