By: Lillian Lema, Staff Writer
The Career & Employment Hub at USM has a unique team of advisors that help students and alumni gain experience in the workforce and explore career directions. Each career advisor has a unique story of how they ended up in their career path. Career advisor Stacy Stewart found herself pursuing musical theater during her college years and after. However, through her journey, she realized that the path she had chosen wasn’t the right fit.
During her 4th-grade school production of “Mirror Mirror” Stewart was cast as the troubadour and it was when her interest in musical theater began. Stewart describes the experience as “mortifying because you are putting yourself out there, but fun.” In 6th grade, while performing as Amelia Earhart, Stewart realized that musical theater was her calling. “I liked being other people, but most importantly I felt at home,” she said. Throughout junior high and high school she continued to participate in the musical theater productions and took dancing and vocal lessons.
Before graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Stewart went to two other universities. She first started at Southern Methodist University in University Park, Texas, where she didn’t get into the theater program because they didn’t need any more of “the girl next door” type. “I got to know the director of the department very well and learned that it had nothing to do with lack of talent, but it had to do with that they didn’t need any more of my type,” Stewart said. This was her first experience with auditioning and rejection due to typecasting.
Stewart doesn’t describe the experience of typecasting as unfair, but rather as the “right fit like any other job.”
“There are all these people that have the same amount of talent and a lot of times it’s about fit. Are they going to fit with the team? … In addition to experience, do they have the skills, ability, knowledge and personality that’s really going to help the team move forward?” she said.
Although Stewart didn’t get into the theater program, she was still able to minor in theater. In the dorms she lived on the theater floor where she was able to meet student directors who were looking for help, and she was able to be assistant director for several shows. Throughout her time at SMU she was the assistant director for the shows “Marat/Sade,” “The Tempest,” and “No Exit.”
The next school Stewart went to was the University of Northern Texas, where she was able to get into the theater program. During her time at UNT she was able to land the role of Juliet in “Romeo & Juliet.” After a year at UNT, Stewart transferred to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She was at AADA for three years where her schedule consisted of classes and shows. “You weren’t allowed to work outside the school because they wanted you to be focused on what you’re doing and not on external projects,” Stewart said.
At the time, AADA was a great school to be a part of, but as Stewart reflects on her time there she realized that “they did a great job in teaching how to be an actor, but not on how to become an actor.” There were holes left in the learning process from the institution on what to do after graduating, what auditioning would be like, what the industry is like, etc. “It was left up to you to figure out what to do and there is a lot to figure out,” Stewart said.
After graduating from AADA, Stewart was able to land a commercial for a local law firm in New York City. She describes the experience as excruciating because she wasn’t a fan of being in front of a camera. “It is one thing to be a theater actor and another to be an actor on camera,” Stewart said.
Along with a couple of friends from AADA, Stewart created a theater company called “Terranova.” The first show they created was written by Stewart and her friends and one of the guest directors at AADA mentored them throughout the whole process.
Besides being involved with this theater company, Stewart continued to go on auditions. Slowly she started to notice that at every audition there were replicas of herself. An experience that had once felt like home started to lose its essence and no longer gave Stewart the feeling she had once felt as a child. The constant competition and not having an understanding of the industry caused Stewart to take a different career path.
“The funny thing is that it’s all about networking,” Stewart said. At the time she didn’t have the understanding that everyone is connected and that one person can lead to another person who knows someone who knows someone.
Stewart said goodbye to the Big Apple after five years and decided to go back to school to change her direction. She moved to the other side of the country where she went to San Francisco State University to major in psychology with an emphasis in children’s clinical. Her love for children and theater ended up getting her an internship at Pomeroy Recreation & Rehabilitation Center for their theater department. “I was doing improv… I was working with people who were trying to find their voice and get people to understand their challenges and what their life was like” Stewart says.
The internship transitioned to a full-time job where she became a recreational leader working in the kids after school program. “The kids would come after school and we would work on arts & crafts,” Stewart said.
At Pomeroy Recreation & Rehabilitation Center she met her mentor Jay Katz, a social worker supervisor, who she still keeps in touch with until this day. Katz asked Stewart what it was that she wanted to do with all of the experience she had. He helped her begin to shape her experiences and interests into a career path. Stewart’s time in San Francisco, especially as a recreational leader, caused her to feel a sense of home once again.
Three years went by before Stewart and her husband, whom she met while working at a restaurant in San Francisco, decided to move back to Maine. Once in Maine, she entered the master’s program at USM where she was majoring in school counselling. During her time here at USM, Stewart took a career class that “changed everything.”
“The class taught you about career counselling and the tools that they use… which are tools I could have used in high school to figure out my path because I went everywhere in search of ‘what am I going to do?’” Stewart said. The nostalgic feeling of home came back to Stewart when she was enrolled in that course.
In 2004, Stewart began her career at USM as a Strive U Coordinator; then an academic advisor; next as a coordinator for career services; and eventually to her position now, as a career advisor. However, Stewart never stopped her career in musical theater when she returned to Maine. She was involved in community theater for the Portland Players until she became pregnant with her son. “The love for the arts was still there for me without the pressure of having to make it,” she said. Stewart continues her work in theater by directing shows in her hometown of Chebeague Island during the summer.
Reflecting back on her journey of finding herself and her career path, Stewart realizes that there was a lack of understanding of what she was getting herself into when pursuing a career in musical theater. “I was naive to think that ‘somebody is going to give you an opportunity’ when that somebody is you,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s advice to students is to network because there will always be someone that knows someone that knows someone who will help. Second, it is important to have an understanding of the field one is going into because without it, the reality can be a bit jarring. Lastly, having a mentor can be very helpful in finding some advice and guidance.
“For me it all came full circle… it always does,” Stewart said.