Staff Profile: Olivia Harris

Arts For All is sad to say goodbye to our wonderful Melinda Hanley.  Our former Development Associate is off to get her MFA in Fine Arts, and we wish her the best of luck!

We are excited to announce the arrival of Olivia Harris as our new Development Associate!  Olivia is a current Masters candidate in Applied Theatre at CUNY who has worked in Guatemala, Nepal, Washington, DC, Newark, and New York City.  She has worked in Development for Bond Street Theatre, the Metropolitan Opera, and Drew University Dramatic Society.  Olivia is pumped to join the Arts For All Development team!

Describe yourself in three words.

Passionately working for change.  (Does the preposition count?)

We will let it slide.  What made you interested in Arts For All and arts education?

I was working in Kathmandu, Nepal doing some theatre for social development.  The theatre group with whom I worked was performing a show about violence against women in a village outside the city.  Suddenly, three Nepali ladies ran on stage from the audience and intervened in the action.  They started to yell at the actor playing the husband, protecting his “wife” from his drunken outbursts.  They clearly had a lot to say, and they felt comfortable to say it all!  When they were finished, the audience applauded them.  One woman turned to me and flashed a smile- and I saw she had no front teeth.

I don’t know what happened to that strong woman, but I do know that the arts gave these ladies a chance to express something that they had never before had a chance to.  That was the moment that I realized that theatre and art was for more than entertainment.  When I discovered Arts For All, I knew that this was the place for me.  After working in Nepal and Guatemala, I really want to dedicate myself to the New York City community I have chosen.  And after checking out the Blog to learn about the amazing work Arts For All does in the classroom, I was hooked.  So here I am!

Wow.  That sounds like a powerful experience.  Can you share with us any childhood arts experiences you have?

Sure!  My sister is nine and a half years older than I, and she was in musicals throughout high school.  When she was in Carousel, her director asked all the actors if they had younger siblings who may want to play the Snow’s children.  Since she drove me to and from school every day, she knew that I would at least show up to rehearsal.  So I was volunteered, and I loved it!  My main job was to spin in the middle of the stage during the final number while everyone danced around me.  I also had a very dramatic moment of running across the stage to say goodbye to the main actor.  After that, I was hooked on theatre and the arts!

I bet all that spinning could get a little dizzy.  Who do you look up to, professionally and personally, and why?

There are so many amazing people who inspire me in my own life, particularly women.  There are way too many to do them all justice, but both my mother and my sister are huge inspirations.  My sister is one of the strongest women I know, and one of the most warm.  She is never too busy or too tired to share a little joy with her friends, or to stop and really listen to you when you need it.  I work hard to model myself on her.  My mother, similarly, has incredible strength and dedication.  She does not shy away from hard work- in fact, she seeks out challenges and pushes herself to meet them.  That was a vital lesson to learn early on in my life.  Plus she taught me all I know about sports, which have become a big part of my life.

I also just began reading Elizabeth Swados’ books, and I am hooked on her.  I love her philosophy of creating a new space to explore issues in a big group.  She has all sorts of training with everyone from Peter Brook to Boal, and she managed to create her own technique using all she learned.  I highly recommend her.

So you have been inspired by a whole series of strong women.  That’s great!  Thank you so much for sharing.  Who or what helps you get through tough professional times?

When I was in my early teens, I was a RentHead.  I saw the show at least four times!  I was obsessed.  I still love Jonathan Larson, and when I discovered tick, tick, BOOM! it quickly became my favorite show.  Even now, when I had a tough day or I need a pick me up, I listen to tick, tick, BOOM! (particularly “Louder than Words” and “BoHo days”).

In recent years, I have added the 9 to 5 soundtrack to my happy list.  There’s nothing like dancing around the apartment, singing along to “Shine Like the Sun” to make you believe that you are indeed a shining human.

Well, I guess I don’t need to ask your favorite show now.

I still love both of those.  I think Jonathan Larson was a genius.  In terms of dramas, Tow years ago I saw a show a downtown called Still Life.  It’s a French play, and it really sticks with me to this day.  I am still looking for a copy of the script, in case any AFA friends have one.

Thanks for that!  Do you have any advice for aspiring thespians, artists, and young people?

I think what’s most important is to just be yourself.  It sounds cheesy, but really if you’re not making yourself happy there’s no way you’re making other people happy.  If you want to make art, make art you love – don’t settle.  If you want to sing, sing LOUD and make sure people can hear you.  If you want to write, or paint, or design computer systems, or grow vegetables, don’t do it halfway.

Also, spend some time playing every day.  Especially in this world of 24-hour tech (and I am totally immersed in that. I interact with Facebook and Twitter for my job, and it’s hard to stop when I go home), taking an hour or two to relax without a screen is key.  I am lucky enough to live near Prospect Park, so I can get outside with a book easily, but honestly one of my favorite places to sit with my book or a game of Bananagrams is my fire escape.  It’s nice not to be able to hear my phone or see my computer, but to see my street and the people in my neighborhood.

Thanks, Olivia!  We’re so glad to have you on the Arts For All team!

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