My day job is fascinating. I work as Communications Associate for The Richmond Forum, a non-profit speaker series here in Richmond. We bring world-class speakers from around the globe here to Richmond for five programs a year to expand horizons, stimulate conversation, and inspire our community.

My first program at The Forum was with President Barack Obama in November 2017. Since then, we’ve had Glenn Close; Peter Diamandis; Ambassador Samantha Power; a panel with Joe Scarborough, Newt Gingrich, and Mara Liasson; and Captain Scott Kelly.

On Saturday, we presented Tina Fey.

It was incredible. I loved the program. Putting aside issues with some of the questioning, I loved how candid Tina Fey was, and how much you got the sense that the person on camera isn’t far off from the person who wakes up every day, puts her pants on one leg at a time, and waits for her dog to poop every time she takes him for a walk. (She told us that on stage. It was hilariously mundane.) She proceeds through life as though she still has her anonymity, despite the fact that to many of us she’s a huge star.

I found Glenn Close to be much the same way. I’m impressed by that quality in both of them. We tend to dehumanize celebrities in a way that I’m not sure is entirely healthy.

It gets me thinking about how I approach people I haven’t met, and how through this job I’ve been able to grow and develop my interpersonal communication skills. The Forum puts us in closer contact with people who we typically only know from a distance, as the opening video says before each program (I’m paraphrasing), and it’s done the same for me for in the year and half I’ve worked there.

My goal for Artists at Work, Artstitution, and my career and life, is to better understand the way people—and artists in particular—communicate and collaborate with one another. I’m curious about how we learn from each other, and how we can better coexist as humans.

I believe that some of the best ways we do that is through art and culture, which is why I have chosen the career path that I have. I believe that through connecting and sharing ideas we grow closer and strengthen our bonds. And I further believe, from what I heard from Tina Fey on Saturday, and from what I’ve heard from speakers and audience members at previous Forum events, that many others share in this idea. Those are the bedrock values of The Forum, and they are why I feel connected to the organization.

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to share space with one of the great entertainers of our time. She’s an award-winning comedian, actress, and producer, but Tina Fey is first and foremost a writer. I connected with that part of her. She seems like a star from a distance—a hilarious, larger-than-life entity that has brought us popular SNL sketches, movies, and hit shows like 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. (I can’t wait to watch the final episodes of Kimmy Schmidt this weekend. They came out today.)

But what I found on Saturday night is that she’s driven by curiosity about the world. She observes life and people around her, and writes about the things that interest her—the things that are just a little bit different. She doesn’t have any magic sauce. Her “Mom Jeans” don’t give her superhuman comedy powers. Her writing and her comedy are crafts that she’s developed over the years into what we know today. They’re byproducts of her experiences and her efforts. And that’s what is inspirational to me about Tina Fey.

Tina Fey signs copies of her memoir,  Bossypants , on January 19, 2019. Photo: Thomas Breeden for The Richmond Forum.

Tina Fey signs copies of her memoir, Bossypants, on January 19, 2019. Photo: Thomas Breeden for The Richmond Forum.

The insights she shared into her creative process were fascinating, as well: she writes in the mornings to work around her family’s schedule, and said that her best ideas are usually the ones that come out the easiest. She talked about the collaborative process writing on the musical adaptation of Mean Girls. (Excuse me while I file those away for later.)

On a more practical level, she said one thing to the Student Room before the program that has stuck with me. She told one student that the best way to beat writer's block is to have a deadline.

I have lots of deadlines in my life: short-term deadlines, like the one for this post; longer-term deadlines, like finishing draft one of my musical by the end of the year. I have one on every Forum night. After the program, I go home, slip into PJs, and write a recap of the evening—on Saturday it was until about 2 am—for us to post to social media early the next morning.

That reminds me of a lyric from another hilarious piece of comedy, Avenue Q:

Purpose is that little flame
That lights a fire under your ass.
– Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx, “Purpose” from Avenue Q.

Swap “purpose” for “deadlines,” adjust some grammar, and you have about the right sentiment.

All the deadlines I set help me to keep on track towards achieving my goals. It’s comforting to know that even Tina Fey needs to have them to light a fire under her ass, too.

Until next time,

Thomas Breeden
Founding Director
Artstitution
tbreeden@artstitution.org

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