Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Katherine Chatman
Current Location: Huntington Beach, CA
Katherine, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
For as long as I can remember I have always loved to sing. I am lucky that my parents exposed me to the arts and musicals at a young age. One of my earliest memories was having Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music on a constant loop in my house- I was obsessed! Things really changed when I was 10 and saw Wicked for the first time at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. I remember being so mesmerized by the performers, I couldn't believe they got to sing and dance for a living! That was the day I realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So when I got to middle school, I auditioned for the spring musical and I haven't looked back since!
After that, I went to the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts at Huntington Beach High School where I majored in Musical Theatre. While there, I really honed my skills, and my love for performing grew even more. My passion for performing and Musical Theatre grew so much that I decided to go to college and major in it. I went to my dream school, Oklahoma City University, one of the Top 10 Universities for Musical Theatre in the nation, and the alma mater of many Broadway performers- including Kristin Chenoweth and Kelli O'Hara. I knew from the start this would be the perfect place for me to further my education. During the four years that I was at OCU, I received some of the best training and experienced tremendous growth, not only as a performer, but as a person. The training I received, helped me transition from viewing musical theatre as a fun extracurricular activity, to it being my profession.
Another major part of my college career was being a part of a sorority. It truly became my home away from home and helped shape me into the person I am today. I was a member of Gamma Phi Beta, and their mission was to build strong girls into strong women- which is a mission that I really identified with. Constantly being surrounded by women who were committed to building each other up and supporting one another was truly something incredible. The leadership skills, experiences, and memories that I gained from this organization are something I will be forever grateful for. I gained lifelong friends- who I know will always be there for me- as well as a network of sisters all across the country that I can lean on no matter where I am. They would always tell us that we are a part of Gamma Phi, not for four years, but for life, and I really believe that to be true.
It was so important for me to find a university where I could not only major in musical theatre but also be part of a sorority and I found just that at OCU. This gave me the well rounded college experience that I was looking for. I am so grateful and proud to be an alumni of both APA and OCU because they have truly helped shape me into the performer and person I am today!
Can you tell us about what you've been working on since graduating?
I just graduated from university in May- in the midst of a pandemic- and things have definitely not panned out the way I had originally planned my post-grad life. Graduating with a degree in something that virtually does not exist at the moment, because live theatre is not happening, has definitely been an interesting experience to say the least. My original plan for after graduation was to move back to my home in Southern California, and audition to be a performer at Disneyland in the Frozen Live Show and the Five and Dime Show. But those plans are on hold at the moment since Disneyland is closed and live performance opportunities are basically nonexistent.
I have been taking this time to continue my training and keep my skills sharp. This unprecedented time has forced us artists to be creative in finding ways to do what we love in unconventional ways. I have been lucky. Some of my friends have put on virtual concerts, and I have gotten to be a part of them. And now the Rose is putting on an outdoor concert that I am so lucky to be a part of! I am so excited to do this concert. It will be the first time I have gotten to perform in front of an audience since before the pandemic started!
Overall, has your journey been a smooth road? Have you experienced any obstacles along the way? If so, how have you overcome them?
I have been lucky, and have grown up very privileged my whole life. I have great parents who have provided for me, supported me in everything I did, and have sent me to incredible schools my entire life- which is a lot more than many people have. However, being a biracial girl growing up in a predominantly white area, and going away to college at a predominantly white school has definitely presented challenges, especially as a performer. I have alway felt like I didn't fully fit in because I wasn't fully white, and I wasn't fully black. This was really emphasized when I got deeper into performing.
There have been many times that I was told I wasn't cast in a role because "I didn't look or act black enough" or "I just didn't have the right look." This was always such a disappointment because if things had been based purely on talent and not the optics, I know I would have been perfect for those parts. I do see a change slowly happening in the theatre world though, and it is giving me hope. It is starting to become more of a norm for the casting of a show to be colorblind. This is so exciting because we are now seeing more representation and more stories being told on stage. I remember when I first heard there was going to be a black Glinda in Wicked on Broadway, I cried.
Growing up, Glinda had always been a dream role of mine but I thought it would never be possible because it was always played by a white girl with blonde hair. I felt the same way when I learned that Frozen at Disneyland and on Broadway was doing colorblind casting. The fact that they were going to cast a black Elsa and Anna was such a huge deal for me. Like many other people of color, growing up I never got to see someone that looked like me, play parts like that, on stage. Except for maybe one or two exceptions, they were usually just the token POC actor in a show. Now little girls and boys of all colors are going to be able to see people that look like them, up on stage, in stories that they never would have before. That is why I have such a passion for this, and want to continue performing, because I know there is going to be at least one little girl that is just like me in the audience that will get to have the experience I never did to see someone like her up on stage. And who knows, maybe that will inspire her to do the same!
Are there any lessons that you have learned along your journey? Anything you know now that you'd want your younger self to know?
A major lesson that I have learned recently is to really savor every moment, take advantage of every opportunity, and not take anything for granted- especially in school. As you get older time goes by so fast, and four years can go by in the blink of an eye. Growing up I was constantly thinking I can't wait to be an adult and perform everyday for my job. Now looking back, I can't believe how quickly high school and college went by without me even realizing it. Now I have to be an actual adult.
There were definitely times I took school for granted, especially in college. It is one of the last times in life that you have a safe place to learn about your profession, and about yourself- while still having people that genuinely care about you and your well being. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and I have to say that definitely applies to me. I look back and kick myself because there were days that I would maybe skip my 8 am music theory, or acting class, because I was too tired from rehearsal the night before, or for simply no reason other than I had an extra absence I could use before the end of the semester. Now that I am not in class regularly anymore I wish I had gone to every single one, and soaked up every ounce of knowledge my professors had. I also look back and think about how I should have taken advantage of more opportunities, and how I should have gone out of my comfort zone more while still in the safe bubble of an educational setting.
There were so many opportunities for me to stretch my comfort level and audition for a straight play or a dance show, but I just kept saying to myself "oh I'll do that next semester," but now there is no next semester. So if I had to tell my younger self one thing it would be, get up and go to that 8am class, go to that audition, listen to your teachers, just take advantage of every opportunity given to you because before you know it, they won't just be handed to you anymore.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
The best piece of advice I received was from one of my college professors, and it really changed my perspective from that moment on. He told me that I have to be true to myself as a performer because there is no one else like me. For most of my life I have tried to emulate other successful performers that I thought had a similar type, and tried to follow the path they took to get where they are now.
I have always been told "you are a mini Audra McDonald!" Which is very flattering, but it became my whole identity as a performer. I would only want to sing the songs that she had sung, and my dream roles were all the roles that she had played. But when I got to college, my professor gave me this advice; he told me it is great that you admire Audra, but there can only be one of her. She didn't get to where she is as a performer because she was an exact copy of another performer before her. She was true to herself as an actress, and didn't try to be anyone else. That is how she got to where she is now and that is how you will get to where you want to be.
He always told me to go ahead and sing her songs, but sing them with your spin on it- not how she would sing it. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to spend more time learning who I was as a person and a performer, rather than spend my time trying to emulate someone else.
Can you tell us about an inspiring life event that got you on the path of a career in the arts?
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of a life event that inspires me is the first time that I actually remember seeing a musical on stage. I know that as a little kid my parents would take me to see shows all the time, but I don't really remember. The first show that I actually remember seeing is the national tour of Wicked at the Pantages when I was ten. This is definitely an influential moment for me because it inspired me to pursue a career in musical theatre for the rest of my life. I just remember sitting there, being in awe of the performers, and feeling so much joy watching the show. When it was over I thought to myself I want to be able to do the same for others when I grow up. That is why I love performing so much. I love bringing joy to people; and when you are performing a show, you are able to transport your audience to another world for two hours where they don't have to think of all the problems in their life.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
The proudest moment of my career so far was getting into my dream college program, and graduating from it four years later. The college audition process is probably one of the most grueling and rewarding experiences I have ever gone through. I am definitely glad I did it, but I am also glad I never have to do it again. I definitely do not envy anyone that is about to go through it. It is truly unlike any audition experience. Almost every weekend for a couple months you have to travel across the country- while still in school during your senior year- to different unified auditions and colleges, to audition for dozens of programs. You are competing with hundreds of kids that look and sound just like you, for one of maybe fifteen spots in each university's program. To give you context, the acceptance rate to get into some of the top musical theatre programs in the nation is lower than the acceptance rate to get into Harvard. So you could say it is definitely a challenge to get into a musical theatre program, especially if you are a girl. After months of grueling auditions you have to wait for the acceptance and rejection letters to start coming in. This is almost as stressful as the auditions, but the moment you get that acceptance letter you forget all the pain you went through, and all the hard work was worth it. Especially if you get into your dream school, which I am lucky enough to say I did!
I am also proud of myself for finishing all four years of my musical theatre degree, because a lot of people in my class cannot say the same. From freshman year to graduation over half of the students in my class either switched to a different major or dropped out of school all together. Going to school for musical theatre is no joke, and I don't think a lot of people realize how challenging it is going to be. The head of my program would alway say, "If you can see yourself doing anything else, do that." And he is absolutely right.
In my four years there I had to make the abrupt change of seeing musical theatre as a hobby and something I love, to it being my full time job. For me it was an easy switch, but for a lot of people they realized that it was either too much work for them or they just didn't love it enough to focus their whole life on it. I am also proud of all the hard work I put into these past four years. It may not have been easy, and it definitely wasn't always fun, but the payoff is definitely worth it. The growth I have had in just four years is truly unbelievable and I can confidently say that I am prepared to go out into the professional world now and be successful.
The mission of The Rose is to make the arts accessible in the community. What role do you think the arts play in today's society?
I think the arts play a huge part in our society. Much bigger than a lot of people want to admit. I think this has become painfully clear during this pandemic. Everyone has been sitting at home during quarantine, and what have they been doing?...constantly taking in art in some way. Whether they are listening to music, watching a movie, or binging the latest show on Netflix, those are all art forms that I think people sometimes take for granted.
This is why I think the arts in school is so important and also why funding for the arts should not be cut. I was so lucky to go to a school where there was a thriving arts program that was well funded. But when I got to college, I realized for so many people that is not the case. I had friends whose school gave their drama department $200 for their musical. They were in complete shock when I would show them clips from my high school shows. It is also proven that students that have music and the arts in school also perform better overall. I hope this all changes in the future and people learn to appreciate artists more, because if we have learned anything during this quarantine, we rely heavily on the arts in one way or another.
What are your hopes for the future of the arts?
My hope for the future of this industry is that we continue to become more diverse. That colorblind casting isn't "innovative" anymore, and instead, just the norm. I definitely think we are making strides in that direction. Shows like Hamilton and Frozen are helping this cause. Not only will this help our community tell more stories that have gone untold in the past, but it will also help make theatre more accessible to a wider group of people. For so long Broadway has been targeted to a more upper class audience, not only with the $300 price tag on tickets, but also with the content of their shows. Shows like Hamilton are changing that stereotype. We finally have a show that the masses actually enjoy, and it is exposing people to theatre that may not have ever experienced it before. I think that is incredible and I hope our industry continues in that direction!
How would you define unity, and how do you think the arts have played a part in unifying people?
To me unity means coming together as a community for a common cause, whether that be with people you do, or don't, know. I think we have seen a lot of unity recently with the Black Lives Matter movement. So many people of all different ages, races, religions, and sexualities, have come together to say that we need to support our Black brothers and sisters because they matter, and bring so much greatness to our world that often goes unseen. I believe the way the arts contribute to this idea of unity is through the telling of stories of all different types of people, in a way that others can enjoy and educate themselves through.
Eve Taylor Photography
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