We had the good fortune of connecting with Carla Stickler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carla, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
I think all too often we continue down a path that doesn’t feel right or isn’t serving us anymore because of the stigma around failure. If we decide to give up on something, how will we justify all the time and effort we put towards that thing? What a waste it will have been. Everyone will look at us and think we are a capital ‘F’ Failure.
However, we hear stories of people who succeeded by pushing themselves through the discomfort and chalking it up to not quitting when times got tough. There is so much conflicting messaging around how to achieve success, that sometimes it’s hard to just listen to our gut and trust our instincts. I think this takes practice. Being able to know when to keep going and when to give up is to learn to not be afraid to make the “wrong” decision. This comes by allowing ourselves to make mistakes, owning our lowercase ‘f’ failures and growing and learning from them. As we hone our intuition, knowing when it’s time to give up or keep going becomes more apparent.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
While I’m currently a software engineer, I spent about 15 years of my career as a Broadway performer and voice teacher. My biggest accomplishment as an actor was performing the role of Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway. My biggest accomplishment as a human was choosing to leave performing behind in search of a more stable and secure life. Choosing to leave the theatre business was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, especially after spending my life chasing my Broadway dreams. It involved a lot of soul searching to figure out who I was if I wasn’t an actor. My identity was so closely tied to performing that when everything in my body was screaming at me to take a step away, I pushed through pain and injury because I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
Choosing to change careers into a field that is not traditionally one an actor ends up in, I found creativity and stability that the arts could not provide. My interest in programming began in 2018 when I hit an all time low as an actor and was in a desperate search for something that could provide a consistent income and benefits. I left Wicked a few years prior to go to grad school for theatre education, to give my aching body some time off. After finishing school, I found myself stuck in the never ending loop of auditioning while also trying to manage my voice studio and make enough to afford health insurance. Coding was the first creative thing I’d found that also offered a way off the hamster wheel.
I’m lucky to have started the journey into programming right before the pandemic hit in 2020. Once theatre shut down, it helped to solidify that I’d made the right decision. While all of my friends were having a crisis of identity without their art, I’d already gone through the process. I was able to enjoy my new work-from-home life without feeling like I was missing out on performing.
Once Broadway opened again and Covid began raging through companies, I had the opportunity to step back into Elphaba’s shoes, a role I hadn’t played in 7 years. That experience gave me the closure I’d been seeking with the show. I was able to enjoy every second of my performance, because for the first time, I didn’t need the show to validate me and my happiness. That moment also allowed me to imagine a world where art and stability coexist. Where I can choose what kind of art I want to make and set boundaries for when it doesn’t serve me. A life where I don’t have to wait for someone else to tell me when I can and cannot be creative, all while having the comfort of a steady paycheck.
The most unexpected thing to come out of my return to Broadway, and the subsequent media attention, is the ability to inspire other artists looking for an alternative path. I think it’s important to talk about the fact that it’s ok to take a step away from a full-time pursuit of the arts if it’s not serving you. I wonder what it would look like if we encouraged young students to go into the arts not because they cannot see themselves doing anything else, but because their imagination for what they can do is unlimited. Who says we can’t learn other skills alongside our careers as artists that will provide us enough money to meet our basic needs?
I want to do away with the narrative of the starving artist. We thrive best without the worry and stress that come with not knowing if we’ll make rent this month. Who decided that to be an artist you have to give 100% of yourself and make no space in your life for anything else? It’s important that people see there are folks like me and many others who have found joy in new careers and can still enjoy our creativity in ways that may not be as flashy, but are still fulfilling. Choosing stability and security does not make you a failed artist, it makes you human.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
While I grew up in Chicago and live here now, I spent most of my adult life in New York City, so I’d probably be a pretty lousy tour guide. That being said, I live in Logan Square, which is a pretty hip neighborhood with lots of bars and restaurants. I’d recommend they check out Lula Cafe for brunch or dinner and get the chickpea and fennel tagine. Andros Taverna is a new mediterranean restaurant that recently opened on Milwaukee that is an absolute must. The food is so good and the amount of plants they have in there makes you feel like you’re in a garden. My favorite place to go that isn’t food, is Royal Palms for shuffleboard, it helps that my friend is the manager and hooks us up every time we go. If shuffleboard isn’t your thing, they have massive Connect 4 and tons of other games, as well as a pretty great cocktail menu. I’d definitely take them to karaoke at Cafe Mustache and then more drinks at Estereo.
If they’re really looking to get super touristy, they could head down to see the Bean, but honestly, probably not worth the crowds. Chicago has pretty awesome museums, and while I haven’t been since I was a kid, I used to love the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. I mean, who doesn’t love giant skeletons of dinosaurs! While I’d try to avoid the Loop, the Chicago Art Institute is one of my favorite places. I used to love going to see the Georges Seurat painting that the musical ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ by Stephen Sondheim is based on.
A walk along Lake Michigan is a nice afternoon if it isn’t freezing or a stroll on the 606, which is like Chicago’s version of New York’s High Line and runs along an old elevated train track. I’d also take them to all of my favorite neighborhood ice cream places, Pretty Cool Ice Cream would be stop number 1 for an ice cream on a stick with a candy coated shell. My favorite is the Chicago Mix ice cream bar, it’s caramel ice cream with a cheddar candy coated shell and popcorn mixed in. It’s incredible! Then we’d hit up Miko’s for any flavor italian ice you want. I usually get banana chocolate chip or chocolate and raspberry, while my husband is a fan of a classic strawberry. And then since I like hosting, we’d hang out at my house and BBQ and then get the fire pit going in the yard.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to shout out Artists Who Code. They are a group that formed right at the beginning of the pandemic when many artists lost their livelihoods and began seeking new skills. Being a part of that group and watching folks take a terrible situation and turn it into a new career was inspiring. Many people started learning to code in early 2020 and are now full time software engineers. As the world is opening up and live performance has resumed, our conversations has shifted from “Is getting a job in tech possible?” to “How can I do both?”