Well, if Secretary Clinton wasn’t allowed to lead the nation, we DO have JAZMYN ARROYO & JANELLE ZAPATA, co-artistic directors of the new arts organization, STEP1 to lead the arts into a new generation.
The company is more than a theatre group, it’s an organization dedicated to enhancing the works of its artists and the art all around them. These two courageous women are paving the way for the next generation of arts professionals.
Well, yeah, considering their titles on their website is DIRECTOR OF EVERYTHING!
Their new series of fractured holiday fairy tales couldn’t come at a better time.
But let’s hear them say it.
We hear a lot about inspiration – or Muse – that drives an artist. What inspires you?
Janelle: Stories inspire me! Growing up I was an avid reader, I spent all of my time at recess reading- I devoured book by book and when I found theatre it was a whole new world. I can create an experience to tell a story? That was like magic to me! I feel so fortunate and grateful that people give me the opportunity to tell their stories, and I take it as a very serious responsibility. As a producer I am allowed to choose the stories I tell and that is its own responsibility. What do I want to show people? What do I want to make people feel? Artists have this huge responsibility to their audience, and that really excites me!
What made you start a whole new company?
Jazmyn: I’ve asked myself that same question! But there’s this interesting mix of companies in NYC that are either artists who produce their own work, or companies who are designed to assist independent artist produce their own work. It didn’t seem to me that there is a cross-section of companies who are invested in both producing and supporting. For our first year, though, we focused on what we are able to do with what little we had. That included donating to other artists, promoting their work, and had a part to play in our upcoming show of showcasing one playwright. The goal in our future is to continue to help other artists in more tangible ways, while still producing our own stuff that inspires artists and audience members. Maybe it’s idealistic, but I believe very much in this vision!
What is your artistic process as an actor, director, or producer?
Janelle: I am a true extrovert. I get my energy and drive from other people. Theatre is truly a collaborative art and when I produce, direct, or act I always think it is important to respect all of the voices in the room. There are moments when you can be surprised by another idea and if you were the kind of person to keep your mind closed and narrow focused on your vision you will miss amazing moments! I try to keep any space I work in safe and fun and free to play and experiment!
What do you want most in your chosen profession? It’s OK to say “fame” or “wealth.”
Jazmyn: I think what I’d like most is to be a positive driving force in NYC’s theatre community. I certainly won’t complain if wealth and fame come with the territory, because that will make our impact that much bigger! But really, if we are able to help another group of artists achieve their vision, if we made audience members feel something genuine in the theater, if we inspired audience members and colleagues alike to go for their big goals despite the challenges that threaten to halt their vision, I will be very satisfied.
Sally Field and Paul Newman both said of their profession… “it’s all I can do.” Is this all you can do?
Janelle: I am known to say to students I meet ‘Don’t do it… unless you have to.’ Sometimes art is hard. It takes a ton of sweat and blood and tears, and it takes a special kind of person to look every road bump in the face and say ‘This will not stop me!’ You have to have a ton of stamina and self-respect and self-esteem to be able to show up every day to possibly get rejected, then go to your survival job and push through for those moments of artistic fulfillment. The thing is- those moments are why you have to do it. I have such deep and unabiding respect for every artist out there working hard to reach their goals in such an unforgiving space, and what we want to do with Step1 is create a community where getting there is that much easier.
Jazmyn: It has been quite an exciting first year for Step1! If I have any last words, I’d say this—the reason we call ourselves Step1 Theatre Project is based off the notion that, as artists and humans, we have the ability to imagine and want to create some amazing things that can sometimes feel overwhelming or impossible. (“I can’t afford to stage that!” “We don’t have the right people!” “Everything is too expensive!”) If we let these thoughts stop us, no one would be putting out art, let alone anything genuinely inspiring. We decided, as two women of color, that this is what we are meant to do, and the cutthroat nature of NYC is not something that intimidates us as much as it motivates us. Point is, if you’ve got something in mind that seems big and lofty and intimidating, just start at step one! If you believe in your work, the momentum will pick up from there.