We had the good fortune of connecting with Kodi Milburn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kodi, how do you think about risk?
What I do for a living is a risk. I am a young woman alone in New York City performing and designing for pillars in my industry that have been here as working artists for decades. I am often the youngest person in the room by 20 years. Mine is a typical story of a doe-eyed midwestern girl with $500 to her name coming to the big city at 18 to be on Broadway. A common story, but a risk nonetheless, and hey I’m still here. I’m not on Broadway, yet, but I have built a dream life better than what I envisioned as a child watching my mother sing in bands and star in community theater. Today, my risks look a little different. After graduating a musical theater conservatory, I had a “regular person job” as a preschool teacher, and quit to pursue my craft, risky. Putting my health and well-being on the line, I began working 12, 13, 14 hr days, sometimes for free, to build a resume, very risky. Small gig after small venue, I started to tour, often with negative money in my account, but I sure as hell was not going to be left home, SUPER risky. Then something happened. Then the ball started rolling: New York to California, New York to Canada, New York to Hong Kong, within NY at the Baryshnikov, Here Arts center, the New Ohio, 54 Below, Players Theater on the notorious MacDougal st., places my small town, growing up on the reservation, poor as dirt mind could only dream about. My own work began to be recognized, my albums, my original sound scores, my work on award winning projects, reviews, interviews, step and repeats. Risks shaped the reality I currently live. They’re never easy, but in my case they paid off.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I have endearingly been dubbed “the Swiss army knife of theater”, and that pretty much sums up my life as an artist. Performing, singing, poetry, composing, songwriting, stop motion, movie making, sound and set design, direction, sound engineering, social media, teaching, play writing, photography, fine art, there is not much I haven’t dabbled in. I am a lover of all things creative so I’ve tried my hand at almost everything you can think of. I got to where I am today, but being versatile, and no I don’t know that it is ever easy. I made myself irreplaceable by filling multiple roles and always saying yes. If I didn’t know how to do it, I learned. The funny thing I realized is that no one knows what they’re doing and I always land on my feet and do a good job. I began to trust that about myself. I started taking jobs outside my realm of expertise and rose to the occasion. I want the world to know that impoverished kids, mixed kids, kids with single mothers, kids who grew up with nothing, kids with no money for education, kids with a dream can make it. It sounds cliche, but you can carve out a little version of happiness for yourself regardless of the obstacles you face. I want them to know my brand is entirely built on kindness, preparedness, versatility, being down to earth, never burning bridges, humility, belief in my own work, tenacity, a good laugh, honesty, and bravery to take necessary risks.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When people visit me in the city I show them all the most eclectic and absurd places as well as the beautifully mundane in NYC. Things I think they’ve never seen. First the people and their quirks. I would show them Washington Square Park or Maria Hernandez. Everyone there is unique and talented in their own way, representing many facets of people here. We would get fries with 6 sauces at pomme frites, Mamoun’s Falafel, food truck tacos, and soup dumplings in the smallest mom and pop shop in Chinatown. Other days would be opulent, spent touring museums, drinking reserve coffee from all over the world fragranced with rose and lavender, and having dinner on a boat restaurant overlooking the city. Finally a day of deli sandwiches, pizza, and craft beer to be enjoyed in a back yard or a stoop. The magic of NY is the magic within the everyday.
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?
There is a HUGE list of people who have helped me along my journey, but I will sum it up to a few that stick out in my mind. My mother Jolana Varga is #1 by far. She believed in me when no one else did and gave up everything for me to accomplish my dreams. Next is my mentors and masters to my protégée, Sylvia Milo and Nathan Davis. Sylvia Milo, the genius behind The Other Mozart that has taken me all over the world and given me the opportunities to work at a caliber I never believed possible. Nathan Davis, a renowned composer, percussionist, and sound designer taught me most of what I needed to know when it came to the art of sound in theater. It’s from their teachings that I’ve been able to create my own niche in the industry and have the chops to back it up. Jody Christopherson for trusting me to create my music and perform her work. LaRee Bannerman for exposing me to the higher art of the world. Emily Carroo for curating my personal style and being my best friend and surrogate sister for 6 years now. My grandparents, aunt Lisa and uncle Jeff, Uncle Wad, and the kids for supporting my journey. My cousins Lindsey and Courtney for the inspirations and badassery. Jon Marquez, Katy Dobry, Candie Johnson, and Jill Paopao for carving out art for me in our football dominated small town. Nancy Wasserstein and Molly for being my biggest fans. To Diedre Goodwin, Christiana Cole, Anna Ebbeson, Rob Maitner, Todd Buonopane, and Mark Olsen for all the skills I learned in my time at the conservatory. Finally to my ancestors who came before me that leave feathers in my path and remind me I’m going the right way.
Facebook: Kodi Lynn Milburn
Other: TikTok: heythereitskodi
self portraits, Katie Wright, Cullen Shirtz, Emily Carroo, and Jolana Varga