Daryl Roth, Kamilah Forbes and Zibby Owens spoke about motherhood, the impact of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry and tips for blossoming creatives.
Jane Park, Contributing Photographer
Being creative isn’t easy: the roads to success are almost never simple.
This is especially true for creative women. On Nov. 17, three top women from the entertainment industry — Broadway producer Daryl Roth, theater director Kamilah Forbes and managing director of publishing Zibby Owens ’98 — gathered for a panel at the Schwarzman Center from Yale to discuss their similar but unique experiences as established figures in their fields.
When asked to share their stories and experiences, Roth, Forbes and Owens remarked on their tumultuous but rewarding journeys to success. When Roth began her career as a producer, she said there were few experienced producers willing to mentor a woman. However, she has learned to overcome the stereotypes associated with women in leadership positions
“People will tell you, ‘Women take things so personally,” Roth told the crowd. “I’ve heard it 100 times and I’m like, ‘Yes, we do. And that’s why we’re fine.”
Roth added that she’s always aware that she’s the last voice in the room, rather than the loudest.
This axiom has continued his work advocating for diversity in the theater production industry. In an interview with the News, Roth described how motivated she was to find theater play for her son, Jordan, who is gay. She recalled taking Jordan to an Ian McKellen show to show Jordan that “in the theater you can be true to yourself.”
The creative work “allowed” Owens to go through a difficult period in his life after a series of COVID-19 deaths in his family.
“I’ve actually found that the pandemic has been an opportunity to be even more productive and creative about how to build a community around books and put authors’ words into people’s hands,” Owens said. “I took my podcast, turned it into an Instagram Live show for the first three months… Started a virtual book club, which I still do, and wrote essays, which eventually became an anthology “.
Owens hasn’t followed an easy journey in his creative career. In fact, Owens’ decision to pursue writing seriously was triggered by the death of his close friend, Stacey Sanders ’98, who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“I decided, among other things that made me rethink my whole life and the meaning of life, that if I was going to be killed at my desk, doing my job, I had better put my all into whatever I was doing and I could no longer just sit down and market Pepperidge Farm cookies for an advertising agency,” said Owens.
During the speech, Forbes recalled his years in Howard University’s theater program, where he met many “classic” black playwrights including Adrienne Kennedy and Douglas Turner Ward.
However, she noticed a generation gap in black representation, which led her to create the Hip Hop Theater Festival and eventually work with artists such as Danny Hawk and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“I haven’t seen my generation reflected,” Forbes said. “We did so much August Wilson, but then as a 19-year-old student, there was no role for me to play. I come from the hip-hop generation. Therefore, the theater that really interested me is ‘How can my culture and my generational voices be reflected on the stage?’”
Both Owens and Forbes have reflected on the uncertainties of COVID-19; both of their teams worked to make content during that time more accessible and actively responded to the needs of their audiences.
As a major center for African-American culture and the arts, Forbes said, the Apollo Theater has worked to respond to national outrage surrounding the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd,
But the pandemic has required theater to connect to audiences through different mediums. The Forbes team produced a film adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “Between the World and Me,” in partnership with HBO. The film was released in November 2020.
Despite the challenges and uncertainties of pursuing a career in entertainment, all three speakers urged students to follow their instincts and passions.
“You really have to put the blinders on kind of,” Roth said. “Bring only what you think is right for you. If it’s right for you, it’s right. If it’s a failure, which is a word I use in quotes because I don’t believe in failure, you have no one to blame but yourself, learn from it and move on. They are hills and valleys, hills and valleys.
The Schwarzman Center was endowed in 2015.