Community Spotlight: Victoria Chatfield
One of the main goals for our Theatre Education Community is to help theatre students and professionals from all over connect and identify with each other in order to build resources and support the theatre education field. We shine a spotlight on a different member every other week by conducting a simple interview.
Our latest Spotlight Member is Victoria Chatfield, the Executive Director of the National Theatre for Student Artists, a residential summer training program for high school and college students in Amherst, NY. From classroom work to play selection help, Victoria has been sharing a ton of helpful advice in the Community over the last month – be sure to follow along so you don’t miss anything!
From Thespian Playworks Off-Broadway, Circuits Clipped, at Atlantic Stage 2, 2013
Why do you believe theatre is important?
Victoria: The United States has divided itself into two separate nations. As the National Review observed: “The two Americas watch different news. They read very different books, listen to different music, and watch different television shows. Increasingly, they now live lives according to two widely different traditions.” Our commitment to a shared American experience has begun to erode and instead, we’ve increasingly turned against (and dehumanized) the “other side.”
There’s no room in theatre for dehumanization. Theatre requires students to literally step into the shoes of someone else — frequently someone who’s startlingly different than they are. Nowadays, students (and their parents) need to be able to understand someone else’s perspective and reflect on their needs and concerns. How can we be expected to have a conversation about the future of our country if every time someone from a different political party (or religious affiliation or racial/ethnic background or socioeconomic class or sexual orientation or gender identity, etc.) starts speaking, we jam our fingers in our ears and shout “la la la la la!” as loud as we can? Theatre helps us solve that problem by building empathy, sharing unfamiliar narratives, and creating critical discourse.
What is your greatest challenge?
Victoria: My greatest challenge is making sure that every student who wants to participate in the National Theatre for Student Artists (NTSA) can. When I was growing up, I really wanted to enroll in a performing arts summer camp like Stagedoor Manor or French Woods. But the tuition fees were way more than my family could afford. My lifelong quest to make summer programs affordable has taken me from Times Square (with Kidz Theater, which offers tuition-free productions where students are only required to sell a pre-specified number of tickets) to London (with the National Youth Music Theatre [NYMT], which provides fundraising coaching for all students supplemented by standard financial aid packages).
We’re currently operating on the NYMT model. While our programs are tuition-based, we offer fundraising support (both through weekly webinars and one-on-one coaching) and, as long as the student tries hard enough to raise her/his course fee, we do everything we can to make up the difference through our financial aid fund. Most importantly, we’ve never had to turn away a student due to their inability to pay. And we fully intend to keep it that way!
From Jimmy!: A Musical Fable with Almost No Historical Basis, at the Irondale Center, 2014
Favorite musical (or play)?
Victoria: I went to go see Peter and the Starcatcher sixteen times on Broadway. Before you say something like, “Victoria, you could have taken a week-long tropical vacation using the money you spent on theatre tickets!, 1) yes, I probably could have, and 2) I had just started NTSA at the time. At the end of each day, I was so overwhelmed with administrative tasks that all I could think was: “Why does anyone do this? Why do we invest all of this time and effort and money — filing 501(c)(3) paperwork, assembling advisory boards, calling every single person in our address book to solicit donations — to create theatre?” And whenever I found myself asking that question, I immediately went online and booked a ticket to see Peter and the Starcatcher. Because, for me, that show was the clearest answer to my question. Never has a show better personified the creativity, resourcefulness, and adventurous spirit necessary to make theatre than that one. Sometimes, I found myself sitting in the audience of Peter and the Starcatcher two or three times a week (not even kidding), but it got me through the tough times. So thank you, Alex Timbers and Roger Rees, for genuinely making magic happen onstage.
If you could have a different career, what would you choose?
Victoria: Writing comic books! I’m a huge comic book nerd. Back in college, my senior thesis was a psychoanalytic reading of Modern Age Batman comics. I was even able to wrangle a private tour of Marvel Comics from their VP of Communications. While I don’t follow them quite as closely nowadays, I still have my monthly subscription to comiXology unlimited. So if I could do anything else, I would definitely want to work for one of the Big Two. Let’s find a way to bring back Canada’s Alpha Flight, the best (and most underappreciated) superhero team!
Smartphones-love or hate? Why?
Victoria: LOVE. There’s nothing that cannot be managed through my smartphone. I design all of the posts for our Instagram account (@ntsatheatre) on Canva and schedule them through Hootsuite. When I’m traveling to Thespian Festivals, I book all of my accommodations through Airbnb, and, as someone who avoids rental cars at all costs, I’m eternally thankful for ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Just yesterday, I exclaimed to the Apple store clerk: “Who would’ve thought a decade ago that we’d have tiny little computers that we could put in our pockets?” Truly, smartphones are our future.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Victoria: I recently made the move from New York City to Airdrie, a small town right smack-dab between Glasgow and Edinburgh. While it was a big adjustment going from the City that Never Sleeps to the Town with Baby Sheep, I’ve really grown to love Scotland with its breathtaking highland landscapes, its indomitable spirit, and its theatre scene unlike any other. (Besides, I think that I’m finally starting to understand the Glaswegian accent! Dae ye ken?)
On a side note: I highly recommend that every teacher apply for the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching (DAT) program (link: www.fulbrightteacherexchange.org). It allows you to travel to a foreign country for 3-6 months, so that you can conduct research at an affiliate university. I was in-residence at the University of Glasgow and was able to study national youth theatres across the UK. (I was also able to spend all of my mornings taking leisurely strolls along the Clyde River, sipping tea at Tchai-Ovna, and skimming through books in the university library. Actual dream-come-true.)
From Expedition at New York Theatre Workshop’s 4th Street Theatre, 2015
If you enjoyed Victoria’s interview as much as I did, add her as a contact in the Community!
Do you know someone who deserves a moment in the Spotlight? Tell me their name and why at email@example.com. Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.