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 California’s Bay Area and we’re thrilled to introduce you to the Bay Area Regional Coordinator, Sheila Devitt. Here are some quick stats before we dive in:
Bay Area 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
Facebook: Statera Mentorship
STATERA: Tell us about your work in the theatre / or in the arts.
Sheila Devitt: I work primarily as an actress; although my work over the past 30 years has included almost every aspect of theatre-making. That includes directing, dramaturgy, stage management, house management, set design, costume design, props; producing, grant writing, fund-raising, publicity; serving on a Board of Directors; teaching drama, from pre-K through college.
I’m primarily a Western, classically- trained actress, with a strong background in Stanislavsky (trained with the Moscow Art Theatre School at Harvard) and Shakespeare (spent a year studying in England). I have also had the good fortune to study classical Eastern performance, specifically Japanese Noh & Kyogen (apprenticed with Theatre of Yugen, and Master Teacher Fujii-Sensei, of the Hosho Noh School in Tokyo). That has also included mask and puppetry work. I love working with heightened language, and a variety of physical movement styles. I also have a love of new plays, and the developmental process, working with the playwright.
In recent years, I have become more active as an advocate for theatre, and specifically for women in theatre. I’m an avid new-play script reader, and created the Reading the Kilroys List group, an informal living-room gathering to read scripts from The Kilroys List and the New Play Exchange.
I currently serve on staff as the Lead House Manager at the San Francisco Playhouse, the highest-producing company in the Bay Area (six main-stage shows, three second-stage shows, a monthly staged reading series per year).
STATERA: Can you share about your journey to the Bay Area arts scene?
Sheila: Sure! I started acting when I was living in Santa Fe, NM, and got my BFA in Theatre Performance from the University of New Mexico. That state has no professional acting, no Equity or LORT houses. So, after a few years of running community theatres, I started looking for room to grow. A combination of factors brought me to San Francisco, including the presence of theatre companies like American Conservatory Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. It’s a major regional hub, with milder winters than New York or Chicago! (I spent early childhood in Boston, and elementary school in Chicago, so I know those winters well.)
As soon as I arrived in San Francisco, I joined Theatre Bay Area, our fabulous service organization, and began to connect with a variety of companies here. We have a strong & supportive theatre community. I have felt empowered, as part of projects and organizations like TBA’s ATLAS Actors program (I was in their inaugural class!); Velina Brown’s Business of Show Biz; Valerie Weak’s Counting Actors statistical survey; “Yeah, I Said Feminist!” a theatre salon founded by Fontana Butterfield Guzman; Works by Women SF, a meet-up group co-hosted by Christine & Valerie, that attends plays by women, to boost ticket sales & box office revenue; and my small Affinity group, originally coordinated by our esteemed regional theatre critic, Lily Janiak.
STATERA: What is your own most memorable mentorship experience?
Sheila: I think it must be working with Jubilith Moore, who invited me to apprentice with her at Theatre of Yugen, where she was Artistic Director. The training, although a highly-specific classical form, has carried over into other work that I do: the physical and vocal work has expanded my skill set. During my time with Theatre of Yugen, Jubilith invited me to take on a variety of challenges, and offered me opportunities to teach & direct. She pushed me, gently, to the edges of my comfort zone, helping to expand what I thought I was capable of.
STATERA: How did you become connected to Statera Mentorship?
Sheila: Martha Richards invited me to attend the Statera Conference III, in October 2018 - which was an amazing conference!!! One of the break-out sessions I attended was offered by Erika Haaland, about Statera’s Regional Mentorship program. It sounded like a very smart program, and I could easily see how useful it would be to bring this to the Bay Area. With the support and encouragement from Martha, and Christine Young, I signed up to be a Regional Coordinator.
STAETRA: What do you see as the greatest need and/or the most common need for mentorship relationships?
Sheila: Greatest need: Community networking and encouragement.
Most Common need: Careers in theatre are often very individual: unlike some other professions, there isn’t always a clear path of steps to follow or take, to advance your work. Mentorship is one way to provide a structure for individual growth. Simply by spending time with someone who is a few steps further along the path can be of tremendous value. The mentee is often able to specify and focus their scope of work interests, through the process of dialogue with the mentor, and through introductions to other theatre-makers with similar interests. The mentor is encouraging the next generation of theatre makers (regardless of age), thereby keeping our industry vital. The ripple effects extend throughout the theatre community, and also into our broader society. Theatre is one of the most collaborative art forms. We need each other. We are stronger together.
STATERA: Talk to us about your leadership style and why you're called to work in this capacity for your community.
Sheila: Building community relationships is fundamental. As a leader, on the one hand I am interested in organizational structure and efficiency: how can we work smarter, rather than working harder? On the other hand, I am interested in connecting people, making introductions, finding & sharing common interests, for the greater good. I have a very strong desire to make our collective work in theatre a little easier for the folks coming up behind me, to hold the door open.
(I also have a parallel career, working in herbal medicine. This interest grew out of the idea that the actor’s body is the instrument, and the instrument must be kept in tune if it is to perform well, and last over time. With a foundation in Western, Ayurvedic, and Traditional Chinese herbal medicine, I am interested in using herbs to support ourselves, in a field that is known for low pay, burn-out and stress. So many performers are highly-sensitive individuals, working with heightened emotions, and I have found that herbal medicine offers gentle, safe & effective remedies for just about every ailment or stressor we encounter in our work. As a leader, I encourage practices within the field that nourish the individual artist, for healthy longevity.)
STATERA: What recent personal projects or upcoming projects are you excited about?
Recent: in March 2019, I performed in “Brooklyn Bridge” by Melissa James Gibson, directed by M. Graham Smith with Dana Nelson-Isaacs, at the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, CA, Susan Evans, Artistic Director. It was such a fabulous experience! I’ve loved Gibson’s writing, since I first read her scripts in American Theatre magazine, years ago. Graham is an incredibly astute director who built a loving ensemble cast. Susan runs a vibrant theatre company, offering a whole range of classes, readings and full productions. https://www.townhalltheatre.com/brooklyn-bridge
Upcoming: I’m currently collaborating as a performer with Jubilith Moore, on a new-play development project. She has commissioned three playwrights (Erik Ehn, Ryan Hill, Katie Pearl) to write a trilogy, about three generations of women in a family. Using the stylistic techniques of classical Noh drama, and exploring durational theatre, Jubilith is creating a story of a contemporary American family and their private tragedies. Current working title: The Stations Project. Scheduled for performance: spring/summer 2020.
Upcoming: I’m currently co-producing the Bay Area Women’s Theatre Festival, which will take place across all nine Bay Area counties, in March/April/May 2020. Scheduled to coincide with SWAN Day, Women’s History Month, 50/50 in 2020, and the Jubilee, this festival will include female-written, female-directed full-length productions at theatres across the region; a 24-hour Occupy the Stage festival of solo work, one-acts, stand-up, improv, works-in-progress, etc.; as well as workshops, panel discussions, and of course, parties! https://bayareawomenstheatrefestival.com
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 Bay Area at www.stateraarts.org/bay-area-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.