Today we’d like to introduce you to Melanie Lee.
Hi Melanie, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I grew up in Parma Ohio and started in theater at age eight. As an escape theater became my home. I worked and studied in Chicago in dance, comedy and improv which was the best decision as I learned how to audition, run a business and market myself so that when I was ready to move to LA I hit the ground running. I worked as an actor in commercials and web series mostly for five years here in LA and as the opportunity arose I moved to Panama in 2009. Once in Panama, I realized theater was where my heart and roots were and I haven’t stopped since. I worked in English and Spanish directing and choreographing stage and had a Spanish TV show running each Friday for two seasons. I was lucky enough to work at an animal refuge in my free time where I was the enrichment coach for jaguars, primates and sloths. Helping them adjust after being rescued and for those able to release back into the wild. The jaguars were the best. I spent months singing to them and just sitting still near them until they trusted me enough to crate train, play tag and hand-feed them snacks to keep their minds sharp and happy.
Once I had my daughter living in Panama wasn’t ideal so we moved back to the states where I was able to go back and forth between Miami and Panama to direct.
My love for theater is what has become my calling to direct and choreograph at all levels.
Theater was my safe place growing up and it continues to be where people can go to be themselves with no judgment, work their skills to continue on and be wonderful community members. For me, it is the birthplace of acceptance and kindness.
When I direct. Every person has a voice and is heard. Every part of my productions is inclusive and we all come out better than we came in. That’s my goal.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Moving around and having to start over in each city has been my biggest struggle. As a director, you have to build trust within your community to start making money and have a career. No one cares that you have directed at an international level and have done 500,000 budget shows if they weren’t there to see it. I am so grateful for all of the places I’ve lived and been able to direct, but the struggle of starting over each time has been the most difficult.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
My title given to me in Panama was “The Closer” I was brought into huge budget shows to take over as the directora de elenco (director of the cast) so that the director could focus on the big picture without losing communication with the cast. Once you get into tech it is hard for directors to split focus, so I was able to come in and knowing the director’s vision, was able to take over to make sure the cast was up to par, clean and pushed to their fullest potential. The communication and making sure the director’s vision was my first priority I was able to give relief to the director and producers so they could focus elsewhere knowing their cast was in trusted hands and that their vision remained.
What sets me apart is that there is no ego. In my eyes even tho I am the director I know fully that it’s all about the production. Creating a trusting work environment without ego is so important. I think some directors forget that and we need to make sure even tho we are the decision-makers it’s not about us. Which is why other directors were very comfortable bringing me in. I was not there to take over their show but to make sure what they have in their heads is what they see on stage.
As a director, you need to be a really good communicator. I see that everyone learns differently and I can figure out how they need to hear things to get the best out of them.
My new project other than directing: My partner and I Brooklyn Sample have a podcast called Moms Art Too it started as us trying to stay inspired through parenthood and we have learned that so many parents need to be reminded that just because you have created a life there is no need to give up on your own. We are on our second season and it’s a late-night format to help keep that fire burning.
If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
I feel like I was so weird growing up. I would only show up to school for enough time to be able to be in rehearsal afterward. I wasn’t a study kind of kid. I needed a practical application so school was very difficult for me.
I played pretend a lot and would stay home from school just so I could watch commercials on the daytime TV.
I had the bug early but never wanted to be noticed. My goal was to always be someone people knew of but wasn’t the star. I was the best friend of the most popular girl.. the funny one people liked having around but didn’t focus too much on.
- Private coaching and self-tapes $80 an hour in my home studio.
- Coming in as the “closer” for directors 100 a day usually no less than two weeks of rehearsals most average 4-6 weeks.
- Directors workshop 200 for 3 hours.
- Website: Momsarttoo.com
- Instagram: @melaniegilpinlee