We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelsey McMillan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelsey, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Taking risks is more challenging than you think it will be, but I think the most considerable risk a person can take is never to take any at all. Anyone who has accomplished something special probably has an elephant graveyard of failures behind them and still more on the horizon. I certainly do. I’ve had some successes, but I’ve also failed many times, and I wouldn’t do anything differently. For me, risk-taking has become all about betting on myself. When I take a chance, and things don’t go the way I hoped or planned, it is still within me to find a way to make every experience I have one that moves me closer to my goals. So the failures don’t sting as badly, and the risks feel less risky.
Still, the truth is, I overthink, hesitate, and I second guess myself all the time; I’m human. But I’ve forced myself to take risks. I’ve moved to a new city, networked in a brand new community, tackled higher education, and developed plays and projects. I’m about to undertake my most significant risk to date and launch a new company. It’s all scary; I worry I’m not doing making the right moves or choices but in the end, not taking the risk stings more. When I think of every chance I decided against taking, I’m not thankful for the pain I potentially shielded myself from; I’m just determined to make up for it now.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve been directing plays and musicals professionally, mainly in Houston, for nearly a decade. My bread and butter has always been a darkly comedic show with a naturalistic style and strong, compelling characters. There is nothing I love more than deep diving into a character’s psyche or parsing out the “why” in a moment on stage with an actor. I also enjoy directing a fun musical moment for sure, but I live for pulling genuine and vulnerable performances out of actors and working with them to find those real moments.
When I was younger, like many theatre artists, I thought I wanted to be an actor, but I had a formative experience in high school. I directed a one-act play, ‘Never the Sinner,’ and something clicked the first time I watched that show come to an end and saw the audience clap; I was proud of myself. For the first time, I was genuinely proud of my work. Not only had I really enjoyed the process, but it gave me a sense of self that nothing else had, and it’s still there now. So, I pursued that feeling. I decided this was what I was going to do, what I was meant to do. And. It. Has. Been. Hard. I have had to hustle, constantly, to get where I want to go, for so many reasons. The process of becoming a known director in a new city is a bit of a paradox. How do you get someone to give you that first chance? I’ve navigated the challenges of being a young female director, appealing to mostly older male producers for an opportunity. I’ve experienced sexism throughout my career in ways that have absolutely impacted me. I don’t know that I always overcame those challenges so gracefully in the moment, but I have let myself learn from them and those people.
I’m about to embark on what may be the most significant moment of my career. I’ll be launching a new company in the Fall of 2022. I have been dreaming of doing this for as long as I’ve been doing theatre, and I want to create something that is uniquely me. I think the concept of this new company is exactly that, and I can’t wait to reveal the plan once it’s ready. I take a lot of pride in the kind of leader I am to my show teams, and I want to bring that to a company of artists and creators. I want to give a 23-year old theatre artist her first opportunity to show what she can do just like someone did for me. That’s the dream.
The two most important things I’ve learned from the challenges I’ve faced in my decade directing both revolve around communication. I am big on communication. First, the uncomfortable conversation in the moment is ALWAYS 1000 times less painful than the fallout from staying quiet. I face my awkward moments head-on now (I am always inwardly screaming and running in the other direction). Still, I no longer allow myself to back off from uncomfy conversations. Because of this, I have so much less tension and miscommunication in my relationships and projects. Second, I try to set the example. You get to decide what you spend your energy on. So, my energy must go towards productive things. That means I have to anchor my team, actors, crew, and designers; I need to be the neutral place, the emotional center. When someone else is frantic, angry, or out of control, you don’t have to meet them there. Be a person people can trust in every way.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Okay, so my extracurricular fun level is a little low right now. I had a baby about a year and a half ago (very exciting, and he’s so adorable!), so I haven’t been getting out much! That being said, these are some of my favorite spots of yore: First, the Heights; there is a plethora of fun little experiences and great food all over the area, and it’s a great walkable spot. Then the museum district, I love a museum, really any museum. Thanks to a much more savvy friend, I just discovered my new favorite bar a month or so ago. Muldoon’s in the Galleria has a fantastic patio and an awesome vibe. I’ll probably get some excellent greek food, Niko Nikos or Phoenecia Deli. If we’re feeling fancy, we’ll hit up Kenny and Ziggys or have an extraordinary experience at MAD, another great culinary moment courtesy of that more savvy friend again. Finally, two of my favorite subterranean Houston sites, the Conservatory Underground Food Hall and the Downtown Tunnels. (Just to walk around because their mere existence is wild and fun.)
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many people and organizations deserve a lot of credit for where I am now. I’ve directed for many companies in Houston, Obsidian Theatre, Landing Theatre, and especially Firecracker. Sammy McManus, the founder of Firecracker, gave me my first gig in Houston directing ‘No Exit’ in the attic of a bar with a hope and dream. That show put me on the radar in Houston and really launched my career here. I’ve continued working with Firecracker, and I’m always grateful for their continued trust in me.
Other: TikTok – @kelseyamcmillan
Tasha Gorel, Pin Lim