Hello, Panachies!

We are very excited to bring you a whole new site with brand-new interviews AND brand-new content, coming soon!
We absolutely love finding and sharing these wonderful stories about inspiring women, but there are so many other things that inspire us too. We hope you will find the new content interesting and thought-provoking. Either way, please tell us in the comments what you hope to see!

Check back soon!!!!!!! And watch for our updates on Facebook and Twitter.

 Alysse and Kate

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 10.09.03 PM

[Photo by Alysse.]

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meet jessy: sustainability champion in milwaukee

Jessy Servi, peoplewithpanache.com

“Integration is important to career success—when your work becomes a living breathing extension of yourself,” Jessy says. “I want my work in the world and my family to be an extension of who I am.”

Jessy Servi and I started our conversation talking about fearlessness. We talked about a thought I heard recently from Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous international artist and domestic critic: He took risks not because he wasn’t afraid, but because he was actually more afraid of what would happen if he didn’t. He had to act. Have you ever had this experience? This feeling? Continue reading

meet katherine: chicago architect, designer and systems thinker

Katherine and Orlin, People with Panache

On why she chose the name Latent Design: “It’s truly from the definition of it. Latent and latency means making something invisible visible, and we use design as a tool to do that.” Katherine and Orlin in front of the project wall at Katherine’s studio.

In early 2010, Katherine Darnstadt got laid off. The economy dipped (drastically), and in one 6-month period she also got married, got licensed as an architect, and got pregnant. “I was broke, barefoot and pregnant, but as a licensed architect, I had hit my one huge professional milestone,” Katherine says. “I was finally legally, legitimately an architect, but I had no job to practice architecture in. And our field is notoriously not very kind to women or people with families.”

Katherine wasn’t about to let any of that stop her. She now owns Latent Design, an architecture firm in Chicago where she does so much more than design buildings. She designs communities.

People with Panache: How and when did you decide you wanted to be an architect?

Katherine Darnstadt: My mom says that I wrote on a piece of paper around 3rd grade that I wanted to be an architect when I grew up. My dad was an engineer and contractor, too. But I wasn’t really interested in architecture outside of mandatory shop and computer classes, which I was usually good at, and the only woman. I just didn’t know what I would do with those skills.

PWP: It’s hard to know in high school! What did you end up studying in college?

KD: I went to DePaul for English and philosophy before I switched over to architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).

PWP: What made you decide that now is the time after your first year of college?

KD: I honestly don’t know how that epiphany happened. Even the first time I applied to IIT, I got denied. They said I didn’t have enough math courses or something like that. It was really the most bogus excuse I’ve ever heard. So I took a calculus course at a community college, reapplied and then got in with a scholarship for the same semester. It was very strange. Calculus wasn’t even required.

PWP: Now that you’ve got all that useful calculus down, what do you love about being an architect?

Katherine Darnstadt, Latent Design, People with Panache

Including herself, 3.5 people work at Latent Design (one is part time). Katherine also rents out desk space to an artist and a sustainability consultant as a sort of little co-working facility. And they’re all women!

KD: It’s really systems thinking through design. When you apply that to the built environment, what’s interesting about it is not only the complexity of the buildings themselves but how you can manipulate materials and spaces based on the needs of your client. You can also go further than that. One thing we do at Latent is look at the whole comprehensive system—at the building, the program, the overall client needs—and make recommendations that sometimes fall outside of the built environment.

For example, we’ve written academic curriculum for clients who work in academia as we’re building a building for them, or food access issues as we’re working on a food access solution. Or policy, like right now we’re writing new codes and zoning ordinances to marry the pieces for a project going on later this year. If we only looked at buildings and bricks and mortar—the hard structure—we wouldn’t be able to influence the soft structures that make our cities. And the soft structures—the power structures—are actually more influential in a way than the buildings would be.

PWP: That’s a really cool way of thinking about it. You’re not just building buildings, but creating a whole environment based on what’s going to happen inside the building too. That adds a whole other, really interesting element that most people wouldn’t think about. Did you like architecture right away after you transferred schools?

KD: Absolutely. I don’t think I’ve ever second-guessed my career or that change.

“I made this into my dream job inadvertently, and now my goal is to make this other people’s dream job.”

PWP: What was it like starting Latent Design?

KD: I really thought of it as Plan B.

Maybe 18 months after I had my son Orlin, I thought I would be able to go back and have a job at a firm. Instead, I started picking up small projects on my own. Then the projects started to get larger and one day a switch flipped. I thought: Why am I trying to structure this like every other architecture firm? I could make this whatever I want. What if we kept doing Latent Design as Plan A?

Katherine's Awards, Latent Design, PWP

Katherine’s awards and licenses. In 2010, when Katherine started Latent Design, the national average for unemployment was getting close to 10 percent, but in the architecture industry, the average was closer to 15-20 percent.

PWP: Did you ever think you’d start your own firm?

KD: Noo, no no no no. Maybe at a much later stage in my life. Not now, not at 32 did I think that.

PWP: Is owning and running this company your dream job?

KD: I made this into my dream job inadvertently, and now my goal is to make this other people’s dream job.

PWP: What type of projects do you work on?

KD: It’s a full range. We’re lucky that we don’t have one particular typology. Some of our projects are incredibly small, from little structures at coffee shops all the way to a new construction, 30,000-square-foot community center.

PWP: What has been your favorite project so far?

KD: Dealing with this community center project, because the client came to us originally for a building. They’re a youth non profit that works with young women 12 to 18 years old on the south side of Chicago. As we were talking through the program and the building—just very simply, how many classrooms, how much space—we had a discussion around science labs.

I said, Well what’s science to you? And they were very traditional: Bunsen burners, lab coats, goggles and chemicals. That’s not how I think of science at all! I said we’re building you a 30,000-square-foot science lab really. Your building is science, your environment is science, let’s talk about that. If you’re trying to educate young women to be the next leaders, it’s not always going to be Bunsen burners and lab coats. There’s science in so many other variations. So it was from that conversation that we ended up developing a curriculum for them around community redevelopment. So we created a design build program for the young girls that ended up winning an award and being implemented in other schools, which helps the client actually become more well-known, get more funding and bring in more partners, making the original building that they asked for more viable now. That’s a fun project and a great example of the way that systems thinking works in our firm.

PWP: What part of all this are you most passionate about? What’s “the why” behind what you do?

KD: It’s manifesting something out of nothing. That’s really one of the core pieces of architecture and the built environment: You can look at something and see possibility, and you have the tool set, network and knowledge to figure out how to get that done.

PWP: How does it feel to be considered a woman leader in our time and in your male-dominated industry?

KD: It’s funny in some aspects. I think back to not getting into architecture school the first time. To be at this point is incredibly surreal and humbling every single day and every single project that we get. And I’ve had good mentors throughout my education and my career, so I want to make sure I’m a good mentor as well.

PWP: What makes you happiest?

KD: Right now it’s those fleeting moments when everything aligns really well. You have this balance of being a mother, being a businesswoman, being an educator and just being a human, and it’s kind of nice when everything aligns and it works out, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. In that moment you really do feel it through your entire core.

Check out Katherine in the Empowerment Project!

[Photos by Kate.]

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update: it’s the great milwaukee victory garden blitz!

Alysse says this year's best record so far is 15 gardens built by one team on Monday morning. "So far on Tuesday when we start we’ll have installed over 207—that's a little behind, but we’ll catch up. We’re doing over 500 beds, and still have to fill most of them with soil. We started with 40 garden beds in one day in 2009 and are now up to 500 in two weeks." Here are Gretchen and Alysse on either side of the Wisconsin senator and representative.

Alysse says this year’s best record so far is 15 gardens built by one team on Monday morning. “So far on Tuesday when we start we’ll have installed over 207—that’s a little behind, but we’ll catch up. We’re doing over 500 beds and still have to fill most of them with soil. We started with 40 garden beds in one day in 2009 and are now up to 500 in two weeks.” Here are Gretchen and Alysse on either side of the Wisconsin senator and state representative.

“We believe growing our own food will create a more sustainable, community-based, socially just food system than what we’re currently offered.” —Alysse Gear

The Blitz has begun! This week was the start of Victory Garden Initiative’s Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz. The team has planned for months and gathered tons of volunteers to help install 500 garden beds in yards, schools and businesses across the county. Continue reading

update: congrats to “the empowerment project”!

The Empowerment Project on People With Panache

Kate on the left, Alysse on the right, our favorite documentary in the middle! “The Empowerment Project” is for everyone, and we can’t wait to hear about its travels, empowering people all over the world.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled interview to bring you an update on “The Empowerment Project!”

On Sunday night, we went to the cozy Music Box Theater in Chicago for the third screening ever of “The Empowerment Project.” Fancy, huh? We hope you remember it from our interview with Sarah (and many, many Facebook posts). “The Empowerment Project” is a documentary following a film crew of five women as they hop in a minivan and travel across the country to meet ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

That’s exactly what we do every week. (Minus the van. And the video element. And the going-outside-the-Midwest part.) We are all about featuring women who surround us; women who pursue their passions and take the steps and make the changes necessary to turn their dreams into reality. And it is so ridiculously fun. Now we just need a PWP van. (Powered by reclaimed vegetable oil or something of course, if Alysse has her way.)

“The Empowerment Project” features 17 women, from a brewmaster in Portland to a ballet dancer in Salt Lake City to an architect in Chicago. We got to hear inspiring, heartfelt stories from a pilot, a gospel theater director, a mathematician, a biologist, and more. We learned that after 6th grade, the gap between boys and girls in math begins to widen (we’re annoyed that we really did experience that!). And we heard deeply personal stories of obstacles these women faced on the way to achieving their versions of success.

It really was something special being in a theater surrounded by supportive people—all laughing at the same parts (the mathematician!) and wiping away tears, too.

With Sarah Moshman on People With Panache

We are so proud of Sarah! We are so glad there are role models like her in this world, empowering people to be who they are.

Sarah and her co-producer Dana Michelle Cook were there Sunday to answer questions and take in all the magic and empowerment they created. Now they’re going to hit the road, because “The Empowerment Project” is only available as a theatrical on demand release, and their next showings are in LA.

We’re so proud of them and so happy we got to meet them through this! Keep an eye out for an interview with Dana and another woman featured in the film. And please let us know if you want to host a screening—’cause we are so there.

Remember: You can do anything. You really can. Through meeting the women and men on our blog, that fact settles more deeply within us every week. We’ve got a single mom gallery owner, another mother running her own medical practice, women turning their “side hustle” into fledgling businesses, and people breaking barriers all over the place. If there’s one thing you learn from reading PWP, or from seeing “The Empowerment Project,” we want it to be this: Your dreams are as real and achievable as you want them to be. So go for it!

63 interviews.

74 people with panache.

1 Kate.

1 Alysse.

1 big, fun adventure.

This blog is what following a dream looks like.


[Photos taken at Music Box Theater.]

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meet jillian: milwaukee biker biz lady and more

Jillian at the Moxie booth

Michelle, the Bellas’ program manager, says, “It’s very empowering to be a woman and to be cycling and sort of making a niche for ourselves in a very male-dominated sport.” Jillian cuts in—“A male-dominated world, too!” Here, Jillian poses with Moxie gear.

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” says Jillian Imilkowski, 41. How many of us feel that way, at age 20, 40, 60?

Jillian has had a colorful, really cool career path (including AmeriCorps, helping run Turner Hall, a popular local venue, and more!), and today’s chapter of her story begins rather recently: She did wine sales for 10 years, but then the company closed in December 2013. “I’ve been fun-employed for the past 4 months, and I am happier than I have been in a long time.” Jillian now spends her time nurturing the Bella Donnas, a biking group she created in 2007 that exists to empower women—among other jobs. “I like the flexibility of doing what I want to do. I’m not making nearly as much money as I used to, but it’s ok.”

People with Panache: Happiness is so worth it! Who are the Bella Donnas?

Jillian Imilkowski: The Bella Donnas formed because there was nothing like us around. We’re early 20s to 60s, racers to recumbent bike riders, casual to serious. I would say 20 percent of our riders are serious. They race in teams and are really competitive. About 40 percent are above recreational: a couple rides a week, serious about bikes, strong pace. The other 40 percent are women who want to be in a group, part of a club without being part of a club. They want to be given permission to like themselves. They want permission to get dirty and be pretty at the same time.

PWP: Why did you start the Bella Donnas?

JI: I was tired of riding with my boyfriend, who was really too fast, and it was boring by myself. Then I got in a car accident, and it was difficult to ride a bike for a year. I convinced like 4 or 5 of my girlfriends to do the Trek 100 with me. Two had to borrow bikes, one bought a bike, and we all trained for this 100-mile bike ride. We had such a good time riding together that it didn’t make sense to not continue. I had tried to ride with local cycling groups. They would give me a map and wave as they took off. I didn’t like it!

PWP: I wouldn’t either! How did you name the Bellas?

A group of Bellas!

Do you have to pay to be a Bella? “You can ride with us for free; we have rides all over Milwaukee and in more cities across the state,” Jillian says. “Then there are 2 tiers: $50 gets you insurance coverage, water bottle, socks, discounts at all sponsors… $75 gets you way more.”

JI: When I bullied my friends into the Trek 100, everyone thought we came up with the name  collectively—really we all voted, and I told everyone the Bella Donnas won. I traded a case of wine to my friend Scott, a graphic designer, to come up with logos for us. We each bought a sheet from Goodwill, printed our logo on it, safety pinned it to the back of our jerseys, and we were the Bella Donnas! People kept asking: Who are the Bella Donnas? It grew via word of mouth.

We were created so other women didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s all out there—how to change a tire, get salt off a bike, bike up a hill, what to do if you’re biking in the country and it starts to rain—all the information is out there but it really wasn’t getting out.

You can ride anywhere if you have confidence that you can take care of yourself. Instead of sitting on the sofa or watching TV, you know you’ve got that outlet. Once you ride your bike 10 miles and haven’t before, getting stuck in a grocery line is not as stressful. Once you’ve ridden a century, you’ve broken these barriers you never thought you would.

PWP: Is running the Bellas your dream job?

JI: My dream job would be to grow it nationally and be able to get paid to help women learn to ride their bikes, empower women, and travel around the country making the world a better place.

“If you’re not having people question what you’re doing in life, you’re probably not doing much.”

PWP: I want you to be able to do that!

JI: It completely changed my life: the people I’ve met, the opportunities. I’ve had to figure out as I go along how to run a business, form an LLC, and manage books and all this organizational stuff.

Jillian Imilkowski on People With Panache

There are Bellas who’ve gotten married and their bridesmaids are from Bellas. One member in her 60s did a triathlon with her 2 daughters. Jillian has so many stories of women deciding to do things, following through on their dreams.

Before, on the social side, I was a tomboy. Since I formed the Bellas I’d say 90 percent of my friends are women now. We’re all about supporting, nurturing. And it blows my mind how much the women have embraced that.

PWP: About how many members are there?

JI: We have 57 paid members, 438 on the mailing list. Spring Kickoff is on Tuesday, and historically the number of members beforehand is about half of what we’ll have. I’m anticipating about 120 members this year.

PWP: That’s amazing, after you started with just a few girlfriends! Do you get motivated by people who doubt you, or don’t understand why you do what you do? I know I do—and I could see that potentially with you too.

JI: I think a lot of my life has been a series of “Why would you do that? That’s dumb.” I graduated early from high school mostly because people said I couldn’t. Instead of going to college right away—I didn’t know what I wanted to go for—I was part owner of a restaurant collective in Minneapolis for 4 years.

And now in my life there’s both: “Why would you do that?” But also: “That’s amazing! How did you do that?”

PWP: I am super motivated by the “You can’t do it” people. But it’s really so wonderful to have that support system.

JI: Every once in awhile I go through phases in my life that are overwhelmed by the “Why do you do that?” It makes you question what you should do, what you want to do. But I’ve built a community around myself that is very encouraging. So when I’m feeling like this is too much, this is stupid, and I feel like I don’t have an answer… I realize I’m trying to answer the questions how other people would, not how I would. If you’re not having people question what you’re doing in life, you’re probably not doing much.

PWP: Ha! You’ve got a good point. And you learn so much about yourself, about being true to yourself, along the way of figuring out where you’re supposed to be, what you love doing.

Jillian and her Lyft-mobile!

On how she supports herself: “Lyft was a godsend, ’cause I can make money in my free time. Every day I meet the most fascinating people! And I work for Wildtree for about an hour 5 days a week. Then I work for Moxie, a small biking brand, a couple hours a week. The Bella Donnas are every day. Lyft is almost every day.” Now please refer to the part about how she makes lists. Whew!

JI: I just recently discovered that I’m a list maker. I really can’t start a project until I’ve laid all the pieces out. Now that I understand all the rules, I can mix everything up. I’m just starting to figure that out about myself and honor it. I used to pretend I was loosey goosey, and I wasn’t. I’m creative and artistic in a brainstorming way. I’m an instigator and a fire starter. That’s my creative talent—getting those ideas sparked. It took me a long time to figure that out. I don’t think people should be as pressured to figure it all out in their teens and 20s. It keeps getting better!

PWP: So what would you say to someone that is feeling stifled by what they “should” do, either feeling pressure from within or from others in their life?

JI: Talk to your friends about it. Talk to yourself about it. Talk out loud. Get it out of your head, onto paper, into your friends’ ears. “I really want to do A.” “What about A with a star?” “What about A with a star, with purple?!”

Have the confidence in yourself to know that anything you want can happen. We can do anything and the only thing that ever stops us is ourselves.

[Photos provided by Jillian.]

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meet elyse, kamille and nickclette: actors in milwaukee (part 3)

Meet the Rep interns!

Elyse and I bonded over crying… and it was hilarious. She hadn’t cried for seven years before acting school, and now she’s the best insta-crier ever. Me too, except I never took a seven-year break. Oops…

“In Native American tradition, people live their day for the sun,” says Elyse Edelman. “It’s born in the morning and dies at night, so you enjoy it as much as possible. I’m living my day for the sun.” We ended last week talking about Elyse’s wake-up routine (which finally made me rethink the hit-snooze-until-I’m-late rut I’ve been in). It really is so refreshing, along with so much Elyse, Kamille Dawkins and Nickclette Izuegbu had to say.

People with Panache: How did you get over that fear that often comes with following your dreams?

Elyse Edelman: I had a teacher once who told me you don’t have to have your whole life planned out. You don’t even have to have a certain trajectory in your head. Just make the most interesting choice.

Nickclette Izuegbu: Tattoos today, ladies?! (all laugh)

PWP: What about you, Kamille?

Kamille Dawkins: If I decide that I like something and that’s what I want to do, then I just begin doing it. It sounds ridiculously simple… and that’s because it is ridiculously simple. But the process is hard. Say I want to become a hippie person who does yoga and eats healthy. I buy a yoga mat, and I do yoga! How else can I do something, unless I start doing it? I just let life lead me.

NI: And that’s how you learn. That’s why I went to school. Part of it was that I realized at a certain point, there were a lot of these female actors 35 and older, and what they all had in common was that they went to school. If I want to have that kind of longevity, I have to go to school.

KD: When I have a role model, I see what they did and see if I can follow that path. They’re just people, and I can do the same things.

PWP: That’s why we have this blog! Our people are just people, making sacrifices, working hard, doing what they love, giving life their all. They don’t have any special powers. (Though some I think are magical.)

EE: Before this, I was working, doing what I wanted to be doing. But in the back of my head I always wanted to do the Milwaukee Repertory internship. I would never have been able to get it out of my head.

The real reason I wanted to do the Rep internship is because I wanted to watch Laura Gordon and Deb Staples. They’re two actresses in the company I’ve watched my entire life. If I didn’t get to see them early in my career, I would always have wanted to do that. Done. Now I can move on.

PWP: That really is neat because this is a dream, but it gets you to your next one, too.

Milwaukee Rep Interns on People With Panache

Nickclette’s a super smarty: She got her bachelor’s degree from Harvard in anthropology and dramatic arts, and got her MFA in acting.

EE: I remember being on tour last year and someone asked me, “So what do you really want to do?”

KD: …what I’m doing right now?

EE: Then they’re like, “It’s not going to get you rich.” But it makes me THE richest! I said something really great in the moment: “Some people’s version of wealth comes in other ways than money.” Yes!

KD: I’ve never been obsessed with being famous. As long as I can pay my rent, eat my food, have my friends, and do what I do, I’m fine!

I was just telling my friend the other day: If you ever need anything, I am here for you. And if you ever need to stay at my place because you have nowhere to go, I will be the first person to help you… find a job.

PWP: You guys are so funny. Do you have any dream roles?

All: YES.

KD: I want to play Nabulungi in “Book of Mormon.” She’s this girl from Africa and has no idea what America is like, and they take her to Salt Lake City. She sings this inspirational song about Salt Lake City like it’s paradise. My favorite line in the song is: “Salt Lake City, the most perfect place on Earth, where flies don’t bite your eyeballs and human life has worth.” That’s my humor.

EE: I want to play Sonya in “Uncle Vanya.”

NI: I would like to get to a point where I could kill it as Sarah’s friend in “Ragtime.” I want to have every single badass role there is. Whether it’s for a man and I get it recasted as a woman, or it’s intended to be played as white and I’m black. Jane Lynch made her career being given roles for men, changing their minds.

“You don’t even have to have a certain trajectory in your head. Just make the most interesting choice.” —Elyse Edelman

PWP: Hell yeah! Jane Lynch is definitely a badass. And now it’s out there in the universe, opening up possibilities for aspiring actors like you all to play these roles too. Why do you love what you do so much?

KD: I love creating things. It’s just fun to make things happen out of nowhere, and I love having an effect on people. When someone at the end says, “I felt this, this and this…”—I was trying to give you that!

NI: Same thing. Why does somebody want to be a chef? They enjoy making food and making people happy with what they just cooked… the “doing” is fun for me. Seeing the response is also fun. It’s like what I said before: creating life out of nowhere, creating a story that can cause someone to respond and reflect. The reason I wanted to start acting was the feeling I got after seeing the most amazing shows I had ever seen. How cool would it be if I could do that with other people, for other people? A bit of it also is that it’s just fun to play.

Milwaukee Rep Interns on People With Panache

Kamille used to give historical building tours when she was in school in Savannah. One of the places she toured had paint that supposedly warded off ghosts… and I don’t want to ruin it, but it really, really sounds like it didn’t work. Eek!

KD: My favorite thing when I was a kid was just making up scenarios in my head.

PWP: Oh my gosh, yes—imagination and playing pretend never gets old.

NI: Just like a good book, a beautiful song or a nice painting can influence you, I think there’s value in what I do. It can be silly… but it can also feed someone.

EE: A lot of theater professionals say theater teaches empathy. To take it one step further, theater teaches compassion toward others. In a world where we bully one another, it’s really special that theater is a shared experience, a communal experience.

KD: We are different people from everywhere, and we come together to make this show. The energy that comes from that is just amazing.

EE: During a bank robbery scene in a recent play, three separate people in the audience said aloud: These are like the Three Stooges!

NI: I saw “Ain’t Misbehavin’” recently, a musical revue of jazz composer and entertainer Fats Waller. This guy in the audience was eating it up, standing up singing “Mean To Me.” He yelled at the actress before she even finished: “You sing that song, girl, you sing that song!”

Then there’s a song where they talk about smoking weed, and it’s so funny, it keeps getting worse in each show. You can hear the audience whispering, “Is that real weed? It sure smells like it!”

KD: It’s sage.

There are going to be so many beautiful, wonderful, hilarious experiences coming up as our long, long, long winter finally turns to spring. What are you most looking forward to? Let’s hear it for some outdoor theater… or traveling to see Elyse, Kamille and Nickclette as they move on to their next jobs!

[Photos from milwaukeerep.com.]

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meet elyse, kamille and nickclette: actors in milwaukee (part 2)

We left off last week talking about embracing who we are with three wonderful women: Elyse Edelman, Nickclette Izuegbu and Kamille Dawkins, three of 12 interns at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Now back to the actresses! (They’re so awesome, aren’t they?)

I think about half of the interview time was spent with us laughing. It was so fun getting a glimpse into their world and all the crazy little things that come with it.

I think about half of the interview time was spent with us laughing. It was so fun getting a glimpse into their world and all the crazy little things that come with it. (left to right: Nickclette Izuegbu, Elyse Edelman, Kamille Dawkins)

Continue reading

meet elyse, kamille and nickclette: actors in milwaukee (part 1)

Kamille Dawkins on People With Panache

Kamille was recently in “CBGB,” with Alan Rickman (Snape!) and Malin Akerman.

“I consider this my residency year,” says Nickclette Izuegbu, 26. Nickclette and 11 others are current acting interns at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Every day, they get up and go to their dream job—acting. They don’t make sets. They don’t make costumes. And they definitely don’t make coffee (except maybe for themselves. Sleep is hard to come by!). All day every day, they’re surrounded by professionals, honing their craft and having a blast. Talking to them made me want to be an actor, or at least be in a play—they work incredibly hard and have a ton of fun. That’s our kind of job!

I got to meet with Nickclette Izuegbu (26) from Houston, Elyse Edelman (24) originally from Milwaukee, who had been living in Minneapolis, and Kamille Dawkins (23) from Savannah, Ga., originally from Jamaica.

People with Panache: What is your acting program like?

Elyse Edelman: It’s a nine-month internship, most years. We play small ensemble roles in a lot of shows, have some opportunities for featured parts, also understudy the entire season, and at the end do a showcase and Rep Lab, which is many plays in one evening. There are a few programs like this. This is one of the most well-known, and one in which our only job is to act.

Kamille Dawkins: Our showcase features a series of scenes and monologues performed for theaters and casting directors in Chicago.

Nickclette Izuegbu: We get housing, points toward our actors union, a little stipend, and you get to act all the time. Once I knew my housing was covered I was like, I could do this for a year!

I consider this my residency year. It’s intense, and it can be emotionally draining, but it’s really special to be able to work on different types of plays with different types of actors.

“You have to perfect your burger, so people love your burger and want your burger…” —Kamille Dawkins

PWP: What made you choose this program?

KD: I wanted to get work experience in a professional setting and be a full-on professional actor without quite as much responsibility. We’re still a little green so this is a great place to get that.

NI: You get all the training with no sleep, no nothing, and it’s really cool to meet people from across the country that are really good at what they do… seeing what they do as artists, but also professionally learning what not to do. And getting your endurance up is half the thing.

KD: Now that we’ve done this, everything else will probably be easy. We’ve had to understudy maybe three shows at the same time, as well as be ensemble in a show while doing that.

PWP: I know what you mean. There are certain experiences that have made me think after: Now I can do anything!

Elyse Edelman on People With Panache

Last year, Elyse wasn’t in the same place for more than 2 months! She lived in Iowa, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Utah and traveled throughout the West Coast for 5 months.

EE: Understudying is definitely a different skill, a technique you need that we’re lucky to have. There are parts you understudy for that aren’t your type, that you would realistically never play, but you’re still getting the chance to take a stab at it. And then there are others that are right in your wheelhouse and feel really good to wear for one show even.

PWP: Do you get assigned your type, or do you figure it out?

KD: We get told because someone picks you for parts, but from it we can see what our types are. I’ve learned a lot more about what I should go for.

NI: And our strengths. For the first few years you will have a type, and then you can push the boundaries of that.

You gotta know your burger: What is someone going to see in you right off the bat? Like, “I see Nickclette. She’s kinda curvy, she can sing…” This is what I should work on continually. It’s what people see immediately. Like we were teasing Kamille about playing a boy, but she can play young.

EE: It’s also something you learn in school… Senior year was a lot about how you market yourself. We’ve trained you, we’ve tried to break you down before we build you up, do things against your type. But now it’s time to figure out who you are. The first years, you do “you” really well, and then it’s about knowing in your heart what you can also do and slowly adding those things into what others see in you.

I walk into almost every audition wearing glasses and curly hair. People see, aw she’s so lovable, such a loser. I’m like a lovable loser underdog. And then I show people I can also stand my ground.

KD: When we first came for orientation, our supervisor said you have to know your burger, so you can present your quiche. You have to perfect your burger, so people love your burger and want your burger, and once they’ve tried your burger enough, then they’ll trust you enough to say, “What is your quiche? Now that we’ve seen all your burgers, we definitely want some of your quiche.”

PWP: Did you have any trouble getting to know your burger, or realizing what it was and not wanting it to be your burger?

KD: I remember I was a little resistant to my burger, because my burger is adorable, spunky, peppy, sweet, patsy, just a sweet girl that you want to be like, “Aw, look at her!” …which I am sometimes, but most of the time I’m the complete opposite so it’s bizarre, but I’ve learned to embrace it.

Nickclette Izuegbu on People With Panache

Nickclette really looks up to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Shonda Rhimes and Tyler Perry (among others) because they have literally created new work, new types of work, and are still performing in the things they’ve created.

NI: Primarily you notice it in your training program: feeling uncomfortable at first in the box you’re in, or seeing people resistant to theirs. For women I think sometimes the resistance is knowing that this is what I look like but it’s not who I am, just like with everything in life… but you own it.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize I could rock a mom piece. And I feel stronger as a woman and more confident. There are certain pieces that feel really comfortable in my skin.

EE: In my program, the other girls in my class were so beautiful. We’d be in movement classes, and I’d look in the mirror: “I have to find a way to look like them.”

But then my junior year I was like, wait wait wait—this is who I am, I’m the only girl in my class who’s me. Plus the best friend and character parts are more fun. I’m just going to own who I am. I found pieces that were better for me, and I became more confident and more comfortable.

PWP: How does this help you with auditions?

KD: You come into auditions with a great piece, you own it, and if they don’t want you, they must not want your type.

EE: It’s never a competition between the people you’re auditioning with. It’s a competition to get the person who’s picking you to change their mind about what they want.

KD: They might have an idea before you come in, but after they think, “Well actually, that’s a really nice way to go with it. We’ll totally call her back!”

Come back next week to hear more from Kamille, Elyse and Nickclette. They have so much more to say about their ensemble, why acting is their dream job, their future ambitions, weird jobs, dream roles and more. What’s your favorite play? If you were to be in a show, what would it be?

Part 2 here!

[Photos by Alysse.]

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meet rachel: chicago cartoonist and illustrator

Rachel Foss at SmallBar, People with Panache

“I’m so thankful to know her now,” says Rachel of Lucy Knisley, her comic inspiration. Rachel actually got to know Lucy through another famous comic artist Sarah Becan. Sarah and Rachel just so happened to be neighbors in Logan Square and luckily met at the local bar (pictured) where Rachel drew her entire first book Empty Bed.

“I’ve worn every hat. I can literally do anything.” Whoa—she really can. Since graduating from college, Rachel Foss has been a manager at Glazed and Infused doughnut shop, a nanny, and a kids’ art class teacher at Lindsey Meyers’ gallery, Beauty and Brawn—among other things. Rachel is a lover of sustainable farming and gardening and believes you should only do things that make you happy. Now, she is first and foremost a cartoonist and illustrator, so on the heels of her first gallery showing in Chicago at Beauty and Brawn, I got to chat with her about all of the things she can do and what she’s doing now.  

During our conversation, Rachel opened my eyes to the world of graphic novels and comics like never before (and I say this as the daughter of a man with his own Fortress of Solitude, a.k.a. the garage, stacked floor to ceiling with Superman and Archie comics). The words “comic” or even “graphic novel” often evoke images of these fictional characters. But to Rachel, they’re completely different and so much more.

Rachel Foss: That’s exactly what I’m on a mission to change. And that’s how I used to be too. Other than Nickelodeon magazine, I had never read comics ever, until all this happened to me.

People with Panache: That was my absolute favorite magazine growing up, and what got me thinking about becoming a journalist. How did you get into being a cartoonist?

Rachel Foss and Empty Bed, People with Panache

One of the first comics by Lucy Kinsley that Rachel ever read is “What if Harry Potter had been made in the ‘80s?” “Lord Voldemort was played by David Bowie, so obviously it was a good comic,” she says.

RF: We have to go far, far back to an abyss called post-college education when you just graduated and have no idea what you’re doing or what to do next. I hadn’t made art in years because I’d completed my studio classes early, and I had no reason to make art anymore. That thing got into my head like “Why would you make art? You can’t live off that and no one will pay you for it.” I was living in Grand Rapids, Mich., and then four things happened all at one time that summer before I turned 25.

I was working at a portrait studio, and I got in a really bad car accident. I fractured my wrist, and my whole arm was in a sling. I couldn’t hold a camera anymore so they fired me. I was wandering around, doing nothing, drinking a lot, sitting on my front porch.  A friend of mine noticed and gave me a book called Art and Fear. It helps any kind of artist to know you’re not the only one feeling the way you do. After that, another friend of mine invited me to be in a local art community exhibition.

And then at the same time, one of my best friends gave me my very first graphic novel. I had never heard of books like this; I didn’t even know they existed. It was called Blankets. I know a lot of people who are now cartoonists and successful artists who got started because of that book. That book is so beautiful it made me want to make something beautiful.

PWP: What did you do next?

RF: I started drawing again and drew a whole series. I wanted to know more about the graphic novel world and got more books from the library. I was sitting at a cafe reading one of them when a guy stopped and said, “Hey that’s a fantastic book. Do you like comics? You should come to my comics group right here at this coffee shop.” That man was Matt Reidsma. He’s amazing—such a good comic artist. He’s one of the reasons I make comics. So, that’s how I got my start. The Grand Rapids Comic Society—I owe a lot to that comics group. It’s where I drew my first comic.

Rachel Foss, peoplewithpanache.com

PWP: What makes you happiest?
RF: Ramen. That was only partly true. I am happiest when I’m feeling a mixture of you know you’re doing what you want to do and you’re living in the moment and you’re your own person.

PWP: How long did you work with the Society?

RF: Maybe two years. While I was there I learned about The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont and applied. I ended up being accepted and moved to Vermont, but eventually had to drop out because my financial aid fell through.

PWP: Oh no, that must have been really disappointing. How did you end up moving to Chicago?

RF: I got caught up with a really bad boy. I knew that if I stayed I would just keep doing it. My friends agreed, saying, “We’ll miss you, but you need to get out of here.” An acquaintance of mine ended up giving me $1,000 and renting a van to drive me to Chicago. I haven’t even been able to pay him back because he won’t return my calls!

PWP: That’s amazing and so generous! Do you think he doesn’t want you to pay him back?

RF: I don’t know! It was so weird, but it was just wonderful. I wonder if he’s even a real person. Maybe he’s a fairy, a woodland nymph, which would make sense because we were in Vermont.

PWP: Who has been your biggest inspiration?

RF: One of my comic book heroes and one of the reasons why I do what I do is because of a famous comic artist, Lucy Knisley. She’s my age and she’s a girl and she writes comics about being a young woman and her relationships and boys and how she feels and life in general. I had not seen that before. I don’t see a ton of comics written by women for women.

“Don’t cross Rachel Foss or you’re going to have a comic written about you.”

PWP: What is the common theme in your comics?

RF: I try really hard to only write about things that other people can relate to. The last comic I did, which everyone has really liked, was about my gallery show opening. I had asked this musician guy I used to work with, who I had a huge crush on, if he wanted to play music there. Afterward, he asked if I wanted to get a drink. Well, turns out, what he meant by getting a drink was that we were going to meet up with his friends while he ignored me the whole time and eventually forgot about me and left me at the bar. Sometimes I want to say to people I meet, “Don’t cross Rachel Foss or you’re going to have a comic written about you.”

Rachel Foss at work, People with Panache

Right now, Rachel is working on a project about her family history. In the glow of her drawing desk lamp, she pens a story about her great-grandfather as a 15-year-old boy in England. “I’m not in it at all, it’s not about me, but by the end it will all tie in with me.”

PWP: I kind of am hoping something weird happens tonight so we end up being immortalized in comic form! What do you love about drawing comics?

RF: That I control it. That it’s mine. My thoughts, my feelings. I love that I can share what I do with people so they can relate. One of my biggest goals is to show young women that they are okay feeling the way that they do, or being single, and they don’t have to worry about it. I would also love if other women could get into comics a lot more because of it.

PWP: What’s your best advice for living life to the fullest?

RF: Go outside. Don’t let anybody keep you from doing something that you want to do. A therapist I had to see one time in college said something to me that I’ve never forgotten: Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re being irrational. Especially as a woman, because nothing you’ve ever done is irrational; irrational doesn’t exist. Even if what you’re doing is unwise or ridiculous, it’s based on something real that’s happened to you in your environment, which makes it completely rational.

[Photos by Kate.]

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