We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristen Campbell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kristen, how do you think about risk?
I never really thought about the word, “Risk” throughout my life or career. My focus was always on another “R” word….Regret. I never wanted to live my life so that when I’m old and sitting in my rocking chair on my porch, that I regretted anything. Inherently, I guess that meant that I was taking risks all throughout my life. It wasn’t until I saw this question as an option for me to answer, did I realize that the lack of regrets equalled taking risks. My first great risk was following graduation from high school in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. Instead of college, which I never believed I was right for, I packed my bags, got on a plane with two of my friends, and moved to Buena Park, California. I had auditioned and been accepted in a performance ensemble called The Young Americans. I had never lived on my own, never had a real job, never balanced a check book or paid one single bill. And suddenly I was living on my own in an apartment and had to fend for myself. The Young Americans was a volunteer organization that allowed me to travel all over the country and even do a month-long residency in Las Vegas at now, 19 years old. We didn’t get paid…we had to “make it work” (this was our motto in the Young Americans and became my motto in life.) Before my first tour with the group, I suffered an incredible loss that no young person should ever experience. My high school boyfriend (who I left behind to follow my passion) was killed in a car accident. When I look back now, this was the inciting incident that molded me for the rest of my life. After several years of this incredibly tough life of living as a gypsy, of struggling with finances and life, I decided maybe college was for me. I needed to be closer to my family. I made a promise to myself that I would be back to California. It was where I belonged. But when I came back, I would be ready (I.e., older, wiser, not struggling). So I moved back to the east coast where I went to college at SUNY College at Buffalo State and studied the Performing Arts. Because I had taken the risk of joining the Young Americans at such a young age, and had all of those life experiences, I was ready to take on college. I was 21 years old and ready to absorb every bit of information that I could. My first goal was getting a job at the Performing Arts Center. I found the Performing Arts Club, Casting Hall. I fought for what was right and helped to mold the club after the professional organization for which I was working. I eventually became President of the club and mentor for underclassmen/women. I was known as the “most tenacious” of my classmates. At the time, the department did not do musicals (which was the reason I went there!) I argued that it was ridiculous! “You have a music program…you have a theatre program! Combine them and ta da!” But as most arts programs experience, the different disciplines do not want to play nice. By the time I was graduating, the program put on their first musical in many years, “Little Shop of Horrors.” I could not be in the musical, however, as I was cast in a professional production in Buffalo and GOT PAID for acting for the first time! Following graduation (Magna Cum Laude, thank you very much!), my friend and I got the bright idea to teach acting at a summer camp in the Poconos. We thought we would get rid of our apartments and expenses, and when camp was over, we would head west…back to California. Another risk. Or was it just a mistake? We ended up with no money and no plan. This led me to another risk. Move to Florida with a man I had just met. (insert face palm emoji here) But again…no regrets. I got the lead in the Pirates of Penzance, at a gorgeous theatre in Florida, met wonderful people who helped me escape that relationship and what??? I sold my belongings, got in my car and I MOVED TO CALIFORNIA. Finally. All of the experiences that I had by taking these risks, informed my future employment opportunities. When I got to Los Angeles, I did many things….I worked for several years at a Talent Agency (starting in the mail room and working my way up to Junior Agent for no money), worked at a Private school for 8 years as an event coordinator in their performing arts program, and eventually got my Masters Degree in Arts Administration (another risk while working full time). The masters degree incited my position at Citrus College, where I have created a position for myself as the digital marketing guru for the program and the booking agent for the performance ensembles. All of the experiences that I had above, have led me to be the person suited to play MANY roles and fill the shoes of multiple employees. When I mentor my students, I always talk to them about “the pursuit to lack regrets”. But after thinking about the other “R” word, maybe what I should be talking about is Risk. I took risks in pursuit of my passion and it always paid off. Things were sometimes harder, but as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.”
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Though professionally, I am an Arts Administrator, my background is as a singer/performer. I think I’m a perfect example of how education in the arts can open a million different doors for jobs or professions. Some people will tell young artists that “you can’t get a job as an artist.” This is a straight lie. I have worked as a talent agent, an event coordinator, as a house manager and box office representative at a large performing arts center, and now as a booking agent and marketing coordinator at a college. I’ve also taught acting and coach auditions and voice lessons. When I look at the span of my career and all of the options that I have before me, never do I think, “oh darn, there is nothing for me as an artist.” You may read in my assessment of what risks I’ve taken in my life/career, you will see that it has never been easy. But it isn’t supposed to be. I tell my students that wherever they decide to live or go to school, find a job that has SOMETHING to do with your art. If you’re a photographer, try to work for a studio as an assistant (even if it’s at JC Penney). If you’re a singer or dancer, go work as an usher for your local theatre. Free shows and pay! If you’re a visual artist, find a local ceramics studio or get a work study job for your arts department. LEARN. ABSORB INFORMATION. Even if all you do is balance the books for the studio….when it’s time for you to budget your own books, you will have that knowledge. You will be able to go into a job interview and say “yes, I’ve balanced a budget.” I still rely on the knowledge that I learned at my work study job at the performing arts center at Buffalo State College. If you don’t make the most of your time, then what was it all worth? At the Visual and Performing Arts program at Citrus College (Citrus Arts), we guide our students by teaching them real world skills. We provide them “real world experiences” so that they have a leg up in the industry when they leave our halls. Imagine if you have perfected your skills on the guitar, bass and drums, AND you are employable as an artist in a variety of ways? You will be unstoppable.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love taking visitors to the Saddle Ranch Restaurant at Universal City or on Sunset Blvd. That way we can kill two birds with one stone. I’ve heard the Universal City branch has closed, but that was always a fun time. Start with riding the bull, and then check out the shops and interesting scenery in the park. Or..it’s fun to show all of the sights on Sunset, starting with the iconic bars and restaurants that one might have seen on TV, like the Whiskey, Rainbow Bar and Grill or the Viper Room. You have to go to Malibu, Santa Monica, and of course the Venice Boardwalk, at least once. My good friend of 16 years is George Gray, from the Price is Right. I would take any visitors I can to be a guest on the show. My parents and my sister have had the pleasure. Some people might be interested in the beautiful homes in the Hollywood Hills or in Beverly Hills. I would try to drive through those areas as well.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are many people who have supported my lifestyle and choices in my life and many who taught me to be me. Most performing artists do not get the support from their family. That was not the case for me. My parents supported me 100% of the time, even when they knew I was making mistakes. They let me learn from the mistakes on my own (not that I would have listened otherwise) and hugged me and lifted me when I fell. Bill Brawley of the Young Americans was my first real mentor. I learned most of my life lessons from the years performing and touring with the group. Bill once asked why I didn’t volunteer to help out with things like costumes, or other chores needed for the shows (The 90s were a hard time for the group. There wasn’t the funding it now has.), I would make excuses. “I don’t have a car. I don’t have any money.” Bill looked me in the eye and said, “make it work.” We were taught to figure it out…don’t make excuses or find ways out of difficult situations. The organization needed “make it work” people during that time, and it is the reason that it dug its way out of financial difficulty. This motto has molded me into the person who thinks outside the box. I don’t see problems as road blocks. I see them as a way to creatively change direction. This thinking, I believe, is what makes me successful in everything that I do. The Young Americans are currently in a state of change. Bill has resigned from the organization he built after 40+ years. I can’t imagine the group will ever be the same without his guidance, and I’m sad for the young people who won’t get the chance to absorb his wisdom.
Website: citrusarts.org and citrusartsproductions.org
Yelp: Night Shift of Citrus College
All photos (but one) were shot by student photographers at Citrus College. Shawna Louise, Alison Thai, Geovanny Lopez, Madison Spriggs, and Daniel Escamilla. Judy and Gavin Photography took one photo of the band Night Shift.