Jessica De Maria shares thoughts on combining Administration and Artistic Practice

As you may know, March is National Women’s History Month, and yesterday was International Women’s Day. Last year, C4 Atlanta shared the stories of women arts administrators in our city as part of a project with the National Women’s History Project called “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”.

C4 Atlanta is excited to curate this blog series for the second year in a row! We will be highlighting women’s stories on our blog and on our social media throughout the month of March and into April. This year we have expanded the project to include the stories of more women and to share a diverse range of experiences, including women nationally as well as locally. Sharing women’s triumphs challenges stereotypes within today’s society and overturns social assumptions about who women are and what women can accomplish.

Jessica De Maria, Development Manager, Actor's Express
Jessica De Maria, Development Manager, Actor’s Express

With that being said, we’d love to introduce our next leading lady, Jessica De Maria.

Where do you work and what do you do? I’m the Development Manager and Special Events Coordinator at Actor’s Express. I’m also a performer, writer and teaching artist.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up? That changed daily when I was a kid! When I first went to college, I wanted to work in Educational Programming-I planned on designing curriculum for television programs like Sesame Street.

Who was your favorite artist/writer/performer growing up? Gene Kelly. I’ve seen every single one of his films, and would watch my favorites over and over. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on earth who loves THE PIRATE. I still light up whenever I see him on screen…or talk about him…or watch collections of YouTube videos.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you? I have been so fortunate to have many mentors throughout my life who have all truly helped me profoundly at my many stages of growth. If I had to chose though, I’d say the biggest influence was the director of my high school Drama program, George Loizidas. He of course was the first to really cultivate me as a performer – but the major lesson he taught me was humility. He made it very clear that I should always be humble, appreciative and look at the larger picture. Not just with relation to theatre, but in all things. He schooled me with some serious tough love, but it worked. He kept me honest and he gave me true confidence.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work? I’ve been interested in the arts my whole life. I’m from NY, and my parents made it a priority for me to see at least one Broadway show a year. It was usually a Christmas or a Birthday present. We also saw local theatre all year round. Seeing theatre and appreciating music was a priority. I also studied dance, acting, piano and voice as well. I can’t imagine growing up without art and music as a daily part of our lives. I’ve been in Arts Administration for about 4 years, my current position for 2.

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Promo photo from THE LAST TIME WE WERE HERE, co-written by Jessica that went to the New York Musical Theatre Festival

How is art a passion for you? It’s my every day. If I’m not at the Express I’m rehearsing, teaching or writing. It has to be a passion. The hours are long, the pay can be tough to swallow and the schedule is 7 days a week. Working in this profession brings me to life. I feel like I get to use every skill set I possess on a daily basis, hone them and perfect them. To me, the arts are the last great thing that brings people together on a human level-that directly engages us with one another, physically, emotionally-and therefore it has the power to affect change in us and in our community.

What are your thoughts on equality and representation of women in the arts? Well, just like in any other professions, we still have so much progress to make. I feel there is equality in salary in the arts for women that may not exist elsewhere-but I’m still looking for more women to be represented as heads of arts organizations. I’m looking for more women playwrights to be produced, more great parts for women onstage. I’m looking for the same protection for women in the arts (formal sexual harassment and discrimination policies on the books for example) that we have in other professions. I am glad, however, as a woman to work in a profession that I feel IS progressive for the most part and willing to hear my voice.

What in your profession has  given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment? Looking back, what would you have done differently? What would you do again? I gain a tremendous sense of fulfillment when Actor’s Express is awarded a grant based on any package I have written. I have a great love and passion for the organization and I try to imbue everything I write or say about AE with that. So when there is a financial award that allows us to improve programming and further our mission, it’s just amazing. To know that I’ve persuaded someone to support us through writing just makes me want to high five everyone ever. Looking back, I would have settled into this role administratively sooner. I sort of tried everything, and avoided development and fundraising as a primary responsibility because I felt there was too much pressure involved. There certainly is a great deal of pressure and a heavy sense of responsibility-but I also use so much more creative thinking, writing, and true strength and passion than I thought I would. Plus there’s a brilliant and clear sense of completion and success. One thing I know I did right was chose Actor’s Express as my home theatre. AE has such a clearly stated mission of inclusivity and accessibility for all. It’s a theatre that champions the voices of the marginalized and pioneers great new works. AE truly believes that art can have a profound and immediate impact on the community. As I look around at the climate our country exists in at present, this mission is more important than ever.

 Jessica De Maria as Beggar Woman in SWEENEY TODD at Actor's Express
Jessica De Maria as Beggar Woman in SWEENEY TODD at Actor’s Express

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta? I really love that there seems to be this sudden burst in homegrown projects and new work. One of the major benefits of being a part of this community, is that it is small enough and close knit enough for people to take big risks, and feel supported in them. Start up companies like The Seedling Project and the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival are perfect examples. Having outlets like these has promoted the consistent development and creation of new work coming out of Atlanta which can only improve our national profile.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community? I love collaboration. I hope to contribute a strong sense of that. I enjoy finding creative ways to partner with other organizations-both on the inside and the outside of the arts community. I hope to continue to promote all sectors of the city working together to grow Atlanta into the world class arts city it can be.

Where can I learn more about your organizations and work (websites, social media, etc.)?

Actor’s Express:
Promo Photo for WHAT’S PAST by Jessica De Maria and Chase Peacock, a new musical in development.
Jessica is a graduate of Oglethorpe University and currently serves as the Development Manager and Special Events Coordinator at Actor’s Express in West Midtown Atlanta. Jessica previously spent time in the offices of Horizon Theatre and Georgia Shakespeare before making her way to the Express. Jessica is also a regular performer, most recently seen in SWEENEY TODD at Actor’s Express. You can catch her onstage next in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at Theatrical Outfit, followed by KISS ME KATE at Stage Door Players and THE THREEPENNY OPERA at 7Stages. She is the co-author of THE LAST TIME WE WERE HERE (with Jeremiah Parker Hobbs), a selection of The New York Musical Theatre Festival 2015 and currently slated for three workshop performances at Synchronicity Theatre in June. Her current work in process is the new musical WHAT’S PAST, written with Chase Peacock.

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