Carolyn Paine: Diversity is crucial to what the true purpose of art is

I deeply believe that diversity is not only important in entertainment but crucial to what the true purpose of art is-to reflect and comment on society. In order to do that, all voices must be represented and given a platform. Through the arts, it is possible to work together, to provide new and deeper understandings […]

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I deeply believe that diversity is not only important in entertainment but crucial to what the true purpose of art is-to reflect and comment on society. In order to do that, all voices must be represented and given a platform. Through the arts, it is possible to work together, to provide new and deeper understandings of experiences beyond our own, and to change ideas and perceptions in steps to truly better the world we are in. The entertainment industry and the artists in it have more power than they know.

We had the pleasure to interview Carolyn Paine. Carolyn is an actress, dancer, and comedian. She has appeared in various TV shows and national commercials as well as regional and Off-Broadway theatre productions. As a dancer and choreographer, she has traveled internationally with pop stars, been featured in a photo series in Italian Vogue, and danced for ABC’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Her choreography and dancing have also been featured on The Wonderful World of Dance and the international Dance Informa Magazine. She created the acclaimed Nutcracker Suite & Spicy which is a contemporary update of the classic holiday dance show that features everything from hip hop to ballet and all with a sense of humor. Additionally, Carolyn is a comedian who frequently performs standup, has worked with Hannibal Burress, and has been featured on a HBO promo, and in Glamour magazine. She is also a writer for various podcasts, sketches, and websites. Her comedy and comedy shorts have been honored at the Women in Comedy Festival, The International Comedy Festival in California, and the London International Comedy Short Film Festival. Carolyn is also a regular guest panelist on WNPR’s The Nose with Colin McEnroe.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Igrew up in Boston, MA studying ballet at Boston Ballet and got into theatre at school and especially more in high school.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always knew I didn’t just love performing. I loved creating, choreographing, writing, directing and making people laugh. I knew I wanted to be the kind of artist who takes charge and really invents their own outlet in which to present themselves and their talent. When I was 9, I directed my friends in a fully staged musical revue which I sold tickets to and donated the profits to the Boston Children’s Hospital. So…. yeah, I guess I got right on my career path then.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have had so many interesting, amazing, hilarious, and awkward things happen. But probably one of the most interesting was the day I got an out of the blue call from a producer who was working with comedian Hannibal Burress who was looking for a funny ballerina to be part of this sketch bit in his touring stand up show. And that is exactly me-a funny ballerina. It was such a perfect fit for me. And the call for the gig came at a perfect time too because I was just closing a run of the play “Hello Dolly” with a summer theatre on Fire Island. It is always hard and sad when a show ends, so it is great if you know you are getting to go on to a cool new job with another show. And this was such a great, unique opportunity to work and create with an awesome comedian as a ballet dancer — because that is not a usual crossover of jobs/skills. So it was definitely an interesting and exciting opportunity to get to take on.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This isn’t even from when I first started, but it definitely is a funny mistake. A couple of years back, another comedian approached me about doing a series of comedy shows in nursing homes. It seemed like a great idea and a good way to bring happiness to people who probably needed it. Well, we arrived at our first nursing home with a room packed full of octogenarians and took to the stage. It was a total disaster. Apparently our material that killed in the club was just not resonating with that kind of crowd. I had a solid bit about dating that completely bombed. It was so awkward. In fact, when I hit a punch line, one woman in the second row started to laugh but then her friend next to her grabbed her arm and audibly said, “No-don’t encourage her.” It was so humiliating. We thought we were really going to make these elders laugh and enjoy a good time, but instead we all slinked out of the building at the end of the show feeling miserable and embarrassed. It was the most I’d ever bombed on stage. Needless to say we didn’t continue with the rest of our planned big tour of retirement communities. And I guess the lesson was that not everyone will love you or laugh. But at least you tried. And after you have that kind of humbling and humiliating experience on stage, you really feel empowered because it can’t get much worse!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

With everything going on in the world right now with the pandemic and quarantine it has been much more challenging to thrive or even be inspired as an artist, but I have been pushing myself to stay creative in many different capacities. I have continued to remotely appear as a regular guest on The Colin McEnroe Show The Nose on WNPR talking about pop culture. I organized and edited together a video of dancers from all over the world dancing in their homes in quarantine. I guested on the podcast Funny As Tech talking about the hilariously weird situation of online dating in the era of a pandemic. I was the special comedian guest on the Lady Spike Media’s Quarantine Cocktail Hour video series-and this was fun because I roped my roommate into it and we did a cute nod with costumes and a themed cocktail to parody the Tiger King fad. I also got my neighbors to remotely join me in a huge, fun musical production of “One Day More” from Les Miserables making a video that went viral. And I created a piece of choreography with a symphony violinist friend editing our videos together. I have also done lots of facebook live videos and filmed a cool TikTok series with Hearst Media. And every day I keep challenging myself to think of interesting new projects to work on in these difficult times. I am really hoping to pull off filming some projects I have in mind!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I deeply believe that diversity is not only important in entertainment but crucial to what the true purpose of art is-to reflect and comment on society. In order to do that, all voices must be represented and given a platform. Through the arts, it is possible to work together, to provide new and deeper understandings of experiences beyond our own, and to change ideas and perceptions in steps to truly better the world we are in. The entertainment industry and the artists in it have more power than they know.

That is why when I created my production of The Nutcracker Suite & Spicy, I started right away with the goal of making it a show that invited diversity-not just in the kind of dance styles it used, but with the dancers. I am so proud of this production which just celebrated its 10th season. It has been featured nationally in DanceInforma Magazine which cited it among the top three unique re-boots of the Nutcracker along with Mark Morris’ “Hard Nut” and Jennifer Weber’s “Hip Hop Nutcracker” and this year had a documentary film, “The Nutcracker Suite & Spicy: 10 Years in the Making” created about it. This show has been at the vanguard for responding to the social issues and culture and especially in changing the problematic way the traditional ballet’s international characters in Act 2 are presented by re-tooling that concept in a fun and creative way for the culturally sensitive audience-a trend many dance companies nationwide are now attempting. It really celebrates diversity at its core, merging a diverse group of dancers and their styles seamlessly to retell the story in a more relatable and fun contemporary voice. In a world that has a lot of news about people not being able to come together, a production like this shows what is possible when we do come together in an inclusive way and inspire and support each other.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. I wish someone told me that it is great to fail. Because every time I have attempted taking a risk and failed it has actually led me closer to my goal. For example, the first year I created Nutcracker Suite & Spicy, doing the choreography for the Snowball scene, which is now the most iconic part of that show, was a total disaster. I even gave a lecture about this epic fail in one of the national Fuck Up Night talks!
  2. I wish someone told me that I was good enough. I definitely grew up in a high pressure situation training competitively as a young dancer at Boston Ballet. And that kind of environment makes you always compare yourself to others and consequently never feel good enough. But luckily, I had a great supportive family and was able to learn and accept that I am good enough early on in my career because that is so important in the competitive world of the entertainment industry where you are constantly auditioning and feeling judged. You have to know and believe you are good enough.
  3. I wish someone told me that I was funny sooner! I got into doing comedy professionally a bit later than other things because I didn’t ever think of doing it! But one time I was in a play in New York City, and the Director told me during a rehearsal I should consider doing stand up and comedy and I am so glad I listened!
  4. I wish someone told me that it is harder to do anything on camera. This is one of those weird things that no one prepares you for until you are on set filming, but it is literally harder to do simple things you do everyday when a camera and crew are watching you! This sounds silly and crazy but it is true. You are obviously able to cut a carrot or do yoga or whatever you are supposed to do, but somehow with a camera on you, it feels like you have no idea what you are doing. It is both hilarious and stressful.
  5. I wish someone had told me that everything will be ok! Obviously pursuing a life as a professional dancer, actress, comedian, and choreographer is crazy and risky. And I worried a lot and constantly about my path and how things were going, but I wish someone would have told me earlier to just relax and enjoy the ride!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Oh yeah… I totally understand the dreaded burn out. It is something everyone who lives life constantly pushing ahead and pushing boundaries experiences. But I am also really conscious of the risks of that-both mentally and physically. So I really work to give myself “me days” even if they are just simply days off where I can sit on the couch at home and watch tv and snuggle with my kitten, Prince Hairy! I also love to travel with a good friend. And spend time with my family. And on a daily basis I love going for runs or hikes and doing yoga and enjoying a good cocktail or glass of wine. You have to find those simple moments and important people that just make you feel happy so you can recharge. I think that has been one of the best things about life in quarantine during COVID, I have had a lot of time to embrace relaxing and recharge and enjoy simple pleasures that usually get pushed aside in a busy life.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have especially made comedy short films to hopefully push people to pay attention to critical political issues and vote. My 2017 short film “You Can’t Do That” looked at the world with Trump as President and has been honored at the Women in Comedy Festival, the London Worldwide Comedy Short Film Festival, and won at the International Comedy Festival in California. And my 2018 short “Women” which parodied the horror movie like reality for women if they do not use their right to vote went viral and was featured on several call to action sites and in the New Haven International Film Festival. I am so proud of these projects because I see how they can impact people to think and be brought to action. I would love to create more things like this and work on even larger scale projects that aim to have that kind of enormous influence.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I definitely was greatly influenced by my theatre professor at University of Hartford, Dr. Sally Porterfield. She taught me so many things that helped set me on the path I am now. She taught me to never be worried about being silly, ugly, or weird because everyone else around you is so worried about themselves they aren’t even thinking about you. And when you embrace being uninhibited you are able to open up more, take more risks, and then get noticed for the right reasons by the right people. She also encouraged me to confidently and passionately pursue creating art with voice to make a difference. And she taught me to not be afraid to jump, even when you can’t see a safety net. She was an incredible and inspiring woman, director, writer, and educator. She passed away three years ago and I still wish I could call her and update her on everything I am doing and get her opinions and thoughts.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Lately, especially with life in quarantine, I have been thinking about the quote, “Dance like no one is watching.” As I take dance class in my kitchen and move/dance about the house daily, I think about how this is just great advice for a way to approach life. I think we all need to just move, be free, dance, be silly, just be who you are when you feel you don’t have to impress anyone. I think that is really where your own great power comes from.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have brunch with Lin Manuel-Miranda because I am in awe of how he creates and would love to get to collaborate professionally with someone like him. So maybe I could convince him to work together over waffles!?!

How can our readers follow you online?

On instagram @c__paine and on twitter @carolynpaine

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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