By Claire Tuft
I’m not from the Midwest, but I’ve lived here for almost half of my lifetime.
I came here for my undergraduate degree and moved to Chicago post-college to be a part of the Second City’s rich theater scene. I’ve truly enjoyed living here, (after investing in a solid pair of winter boots and a sub-zero worthy coat,) and at this point I even know Chicago better than I know my hometown of Denver, CO. But in the past couple years I’ve found myself itching for a change, both in scenery and in career.
Ultimately, I settled on a shift in focus from theatre to TV and film, and the freshly-initiated MSLCE program proved a perfect complement to that decision.A change in career path can be daunting enough on its own, let alone combined with the prospect of trading a well-established life and community for an unfamiliar zip code.
MSLCE’s spring trek to Los Angeles provided our group with the opportunity to meet with well-established NU alums and friends in the entertainment industry, and for those of us contemplating a move West, a chance to test our legs in a city we may soon call “home.” Over the course of four jam-packed days, we met with entertainment professionals from all areas of the spectrum: Josh Goldenberg, manager at Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment; Jackie Laine, TV producer and NUEA West Co-President; Andy Bohn, Co-Founder and Partner of The Film Arcade, an independent film distribution company—just to name a few.
Every interaction brought valuable insight into a wide array of careers in the entertainment sector. They offered us advice and anecdotes, reinforcing the importance of hard work, drive, and skill, but also the helpful (and reassuring) caveat that there is no “right answer” when it comes to getting your start in the industry—a welcome relief for the perfectionists in all of us. These unforgettable meetings helped lay the groundwork for tangible plans post-NU; each day, the reality of this new chapter of my life became clearer and more manageable. But the most surprising outcome of our journey West was a palpable sense of belonging to an already-existent community, even in a city as vast as LA. Every Northwestern alum met us with a sense of shared experience, no matter how distant their days in Evanston, nor how highly they rank professionally today. Jill Leiderman, Executive Producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live! welcomed us in with infectious enthusiasm, expressing her delight in having Northwestern students in the building. Steve Stark, President of Television Production at MGM, shared the story of his start in the industry, an opportunity born out of a variety show he put on during his senior year at NU.
On our free time, I attended two (unrelated) events hosted by NU alums, and on both occasions I was met with warmth and camaraderie when I divulged my story—the mutual understanding and reference point that comes with the Northwestern experience enables newcomers with an instant, invaluable sense of community. Making the move West will no doubt come with its challenges, and it will be difficult to leave the people and places in Chicago that I’ve grown to love and know so well—I’ll even miss the frigid temperatures and the robust winter wardrobe I’ve curated out of necessity. But knowing that the notorious “Purple Mafia” is not only present and thriving in Los Angeles, but that it embodies so much more than just a network of contacts, is perhaps the most essential piece of encouragement I took from our trek. It means that no matter where I go or what I set out to achieve, Northwestern will be the steady ground for me to build upon.