Guest Post by: Jen Donohoo
As the days lengthen in isolation, and the likelihood of being able to return to “normal” before Summer slips away, I’m constantly reminded of how important having a community is more than ever. Weekly game nights, happy hours, and fitness classes have added necessary structure to my days and have further solidified that, against my “Pre-Quarantine” opinion, I’m indeed an extrovert and need connection to function fully and purposefully. After speaking to many of my friends, I know I’m not alone in feeling that we are beyond thankful for this time at home, as it has made us realize priorities and that reconnecting with old friends doesn’t have to solely be the once every few years trip back home. That it’s just as easy as sending a Google Hangout or Zoom invite and logging in on your computer.
For me personally, having this sense of community and striving to broaden that every day has become one of my points of pride. I love making a fun connection between friends or acquaintances and outside of my personal life, it has been instrumental in my role at Mustard Lane as the Casting & Recruitment Director and even more so with helping create the Mentorship Program at Off The Lane.
The Mentorship Program, that was launched last month, was something that I felt very passionate about from the beginning. Our program connects college seniors looking to make the move to NYC to pursue a creative career with working professionals in the artistic community. We currently have 7 amazing Laners matched with Mentees from schools in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Illinois, and Michigan, with more applications coming in daily from students across the country. During a time when professors are having to completely rework the way that they are teaching their classes, our Mentorship Program proves to be a valuable tool and resource for their students, especially as we were set up to be digital already!
What I love about our program comes down to the people and the history behind starting the Non-Profit. When Kristal, the CEO of Mustard Lane, started OTL, she wanted to continue finding ways to give back to the artistic community. About two years ago, we started holding monthly socials in NYC to bring Laners together outside of gigs, where suggested donations, matched by ML, went towards a different charity each month. This further sparked the idea of how we could create additional programs and resources to help our Laners not only succeed in their theatrical aspirations, but the business side of things as well. As they say, the rest is history.
After the Non-Profit was officially started early last year, the first idea for a program was mentorship. While chatting with many of my friends, a common theme about their move to NYC was feeling underprepared for the general day to day. They fumbled a bit when it came to the tasks of finding an apartment, getting around the city, where to look for the side gigs and what those might look like, etc. College had taught us how to act, sing and dance, but not necessarily how to do that and the everyday life of a New Yorker.
Having had several mentors in my life that helped shape and guide me, but not having gone through a specific program, I knew that it was going to be super important to set this program up correctly. I researched workshops that I could take in NYC and attended one by MENTOR New York. Although it was geared more towards adolescents, it gave awesome insight on how to create a program from the bottom up. I learned that having a process and procedure in place, along with a specific mission, would be the key to our success. After the workshop last May, I was feeling energized and excited about starting this program, but knew that as busy season was in full swing at Mustard Lane, I was going to need some help. We decided to put the call out for Mentorship Committee Members and are so fortunate to have had Robyn Frank and Mike Johnston onboard as Co-Chairs since last July. They were and are just as excited about our mission to help creatives successfully transition from student to working professional and have been true facilitators in keeping this program honest, grounded and centered around our goals at all times.
Over the following months, I helped facilitate putting together a Training Manual for our Mentors, Mike and Robyn, along with the entire board, starting gathering contacts at schools to reach out to, and we finally felt ready to start the process of interviewing Mentors after laying the much needed groundwork. We are in an amazing spot now, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tricky to get all of this going with the continued busyness of Mustard Lane, as well as my other directing and stage management gigs. My attention was constantly getting pulled in different directions.
What I have to say has been the biggest blessing through these past few weeks, is that I’ve actually been able to devote almost 100% of my time to this program. As we are in the middle of our first session, with our second session having started on April 13th, you can imagine that we’ve all been very busy and the extra time has allowed for a real figuring out in structure and process for us. I feel so grateful to have this time during a key time in our growth. For me, feeling fulfillment in a gig or project is getting to see the fruit of our labors. Hearing feedback about how the sessions are going, the smart and intelligent questions and topics that are being brought up by our Mentors and Mentees, and being able to devote time to engaging with more colleges and universities around the country, has made me beam with pride over the progress we’ve made.
We always say “Welcome Home with Off The Lane.” Our community is what has always been important to me and vital to the transition of the next generation of artists. They are graduating at such a challenging time in our global history and what an amazing asset for them to be able to have first hand knowledge from true professionals.
Off The Lane is seeking additional Mentors for our Summer Session starting June 1st. It’s a great time to get involved and we’d love to see your applications come through. Head over to offthelane.org and click on our Mentorship Program to find out more about who we are, what we are doing, and fill out an application!
Sending love to you all and hope that you are finding wonderful and inspiring ways to fill your time! If you ever need a bit of a boost, shoot me an email and I’ll fill you in on all that we are doing right now! I couldn’t be more thrilled!