Guest blog: Sydney Normile, Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
Posted on 27th March 2021 at 10:00
In this guest post, Sydney Normile of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival shares her personal journey that led to the landing of an awesome marketing role during the coronavirus pandemic.
I would give anything to go back in time and redo my undergraduate degree, specifically to say yes to more things. I’m a yes girl. I tend to say yes to most projects and regret the ones I say no to. I studied at a university in Kansas my freshman year, and when I had the opportunity to study in the city instead, I said yes. When the chance to study abroad presented itself, I said yes again. I studied in England for two years, eventually becoming a student of the University of Hull, and graduating with a degree in Drama and Theatre Practice. Every yes seemed to take me to something greater.
After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I headed back to the states to explore the theatre community in Kansas City. I reached out to a few friends and acquaintances, and after posting online that I was job hunting, an old K-State friend asked to meet for coffee to discuss a job. She ended up not only giving me a lead on a job, but also outlined a timeline of auditions for local theatre companies throughout the city. I hadn’t seen her in three years, but she remembered her struggle to break into a new city and wanted to help whoever she could. I was so grateful.
The job was an admin assistant for a high school. They urgently needed somebody to fill the position, as the main event coordinator had to go on emergency pregnancy bedrest. This was a complete detour from my theatre path, but I needed a job as desperately as they needed an employee. After reassuring the hiring staff that I’m very organized and capable of handling high pressure situations due to my university theatre experience, they hired me on the spot.
I was terrified. With help from the development staff, and the hard work the special events coordinator had done leading up to the event, I was able to finish coordinating my first ever event in a month: an auction for over 300 people. The development director had nearly cancelled it. We ended up raising over $40,000.
While working full time, I joined every actor/theatre page on social media, acting for free for music videos and community theatre. I wrote reviews for productions in exchange for free theatre tickets. Eventually, a friend reached out to tell me the theatre company she worked for was hiring interns. I applied for an arts administration internship and got it.
I worked part-time at both jobs for about two months. During my last few months at the high school, I assisted my colleague on grant writing and occasionally had to develop social media marketing for my events. It was a whirlwind experience that allowed me to build a foundation in several areas my degree didn’t provide. I was hungry to learn more, so I packed up and moved back to Hull to get my master’s.
I stuck with my “say yes to everything” philosophy. Any time somebody asked me to do something, I committed. I worked as a projections op for a theatre festival for a day; I volunteered as an extra for a poetry festival; I stage managed (for free) the first professional production a group of my friends put on. Upon graduation, I’d had more experience. So, when COVID hit, and I moved back in with my parents at 24, it was pretty devastating that the only job I could land was at a popcorn shop. Another detour. Honestly, I was lucky to have a job.
I worked, volunteered at community theatres and waited. I couldn’t believe it when my boss from my previous internship reached out to welcome my credentials for a position that had opened up in marketing and development. This position was required to write grants, develop marketing materials for events and company projects, assist with company events, as well as keep up other daily office-based tasks. It just so happened that I had a bit of grant writing experience, a bit of event coordinating experience, a bit of marketing experience, and a huge passion for theatre. I’ve been at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival for five months and still can’t believe my luck.
All I can say is that if I hadn’t said yes to everything, I wouldn’t be here. I also learned that it’s okay to take a detour here and there, because you never know where it might take you.
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