Statera Mentorship: Meet the DFW Regional Coordinators

Mentorship is at the core of Statera's mission of taking positive action to bring women* into full and equal participation in the arts. Statera Mentorship is now in the Boston Area and we’re thrilled to introduce you to the Dallas / Fort Worth Regional Coordinators. Here are some quick stats before we dive in:

Dallas / Fort Worth Chapter Founded: Winter 2019
Dates: Class I runs from July 1 - December 31, 2019
Application deadline: Class I mentor/mentee applications are due by June 1, 2019
Website: Statera Mentorship Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter
Facebook: Statera Mentorship

DFW Regional Coordinators (left to right): Emily Scott Banks, Alle Mims, Vanessa DeSilvio, Christie Vela, Olivia de Guzman, and Natalie Young.

DFW Regional Coordinators (left to right): Emily Scott Banks, Alle Mims, Vanessa DeSilvio, Christie Vela, Olivia de Guzman, and Natalie Young.

STATERA: What do you see as the greatest need and/or the most common need for mentorship relationships?

Alle Mims: The greatest need for mentorship relationships is finding a mentor who looks like you, a mentor you can relate to. As amazing as most of my professors were, there were all white and straight. I never had a queer, woman of color to look up to while in university. Having a mentor you know personally, in your area, who is walking a similar path to you is invaluable. Since graduating, I have met many powerful and worthy women of color and queer people to look up to, and it has made a huge difference in how I see my future in Dallas. While in university, I thought, "Why am I doing this when there is no place for someone like me here?" Now that I see people like me succeeding, I know it's possible for me too.

Vanessa DeSilvio: I think the greatest need for mentorship is to feel encouraged. I can't tell you how many artists I have met recently who are incredibly talented and have so much to offer this arts community, but who doubt themselves constantly. I think they get in their own way of artistic growth and of personal ambition. But I get it! Once I became a mother, and had to find a balance between my passion for theater and my passion for my children, there were days where I felt serious fear creep into my mind that maybe I would not be successful in both. That maybe I was just not cut out for being an artist because I decided to have a family and so I wouldn't find time or energy to commit to my love of art. With mentorship, I think artists who feel that they have been out of the game for too long, or feel that they simply aren't booking work, or who just need that boost of encouragement, will find that mentorship can help uplift them and give them a gentle nudge towards their goals. 

Natalie Young: Navigating the lack of opportunity for our gender, as well as equal pay for women. 

Emily Scott Banks: In my own experience, anyway, it is a harder thing for a mid-career woman to find a mentor than for an artist who is still very young. I'm not sure why this is, but it does seem to leave a lot of ladies in their late 20's through their 30's who may have had pauses for families or other reasons, and who have therefore not progressed quite as far or as fast in their careers. When I was going through this period, I experienced a LOT of judgment from men in leadership positions (though not the person who became my own mentor) who simply had no time for artists who were also mothers. Even many women at the time were less interested in supporting the careers of other women artists who were not significantly younger than themselves, so I think that together leaves this gap. Off the top of my head, I can easily name maybe 20 local artists who are very talented and have a lot of potential, but who are struggling to find traction in their careers after becoming moms.

Olivia de Guzman: A sharing of perspective between two artists that remind them both of their passion and drive, and why the arts are a noble and necessary pursuit.  An outlet to celebrate personal process.

STATERA: Tell us about your work in the theatre / or in the arts.

Olivia: I'm an actor, musician, and arts educator. 

Vanessa: I received my MFA in Acting from Southern Methodist University and have worked with numerous theatre companies in DFW. I’m also a voice over artist and speak fluent Spanish so I’m often recording audiobooks, commercial radio spots, or educational programs in both English and Spanish. I’ve also taught at Southern Methodist University, University of North Texas, and KD Conservatory. I’m represented by The Mary Collins Agency, which has helped me book commercial spots and television roles. 

Alle: I work mostly as an actor but I recently had my first short play produced in Dallas since college!

Emily: I am an actor-director and have been working professionally in the DFW area for 20 years now. Before that, I worked and studied in New Orleans, Austin and the Berkshires. Since moving back to Fort Worth in 2000, I have been in maybe 50/60 plays as an actor, and directed about 20 others. I have a BFA in Acting from UT Austin, and I've been a member of Actors Equity for 12+ years.

Natalie: I work primarily as an actor, though I am also a founder of Choreo Records Tap Company and I sing with the Polyphonic Spree

STATERA: Can you share about your journey to the DFW area arts scene?

Emily: I grew up in Fort Worth, so was involved in both experimental theater at the Hip Pocket Theatre at the same time as very traditional Casa Mañana Theatre when it was in the round and doing full musical summer stock. I studied dance first, then moved over to acting later. At that time, I couldn't wait to get out of the area so went away to study/work for about 12 years, then came back as a new mom with an infant, to find the theater scene hopping. I never looked back. I love how artists can live a balanced life here. Although I had directed outside of DFW, I primarily identified as an actor for the first 9 years I was back, but was offered (by a mentor!) to direct a professional show in 2009, and since then have been an artist hyphenate. 

Olivia: I was born and raised in Texas and I got my BFA in theatre here too. But after graduating, I had some entrepreneurial opportunities come up. It’s crazy how a theatre skill set lends itself to so many other jobs. So I did small theatre and music projects on the side, mostly for free, and I didn’t start actually working professionally in the Dallas theatre scene (and some projects in New York) until 6 years ago. Sometimes I wonder where’d I be if I started grinding and auditioning right after college, but mostly I’m proud of the time I took to explore other things and I believe those experiences made me a better artist. 

Natalie: I got cast pretty much directly out of college and have continued working regularly ever since. 

Vanessa: I moved from New York City to Dallas to pursue my MFA and the plan was to move to Chicago afterwards. But upon graduation I had built up a strong connection with theaters in the DFW area, including Shakespeare Dallas, Cara Mia Theatre Co., Kitchen Dog Theater, and the Dallas Theater Center. I love the close-knit theater community here, I was inspired by the work I was seeing, and felt like I could find my place here. One of the things I enjoy about being in this town is that I can see work and think to myself, “I really hope to get to work with this actor or with that director” and chances are that I will! 

Alle: was raised in California and moved to DFW when I was 18. I went to Collin College for a few years before transferring to Texas Woman's University where I got my BA in Drama in 2016. From there, I joined the professional theatre world and eventually signed with Kim Dawson and started commercial and film work as well. 

STATERA: What is your own most memorable mentorship experience?

Vanessa: Upon graduation, I reached out to David Lozano at Cara Mia Theatre Co. He was so gracious in allowing me to join them for weekly sessions that focused on physical theater, devised work, clown and mask work. It was exactly what I needed to feel connected to a theater in town and to continue building on my training from SMU. I got quite busy working with other theaters in town but I am always grateful to him for his mentorship and guidance. 

Emily: Probably the unexpected and surprising offer to direct I mention above. I actually came to my first true experience of having a mentor rather late, though I'd always hungered for such support. This person was both my Meisner teacher of 5 years (at that time) as well as my director on many shows. The offer to direct was purely out of the blue, because he recognized that in me, and was generous enough to take a risk. Luckily it paid off! 

Alle: My most memorable and impactful mentorship happened at Collin College under Gail Cronauer. I am happy to say we continued our relationship past my graduation. Out of all my instructors, I think she has been the most honest with me. I will never forget when I asked her if I should straighten my hair for my head shots, she said, "Why?" After I spent a few moments trying, and failing, to come up with a good reason, she said, "Your hair makes you who you are. There will be hundreds of girls with straight hair auditioning. You're going to be different." It seems like a small thing, but that really made me reevaluate how I present myself as a black woman in the professional world. After she saw my first ten-minute play, she told me, "Keep writing." I have that small quote written down and pinned on my bulletin board. 

Natalie: Dressing room chats with more seasoned actresses than myself.

Olivia: That’s the thing - I have had truly excellent teachers and my family is very supportive of my work in the arts, but I’ve never had a mentor-mentee relationship with another artist. It’s absolutely a void I’ve always felt, especially when I was a younger woman, flying by the seat of my pants around my career. So, the chance to help others find mentorship is a way to feel better about not having had that myself. 

STATERA: How did you become connected to Statera Mentorship? 

Vanessa: Sarah Greenman, the StateraArts Director of Operations, reached out to me at the start of this year about becoming an ambassador for StateraArts. I didn't know much about Statera until Sarah reached out to me and I am so glad she did. The mission of empowering women artists speaks to me in a visceral way, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to be a part of such an uplifting organization. I am proud of being an artist, of being Latinx, of being a mother to two, and now, of being a part of a movement to UPLIFT, AMPLIFY, and ADVANCE women artists in this DFW community. Just a few weeks after taking on the role of ambassador, I was contacted about leading the Regional Coordinator team for the very first DFW Mentorship Chapter. Again, I couldn't resist this active mission of encouraging women artists and helping them to find a community. So here I am!

Natalie: Christie Vela and Vanessa DeSilvio.

Olivia: The very fierce Vanessa DeSilvio reached out to me and I said yes. We know each other through mutual friends, teaching at the same school, and before that I was a fan of her work onstage!

Emily: Vanessa DeSilvio, our lovely regional coordinator, and I were in The Moors together this past fall, and became friends there. 

Alle: I was introduced to Statera Mentorship by Vanessa DeSilvio. Vanessa was actually part of the cast in my first ever professional show in Dallas. Since then, we have supported each other's work and stayed in touch. I saw her posting about Statera and the possibility of starting a DFW chapter and before I knew it, she was reaching out to me to become a part of it. I was blown away because I look up to her as an actress and a strong voice for women of color in the industry. I hope that others will see me that way, too. 


STATERA: Talk to us about your leadership style and why you're called to work in this capacity for your community. 

Vanessa: My leadership style... I am super organized, so organizing teams, planning tasks that are geared towards goals, those are the things I like to do. I love a challenge! I'm called to mentorship in DFW because I feel so many artists will benefit from this uplifting mission.  

Natalie: I suppose it's important to me that we find ways to raise our worth in this business. We all need expanders along the way, especially as young artists, to feel safe asking for what you deserve. Hopefully our mentorship will provide that for young women. I don't consider myself someone who has conquered everything, but I've never been afraid of an uncomfortable conversation and I've never been satisfied with "that's just the way it is." 

Emily: I am a staunch believer in the power of so-called "soft leadership" or "leading from behind" (thank you, Nelson Mandela) which is 100% counter to the stereotypical male and mainstream-rewarded forms of leadership that scream an ego-driven "Look at me!". I firmly believe in shining a light on every member of my collaborative team in a way that brings their best efforts to the fore, and encourages them to soar past their own perceived limitations. However this does not mean I am afraid of making the final decisions or the hard calls. I believe that long as I, as director/leader, have done my research, collected the best team, and stay true to my vision to honor the story, then all the team member's contributions can then feel valued enough to bring their best work with a good heart. At first, I struggled with some perceptions that this approach signaled weakness on my part, as it wasn't the classic macho style of leadership, but I think the "products" (for lack of a better word) that I have delivered repeatedly have led to being hired over and over again, and to having my shows recognized in end-of-year lists/awards and more importantly by audiences as important experiences. I think this combination of bringing quality stories where all members of the team feel a sense of esprit d'corps is why I am called to work.

Olivia: Theatre is a collaborative art form and I think my strength lies in collaboration.  Whether my role in the collaboration is a leadership role or not, I'm up for the task and I give my full effort, along with my trust in and respect for what my fellow artists bring.

Alle: I am still trying to find my leadership style. Often times, I feel as though I am thrown into leadership positions because I am outspoken and unapologetic. I carry both of those things into my leadership, but I am still refining that. I know I have crossed lines and stepped on toes in the past. I hope to grow and learn from my mistakes and use them to become a better leader.

STATERA: What recent personal projects or upcoming projects are you excited about?

Olivia: I just closed Office Hour by Julia Cho at Circle Theatre.  It has been an important project for me because I'm one of two Asian Pacific Islander - American leads, and Julia Cho is an amazing Asian American playwright.  Representative opportunities such as this are a rarity in DFW and it has been a wonderful experience.  In the fall, I am going back to school (!!) for a Masters in Acting, so I'm looking forward to immersing myself in that training.

Alle: I just closed Raptured! at Theatre Three. After that, I will be in As You Like It with Shakespeare Dallas in the summer. I hope to continue to get short works produced in the area and am currently working on a staged reading of a full-length play. You can follow my work on Instagram @alleisthebest

Natalie: Lots of exciting things around the bend! My Instagram is @pepinochick where I painfully overshare, so its unlikely you'll miss whats happening with me, if that's something you're interested in. 

Emily: I’m directing "Summer and Smoke" for The Classics Theatre Project at the Margo Jones Theater at Fair Park - where it had its world premiere in 1947 (the year before going to Broadway) and where it has not been done since. Bringing this challenging piece home, where the ghosts of Margo and Tennessee birthed it 71 years ago seems like some juicy theater juju.

Vanessa: Oh yay! I just closed the Dallas Theater Center's production of REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES by Josefina Lopez (directed by a fellow regional coordinator, Christie Vela!). The play features an all-female, all-Latinx cast and it is a feel-good play that deals with owning your roots, body image, friendships, the roles of wives, sisters, mothers... it's just a fabulous play that I was so blessed to be a part of.

Interested in learning more about Statera Mentorship? Visit www.stateraarts.org/mentorship. Apply by June 1st to be a mentee or mentor for the next class in the DFW Area at www.stateraarts.org/dfw-mentorship. And if you have questions, please visit Statera Mentorship: Frequently Asked Questions.


*A NOTE ON INCLUSION AT STATERA

Women: Statera recognizes the limiting nature of the binary use of woman. We serve and welcome anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies either always or some of the time as a woman. We also serve and welcome those who identify as non-binary. 

Intersectionality: StateraArts works through an intersectional lens for gender parity. We understand and acknowledge that systems of oppression and discrimination are interdependent and span all social categorizations such as race, class, gender, ability, religion, parental status, size, age, and sexual orientation as they apply to a given individual or group. Addressing one spoke of systematic discrimination or disadvantage means holistically addressing them all.