We had the good fortune of connecting with Shannon McDermott and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shannon, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
“Come celebrate with me that everyday, something has tried to kill me, and has failed.” -Won’t You Celebrate With Me by Lucille Clifton.
I heartily recommend that you look the full poem up and read it. To me, it’s a poem about the joys of survival. Being thankful for the important lessons that strife and adversity have taught you. Being thankful for the gifts of self love and self empowerment. I did not always have that. I grew up with domestic violence, and undiagnosed/untreated Autism. I was bullied at home and at school. I was diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, but unfortunately my community/schools did not have the understanding or infrastructure set up to accommodate people with neurodivergences, as it was all considered a relatively “new” thing. Treatment was more focused on teaching the child how to appear “normal” using “tough love” techniques to punish them into submission. As a result, I was also recently diagnosed with PTSD as well as Autism. To say the least, it was tough growing up trying to fit into a system that was not designed for people like me to thrive.
The very last line is my own personal mantra that I repeat to myself when life gets tough, to remind myself that I have survived a lot, and I can survive my current obstacle, and that I now have the knowledge/awareness that comes with trauma, which gives me the sweet privilege of deciding for myself how to handle it.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have always been an artistic creator at heart. From creating rich backstories and scripted dialogue for my Barbies as a child, to gathering the neighborhood kids together to put on sketch shows for our parents, to making the fateful decision to swallow my anxiety and audition for the High School Play, to pursuing a Theatre degree, to leaving my home state to pursue acting as a career despite pushback from my family, to now, being the person who is “actually doing it!” (as my friends say).
It’s not easy being an Autistic woman on this career path. There’s no blueprint or map to success in this industry in general, and like many other aspects of society, little to no infrastructure put in place to accommodate Autistics and other neurodivergents. That, coupled with toxic societal attitudes towards work ethic and productivity, make it difficult for Autistics to recognize and see self worth in their strengths. Therapy and medication have helped me see everything in a new light. Understanding that people’s actions and reactions, although directed toward you, actually have nothing to do WITH you, has been key in keeping myself, for lack of a better term, sane in this crazy industry. It has also made me a more self confident artist and performer.
I moved out to LA in 2012 as a big “Fuck You” to an acting coach who came onto me, then told me I would never become successful unless I learned that I had to fuck my way to the top when I rejected his advances. While living in LA, I had the good fortune of meeting Chris Notarile of Blinky Productions, who cast me as a villain in his independently produced superhero series, “Phantom Faye.” Since then, I have appeared in countless Blinky original shorts, fan films, radio plays, and graphic novels. My favorite Blinky role has to be Typhoid Mary, a Marvel villain with Dissociative Identity Disorder, who appears in fan films “Typhoid Mary,” “Rogue: Redemption,” and “Domino.” Both “Typhoid Mary” and “Domino” have been accepted at multiple film festivals. As an avid nerd and cosplayer, you can also find me roaming the aisles (dressed as Typhoid Mary) at Comic Con! I’ve even made it onto a few “Best Of” lists!
It is extremely important, if you choose to embark on this kind of a career journey, to develop a healthy way to manage your stress. If you don’t do that, you put yourself at risk of developing unhealthy coping mechanisms, and you will burn out quickly. Unfortunately, this country does not have adequate education and universally accessible resources in place to equip and prepare people for handling stress, so if you are privileged enough to be able to afford mental health treatment, I highly encourage you to do so, even if you don’t think you need it.
It is also extremely important to come to terms with the realities of this industry, and to not have expectations. I’ve seen plenty of people become desperate, because things are not going the way they expected, and they end up burning out or burning bridges as a result. There’s no guarantee that this industry will honor your “timelines” or “plans,” so you just have to roll with it and work with what you’ve got. Believe it or not, that is OK.
Last, but not least, don’t beat yourself up over the mistakes you’ve made. Everyone has to go through a learning curve, and mistakes are a major part of that. This is how you develop a sharp instinct and learn how to trust your gut.
I know that, because of my neurodivergence, I have a unique perspective on life and art that needs to be told for the sake of others like me. I would like to see this industry evolve past physical “types,” and begin recognizing and highlighting the strengths and treasures of people’s characters.
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.
I am a sucker for kitsch, so Tiki Bars are 100% my jam! My favs are Tiki No and Kahuna Tiki (both in North Hollywood). Tiki No holds a special place in my heart, as it’s where I went to cheer myself up after getting let go from my job. If you go with friends, make sure to order the Scorpion Bowl and watch the bartender light it on fire, then throw cinnamon into the fire!
Kahuna Tiki has it’s seating in a beautiful outdoor garden, and a food menu that makes for a hilarious read.
By the way, you can totally enjoy the best of Disneyland without actually paying for an overpriced ticket. I frequently just park my car and hang out in Downtown Disney. It’s basically the same thing, minus waiting in long lines for rides. Plus, another one of my favorite Tiki Bars, Trader Sam’s, is there. Depending on what cocktail you order, they will give you a little show along with it!
COMIC CON! If you’re an ultra nerd cosplayer like me, LA Comic Con is much closer and more affordable than San Diego Comic Con. If you work in the entertainment industry, you can apply for a reduced rate Pro Pass!
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 thank my friends, colleagues, and fellow proud weirdos at Blinky Productions (Special shoutout to Chris and Lindsey Notarile). I want to give a HUGE thank you to all the Blinky fans as well. I wouldn’t be where I am today without your love and support. I want to thank Theatre as an ideology and an institution for coming into my life at a crucial moment, and saving me. My theatre teachers and classmates taught me empathy, humility, self worth, and helped me define my purpose in life.
I want to thank my partner, Emmanuel, for riding out this journey with me, and loving every aspect of me along the way.
I would also like to thank the Autism Self Advocacy Network, Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network, as well as the many Autistic-lead support groups for showing me what self empowerment, on my terms, looks like.
I also want to thank all of the Social Workers and passionate Community Organizers who are working every day to create a better world for misunderstood, struggling youth.
Other: If you like fan films, check out my collaborations with Blinky Productions (@blinky500) on YouTube! Support Indie Comics!
Sean Kara (Headshots) Jason Dixon (JDesignFotos) Chris R. Notarile (The Wraith, Typhoid Mary, Rogue Redemption, Domino) Kenny Mathieson (Catwoman Cosplay) Ian Chaplin (The Little Mermaid Cosplay)