United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.
Image Courtesy of Louise Casini Hollis
Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Louise Casini Hollis.
Affiliation(s) (past and present): University of Memphis, Virginia Commonwealth University, Memphis Arts Council, Memphis/Shelby County Schools, Spotlight News and numerous other schools and theatres.
How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?
I have 19 years of teaching experience, having taught students from 5-73 in grade schools, universities, and theatrical arts programs. Officially I started doing theatre in high school, after having begged to take an acting class at Theatre Memphis when I was 12. I loved it and am fortunate to be friends with the woman who taught me. I had always loved acting and my high school English teacher noticed I had a "flair" for it when I came in to do my Julius Caesarmemory work, so I found myself in what I think they called "drama gifted", a term you can easily argue is a talent of any teenager. When I went to college, I wanted to be to an English professor and do stream of consciousness writing. I found out quickly I didn't want to talk about other people's writing all my life and that my stream of consciousness writing was better left in my head! Ultimately, I realized I was interested in exploring the world by experiencing other's viewpoints rather than reading and writing about them, so flipped my English major to a minor and Theatre to my major. I always wanted to teach, so the teaching profession was a natural progression after college. I enjoy breaking down the pieces of something and showing how it works. My favorite teaching jobs have been as Assistant Director of Education at Playhouse on the Square and teaching the Creative Dramatics class at The University of Memphis to elementary and secondary teachers. In both these positions I was able to show how reading, writing, math, history, science, music dance and the visual arts can all be learned by experience. You remember information better by experiencing it.
How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?
I have been here almost 13 years now. My husband is an aerospace engineer at NASA Langley Research Center. One thing we realized early on is that a career in the arts will not earn as much as a career in engineering, so his job's location is our guide. Fortunately, I like Hampton Roads and the arts community.
What advice would you give young women going into your field?
They ask you in school, "Do you love it?" because both teaching and theatre are a lot of work. They require a lot of giving of one's self, and then giving some more, and then a little extra. So, you really have to love theatre, love teaching, love discovery, and love the adventure of helping others discover. There is not a lot of money to be had in theatre or teaching but to see the "ah" moment in your students or actors as they bloom is priceless. And sometimes they thank you!
Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?
I thrive when I'm productive and will jump in and lead when I sense that is needed. I've found that makes some people uncomfortable. They expect women to be more "genteel" and defer to others for decisions. I have learned I have to tread lightly to make some people comfortable. As an actor and director, I have experienced this when people give more weight to a men's requests and opinions than women's. Also, there have been instances I have witnessed and experienced when men have received more respect for their thoughts and efforts than women. I have seen this male favoritism from both sexes. What's interesting is that in theatre we have more conversations about bias, but despite acknowledging it, sexism is still present. Which means we all still have a lot of work to do.
Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as an artist? In what ways?
I was offered my dream job, something I could do really well, when my daughter was six years old, and I had to turn it down because neither of us were ready for me to have a bridge and tunnel commute when she was at such a young age. It felt unprofessional to be asking my prospective employer for what I needed, which would be flexibility to be present for her when needed like occasionally picking her up early or helping out a morning at school. Normal "Mommy" things. I don't know if they would have been supportive, but it felt unprofessional to ask for that, and so I bowed out. If one good thing can come out of COVID, I hope it is that we see the need, and can be more supportive, of parent's needs to balance work and family commitments. I am a very hard worker and give things my all, and I need the support from above that says, "It's ok to be a mother. It's ok to put your child first. You are a person outside of this organization." I hope that can change in our society. I hope we embrace balance. And I hope that there will be something equally exciting for me career-wise. The time I spend with her is important, and I'm happy to be a present parent. Ultimately, I want the work environment to be better for her when she becomes a parent, too.
Any closing thoughts?
I feel very fortunate to write for Spotlight News and have the opportunity to launch the Women of Note project. I went to BA with an idea, and said, "I want to do this," and she listened and said, "That's great! And we can go bigger!" It's not everyday someone can see your vision, say yes, and then add to in a way that makes the project bigger and better than you had dreamed. Collaboration is such an important part of creating and it is such a joy to see this idea bloom and have real support. I hope it inspires and encourages women everywhere.
Know a Woman of Note that should be featured? Please email us at Spotlighthrnews@gmail.com