Spotlight Interview: Richard Bristow

Richard Bristow: Voice Actor & Teacher (Gordon Central High School)

Rome, Georgia

WFU MA Class of 1986

Theatre Program

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Richard Bristow walks us through his path since Wake’s MA Theatre program, including acting and networking experiences across the country and enlightening us on the art of voiceover work. He leaves us with a gleaming kernel of advice at the end- read on to find out!

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake? What year did you finish your Masters?

Richard Bristow: I was in Wake’s graduate school. Theatre was my concentration. I went to Brenau for undergrad. And to IU for my MFA.

DL: Why did you choose Wake for your Masters?

RB: My mentor at Brenau was a Wake product. He highly recommended it. I went and interviewed and loved it. They gave me an assistantship, too, which was great.

DL: Please walk me through your path from graduate school to your current job.

RB: My path has been all over the place. Right after graduation I worked at an outdoor theater in North Carolina (Horn in the West), and then I went to the Denver Center Theater Company and worked the school year there. It’s a professional theater company that won the first Tony award for a rep company. Then I went to La Jolla Playhouse in California. I went back and forth between those two for a few years. Then my wife, who I met at La Jolla, was a student at Indiana University. I spent a spring break with her, and then I worked at IU for nine years. Then I went to Denver, then Shorter, Berry, and now I am teaching high school. I currently am in Rome, Georgia, and I teach in Calhoun.

DL: What is it like teaching high school?

RB: The kids’ energy is boundless. They are really open and they are eager to learn. Especially for someone who taught in college for nearly thirty years, these students are thriving, and as a result, I am thriving. I love it. We have been to the Shuler Awards. It is the Georgia High School musical theater awards. It is sponsored by Shuler Hensley. It is a really big to-do in high school. We have won three awards in the short two years that I have been at Gordon Central. We have done really well with our one act competitions as well. We have won the region competition for three years in a row - and state one of those! We will be competing in the state competition again this year. I’ll let you know! We are not technically an arts school, but we consider ourselves one.

I also do voiceovers on the side. I got into it when my children were in high school. The were in a place where they didn’t want anything to do with me, so I had free time. So I started pursuing voiceover, which I had always wanted to do. I have done national and regional commercials. I have been in video games and audio games (video games for the blind). I have been everything from grunts and screams in a video game to the end boss in a video game.

DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

RB: The thing about theatre, in undergrad and graduate school, you learn a lot of different skills that are applicable in real life. The main one is deadlines. You can't push opening night. You learn to work as a team. Theater is a big collaboration and you can’t function without your team. You are also pushed to think outside the box. There are times where you don't have the budget of Disney, but you still have to do something and be creative in your problem solving skills.

DL: What sort of tips and suggestions do you have for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

RB: Just don't burn your bridges. It is incredibly true that theatre is a very small world. The more I work in it, the more I realize everyone knows everyone. Even if you don't know someone, you know someone that does. If you make one person mad, you’ve burned a bridge and you won't find work. Don't be a diva. Be nice to people.

There’s a helpful tip I learned in a voiceover workshop. If you are networking somewhere and there is someone with power there, don’t give them your business card - take theirs. If you give them your card, you are one of fifteen to twenty people to do so in one night, and they will likely not remember you. Whereas if you take theirs and send a personal email the next day, then you are more apt to make an impression on them.

DL: Tell me more about some of these workshops you’ve taken.

RB: I am interested in all things theatre, including voiceover. Bob Bergen, who’s currently the voice of Porky the Pig, I’ve taken classes with him. I’ve done workshops in LA and Atlanta. I have taken a workshop with Katie Leigh who is the voice of Connie in Adventures in Odyssey. We’ve become friends. I have also delved into stage combat with the Society of American Fight Directors. I was an Actor Combatant for a while, but I let my membership lapse. That type of work is fun. I am a very physical person, so I love the stage combat, and my high school students love it, too. I am also a big fan of Michael Chekhov’s acting technique. The National Michael Chekhov Association is a wonderful caring place to learn about this amazing technique. Great people run both organizations and I’ve learned a great deal about acting from both!

DL: What do you think schools could do to better to prepare students for life after graduation?

RB: For actors, it would be great to teach them how to audition well. I think Wake did that somewhat, but I've learned a lot since then. Also, a very important lesson I learned at Wake is that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I came in with such an egocentric attitude, and I learned at Wake very quickly you can't bowl you way through life. You have to be able to work with people and collaborate. Not just “Here’s my idea.” but “Here’s my idea and what are yours?” and relish those other ideas and accept them.

For technicians or designers, the portfolio is most important. That’s a big thing now, but it wasn’t while I was there. It’s changed a lot since I was there. You have to have a really solid portfolio, and it has to be digital these days. You should have your own website. Actors should, too. You also need to have a social media presence as well.

DL: What is your favorite part about teaching high school students?

RB: They aren’t tainted yet. They are so open to learning new things. They are eager and that’s what I love about it - their eagerness. Undergrads and graduate students aren’t that way. The longer you are in school, the more tainted you become. They are so new, especially the 9th graders. They are so wide-eyed and eager to learn. I have one student now that is so talented and may be on Broadway. She is always asking what she can do to get better. I love that. I have a student that just graduated, and after every performance, she would come up and ask “Any notes?” and I absolutely loved that.

DL: What is next for you?

RB: I will do voiceover until I die. June Foray, who was the voice of Rocky from Rocky and Bullwinkle and Cindy Lou Who in the animated Grinch (among tons of others), did voiceovers until she died. As long as I can speak and record, I will do voiceovers. I have another eight-and-a-half years before I retire from teaching high school. I am looking forward to retirement, and I am under double digits now which is exciting.

DL: What kernel of advice would you like to impart to the readers?

RB: It goes back to what I said before. Be nice to everyone and don't burn your bridges. Don't talk badly about anyone to anyone. You don't know who that person is. The audition starts in the parking lot. That person you cut off for the prime parking spot . . . that was the casting director. The whole world would be better if we could be nicer to each other and stop talking badly about people. You don't know who knows that person, and you don't want to be “that person” and have a reputation of talking trash.

Readers can go http://bristowvo.com to listen to Richard’s demos and resumes.

Spotlight Interview: Elizabeth Patterson

Elizabeth Patterson: Associate Producer, Jack Morton Worldwide

New York City

WFU Class of 2014

Double Major: Communications with Media Studies focus & Theatre

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Elizabeth Patterson is an Associate Producer for Jack Morton Worldwide in NYC. She graduated with a double major in Theatre and Communications. Her main message? Network! Read on to her about Elizabeth’s path since Wake.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Elizabeth Patterson: I was a theater and communications double major, with a media studies concentration.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

EP: My career path started when I was at Wake. I loved theatre, but didn’t want to pursue performing professionally, so I explored the operational side of art organizations. A few Wake alumni recommended Berkshire Theatre Group, as they had interned there and made key connections in the industry. I ended up at BTG for two summers - first in the box office, and then as the Development Assistant. In development, I connected with high-level donors and helped with fundraising campaigns, but my bigger role was assisting with their annual summer gala.

While in the Berkshires, I made contact with a family friend, who learned more about my role in events at BTG. As a theatre major herself, she introduced me to a new way to merge my goals and passion through experiential marketing at Jack Morton Worldwide.

I started at Jack Morton Worldwide as a freelance Production Assistant, going onsite to my first event between exams and graduation. Moving up to NYC for a temporary job, I was introduced to my team as the freelancer that was here indefinitely. I have never turned back. This industry operates with a lot of freelancers, so I was a permanent freelancer for three years until joining the Jack Morton staff full time last year. This has given my an opportunity to develop my skills, working up to an Associate Producer on the production team.

My job is essentially corporate theater - I produce shows. It can be anything from a local, internal board meeting, to top-tier talent performing an original show in an exotic location. It wasn’t my original industry, but when I look back there was a clear path here. It perfectly applies to both of my college majors, and has given me a way to tap into both my creative and business interests.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held?

EP: Networking! As mentioned, I found BTG through Wake alumni, and I ended up finding my current role through a family friend. An in-person conversation is always best, but any form of connection is beneficial. Most people remember what it will like as a college student or recent graduate looking for job opportunities - it can be intimidating so Alumni want to help.

DL: This route is an interesting option for art alums considering we don’t have a formal arts administration program. What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the field?

EP: For me, I discovered that my liberal arts background gave me the rudimentary skills applicable to my role. Also, a bonus with liberal arts is creative thinking, which is harder to teach post-college. For the skills that I wanted more expertise in, I found there are multitude of platforms to continue learning of specific skill-sets. I have used online programs like Lynda, or searched for local seminars in the area for certain skills that I want to learn more about. For a niche market like mine, you apply a lot of different backgrounds and skills, so I am always trying to find additional ways to round out my expertise.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

EP: One of the best things that Wake Forest did for me was providing the career trek to network through the OPCD. We came to New York for a few days, to tour companies and network with alumni. While it was a great opportunity, Wake could have done more to prepare us for the trek and coach us on the follow-through of the networking, to give us a more well-rounded experience. I was overwhelmed at the Alumni networking party, and I think that with more preparation and post follow-up I would have made stronger connections with alumni. Looking back on it, it was a missed opportunity for me, but an easy fix would be a longer program, giving me best practices for networking going in, and goals set in place to follow up with alumni post event.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in New York?

EP: New York is one of the biggest cities in the world, and one of the most diverse. It is special because of the cultures and people that make it unique - creating everything from world-renowned events to the family-owned restaurant. I was excited to move here because of the bucket-list NYC items that I had heard about, but what has kept me here are the little experiences that have made me feel like a true local.

DL: What is your favorite part about working for Jack Morton?

EP: My team. I have traveled all over the world, working on amazing projects, but that isn’t rewarding unless you like the people around you. Some of my closest friends I have made from work - we work long onsite hours, but then we still hang out post-event to enjoy where we have traveled. My colleagues have helped me grow since I joined the team, and there is mutual trust that ensures success for a project.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

EP: All of my advice comes back to networking. Reach out. It’s always worth it.

SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: Meagan Hooper

Meagan Hooper: Founder & CEO of bSmartGuide.com

New York City

WFU Class of 2004

Major: Theatre

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Meagan Hooper graduated from Wake Forest with a Theater major and enormous amounts of ambition. She soon found herself balancing auditions with part-time work at a hedge fund in New York. Meagan speaks to us now as founder and CEO of bSmartGuide.com, an online platform for women to network and mentor one another. Learn how Meagan’s path since Wake led her to founding this incredible online community.

DeacLink: Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

Meagan Hooper: When I graduated in 2004, my husband and I moved to Italy for the summer for him to teach English and music. In the Fall we moved to New York - a condition of his proposing. ;) I was an aspiring actress with a film and TV agent and manager. I had worked for a regional theater company, the Williamstown Theater Festival, that won a Tony Award and had a film reel from student projects at UNC School of the Arts. I began auditioning for anything and everything from soap operas, Netflix series, network pilots, and feature films. I auditioned for How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Gossip Girl, Law and Order, and High School Musical to name a few.

During this time, I had a freelance job working in finance. Through a fellow WFU Theater Major, Melissa Jones, I met a family who needed a part-time babysitter. The gentleman I babysat for ran an emerging markets equities research firm. I asked him if I could be of any help to him and his business as I was looking for extra work. Being a Wake Forest University Theater Major, I felt confident I could help edit the stock reports and create a monthly newsletter featuring emerging market sectors and stocks. I was really grateful for my liberal arts education because I could apply my versatile education to a field like finance. I worked for his firm on a freelance basis while I auditioned. I gained a tremendous education in finance that year learning on the job. I learned how to value a company, how the stock market works, how to read financial statements, and much more - I found it fascinating! Then, in 2006, I was babysitting again. This time for another Wake Forest graduate and Theater Major, Cambra Overend (key tip here - your college friends are your professional network!).

Through this babysitting job, I became acquainted with a WFU Babcock Business School graduate, who managed a hedge fund. I told him I was an actress who worked for an emerging market equities research firm. He shared that his COO could use an assistant and asked if I would be interested in the role. I accepted on the condition that I could go on auditions as they arose and he agreed. This job exposed me to investment management, which proved even more interesting, dramatic, and fabulous than any of the movies I was auditioning for (including Wall Street 2!).

I continued auditioning, but I realized more and more my heart was back at the office. I would put a stock trade in the market, run to an audition, watch the markets while auditioning for MTV or Nickelodeon, then run back to the office. I found myself really loving the office environment and the people. I was scared that if I booked a part - no matter how big, I would lose this place and the feeling it gave me. I was presented with touring theater opportunities but turned them down to stay, but stayed open to film and short-term national commercial bookings.

In 2008, my mentor and COO of the hedge fund decided to retire. I put myself forward to fill the position, and after much consideration and candidate interviews, was chosen for the role. Fortunately, I was still allowed to leave for auditions even with this increased responsibility. The hedge fund was completely supportive of my performing arts dream, which made endeared them even more to me.

During this time I was experiencing a tremendous amount of success, professionally and personally. An increasing number of people were asking me to get coffee to pick my brain about how to get a raise, a promotion, or what I had learned about personal finance. It became clear to me how mentorship and advice was in scarce supply for women in this industry. I was also noticing firsthand how few women there were in senior positions, not just in finance, but in all industries.

I decided to do something about it. I created a post-college guide - a curriculum for women on how to be successful after college. I drafted a nonfiction book proposal, conducted interviews, pitched the sample publishing houses, and got rejected. I then thought ‘Nobody can stop me online’... so I set up a website. My goal was to create a community where people could share content about how to be smart and mentor each other online.

I launched the site in 2010, providing a place for women to share their advice, watch video interviews featuring smart, successful women, participate in masterclasses, and more. The key at the heart of all this was networking online. Women needed easier access to help one another, in order to share information and increase the number of female leaders and decision makers. Men conduct business with their friends. So if women are going to get ahead professionally, we need to do business with each other.

DL: You launched your site eight years ago. It’s almost as if bSmartGuide.com was ahead of its time.

MH: It definitely was. People didn’t understand the concept of a community blog with a variety of writers, let alone know that bSmartGuide.com was a blog itself. At the time Huffington Post was the only recognizable ‘blog of blogs’ and Facebook was the only online platform people felt comfortable creating a personal profile attached to their name.

DL: Networking seems to be the fulcrum of your platform, and your journey in total. How important is networking to you?

MH: Democratized networking with easy access will be the key to increasing the number of women leaders and decision makers globally. Unfortunately, women are socialized to view networking as ‘asking for something’ or ‘being a bother to someone.’ Instead, the successful men I worked for viewed networking as looking at your circle or the people around you and asking yourself, ‘How can I be helpful to them, and how can they be helpful to me?’ That is the foundation of utilizing your network. If your circle is only comprised of people who don’t want to be helpful to you,, then you should build a new community around yourself and your goals. A woman I recently interviewed shared that you can host a meetup group, create a student group, or move to a different city, to give a few examples for creating your network. It’s very important to be proactive about your network. You can have a LinkedIn connection or a bSmart connection, but it’s only useful if those connections are utilized to help each other.

DL: What is your favorite part about being the Founder of bSmartGuide.com?

MH: I love seeing people recognize their potential, then take action towards that potential. It’s amazing to see that light go on in someone’s mind, realizing their capacity is far bigger than they thought it was. That’s the whole mission of bSmart, for us to help users realize and take steps towards their full potential in our online community and through our content.

DL: Have you got a kernel or two of advice for theatre majors?

MH: I cite my Wake Forest Theatre Major as one of the most influential factors of my success. I was able to capitalize on opportunities by applying the myriad skills I obtained in Theater. I learned how speak with a mantra while performing, how to understand and enact the concept of status, to identify my objective and try different tactics to achieve it, leverage a high emotional intelligence, and developed the ability to make choices with my body and my voice based on the professional role I enacted. All of these things were the cornerstone to crafting the person I wanted to be as a professional.

When I entered the world of New York finance there were very few women leaders, so I borrowed the mindset, characteristics, and behaviors of the men that were successful. Through my ability to play with status in real life situation, identifying my objective whilst trying different tactics within the office environment, I was able to navigate the waters quickly and create the reputation I wanted. I essentially cast myself in the role. Now corporations bring me in to train their associates and managers on the same strategy. I call it “Acting for Success.”

As a theatre major, you have every opportunity and option available to create the life you want. You will always have to learn on the job - even if it’s accounting or finance like me - so don’t limit your vision!

At the conclusion of our interview, Meagan imparted a special message to all female students and alumnae, inviting YOU to join the bSmart movement:

bSmart women utilize our platform for mentorship and networking and have told me they view it as ‘LinkedIn for women.’ We’re flattered by that comparison and to make mentorship and networking even more accessible, we’ve just launched our app for Apple and Android. We’d love for the women of Wake Forest to join us as members or apply to be Campus Ambassadors. If you do join, be sure to say hello and connect with me on bSmart here and join my mentorship group here.