This month BOLD is featuring 5 Black Women Who Are Using Their Artistry for Freedom.
We talked to Felicia Fitzpatrick, digital content creator and storyteller about finding her freedom in the midst of a Pandemic and an Uprising. She's Playbill's first ever Director of Social Media and Creative Strategy and the first black female department head! She also hosts "Call and Response", a podcast exploring the intersection of blackness and performing arts." to the intro? In true BOLD fashion, she is breaking barriers and glass ceilings! Follow her @felicianicole86
Q: What are some ways you have you been reclaiming your creative voice during this
time of both the Pandemic, and over the past few weeks, watching the Uprising of
Black People across the country?
I’ve known for a while that I love to connect through storytelling. Sometimes
that’s writing my own stories, sometimes it’s sharing stories through social
media graphics and copy, and sometimes it’s amplifying other people’s stories.
With the Pandemic, I’ve felt more aligned with my purpose of storytelling than I
have in quite a bit. Social media became a very clear beacon of connecting folks
when connecting in person was no longer an option. The idea of creating digital
community and making theatre accessible to those who might not get to engage
with it in real life is really important to me. The Pandemic offered opportunities to
create true moments of community engagement on Playbill’s social media.
With the Uprising, it’s been an interesting moment for me at work. How much of
my own personal views can I fuse into Playbill’s? It’s obviously not my
company, yet I’ve come to be an external representation of it, so how much do
our personalities and values really merge? I want to use this platform that I have
access to amplify and uplift voices that have been shouting for so long. Like
with the Uprising intersecting with Pride month, it felt really important to me to
write an article that gave visibility and celebrated queer black playwrights. This
idea was met with support and I was able to make it happen. I will continue to
use my voice and this platform as my form of activism.
Q: What are you reading, watching, listening to that has contributed to your creative freedom?
During the Pandemic, I’ve been able to consume so much more content than I normally would—I love TV! I love being able to explore a “world” or a circumstance that I’m completely unfamiliar with. And I’ve found that while it’s great to find content you enjoy and resonate with, I actually learn more by watching things I don’t enjoy. Being able to synthesize and articulate what I don’t like about something is more beneficial as I continue my own work as a writer. TV shows are also fascinating to me (versus movies) because I like looking at the arc of a show as a whole, across seasons. Like I’ve loved the latest seasons of This Is Us and Insecure, because I feel like they’ve really reached a peak in terms of fresh storytelling and getting the audiences (re)invested in the characters. For new shows, I’ve started a list, writing bullet points of what I like or don’t like about them. A few shows I’ve watched recently: Unorthodox, Hollywood, Mrs. America, and Never Have I Ever.
As for books, I read Elaine Welteroth’s More Than Enough and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, which were both beautiful and heartbreaking in their own ways. I was struck by Welteroth’s discussion of race and the intersection of corporate America, navigating her time at Conde Naste (a lot of relatable moments for me). And Homegoing was the true definition of a page-turner. Except towards the end when I stopped before the last two chapters because I didn’t want it to end! Gyasi’s writing made me instantly feel connected and invested in the characters.
Q: Has there ever been a moment in your life where you felt as if you were breaking free from something?
I went to high school in the Pacific Northwest, which is very white. All my classmates looked like Hilary Duff. White, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls were my constant standard of beauty. So while they were worried about teenage things like pimples and braces, I had this added layer of trying to hit a white threshold of beauty. Trying to fit in felt like attempting one big puzzle. Relaxers and hot combs crowded my bathroom counter, American Eagle polos filled my closet, and sweat trickled down my back as I tried to squeeze my curvy thighs into those tiny-ass jeans in those dark Hollister dressing rooms.
When I was home for the holidays last year, I actually went to a party of an old classmate’s, and several of those blonde-haired classmates were there. I confidently walked into the party, natural curls twisted OUT and fully embracing my blackness, my queerness, and my NYC skills of being able to carry on a conversation with anyone. But as I was chatting with a guest (who, yes, was blonde-haired and blue-eyed), I realized she didn’t share the same interest in our conversation. I also realized I didn’t want or need to waste my energy trying to puzzle-piece anything together.
So I left. I fled to a bar where my best friend and her girlfriend were (both queer black women), and we spent the rest of the night dancing and laughing. It felt so freeing to not force the wrong puzzle pieces to fit.
Q: If you had a gigantic, lit up billboard in Times Square- an avenue to get a message to millions of people- what would it say? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (It can also be someone else’s quote, something you live by.)
"I'll tell you what freedom means to me, no fear." - Nina Simone. Thinking about this moment, where black artists are publicly sharing their stories about their experiences with racism, it feels like we're reaching a threshold of (creative) freedom. Black artists have lived in fear for so long, not wanting to mess up their chances of booking the next job nor ruffling any feathers of the white power-holders. But now it seems that Black artists are ascending past a level of fear to speak their truths, because it hurts more to stay silent. The burden is too heavy to carry any longer. We're shedding and discarding the old system that didn't work and didn't let us live fearlessly.
Q: What advice would you give to a young, driven student graduating today about the industry? What advice should they ignore?
There’s a quote (see, I really do love a quote), that says, “God has three answers to prayers: 1) yes 2) not yet 3) I have something better in mind.” When we want something so bad sometimes we get tunnel vision, and we don’t allow ourselves to be called to our true purpose. Tyree Boyd-Pates has always said “Trust the process.” Every twist and turn your journey takes is for a reason. Determination and ambition are great, but be open to the possibility that the universe will take you on a detour that actually leads to where you need and want to be.
Q: What have you become better at saying no to? What are some boundaries that have helped you feel free?
I learned of the quote “Always fill up your own cup first, and let others benefit from the overflow,” a few months ago, and it’s been really helpful for me in setting up boundaries. I think women in particular are very conditioned to always say “yes,” and helping everyone else before themselves. I think it’s great to be caring and engage in acts of service, but self-care is REAL. How can we operate at 100% if we don’t take time to recharge? I used to consider myself a hardcore extrovert, but since moving to New York City, I’ve become more introverted, where I need time by myself to rest and relax. I think a large part of that is because in this city we take in so much of other people’s energy since we’re all surrounded by people all the time. So before the Pandemic, I was getting more comfortable with saying to no social situations—drinks with friends when I wanted to prioritize going to the gym, or going to a concert on a Friday night when I knew my spirit needed to decompress from the work week. Even with the Pandemic, I’m saying no to Zoom happy hours or group FaceTimes when I feel like I’m at capacity. It’s been really freeing, and luckily my people don’t take offense to it, they support me taking time to regroup internally.
Q: When you feel overwhelmed, unfocused, or even in despair, what do you do?
I love to journal. My friend Kesley gave me a journal for my birthday in fifth grade, and it’s been a self-care practice ever since! There’s an Anais Nin quote that says, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” That’s exactly what journaling does for me. It helps me process my feelings. I get to analyze situations, visceral reactions, and deep-seated feelings, without censoring myself. Especially when I’m in despair, I love going back and reading through old journal entries to remember that if I made it through a time that felt unbearable, I’ll be able to again. And knowing that every hardship has a lesson and a moment of growth. Sort of in the same vein, I try to keep an attitude of gratitude, by writing five things I’m grateful for every day. So even if I can’t get a full journal entry in that day, I’m able to reflect on why I have a full, beautiful life.