Inspirational Women In Hollywood: How Choreographer Kathryn Roszak Aims To Address The Challenges Faced By Women Artists
The very thing that may seem like a “problem,” may be where your true strength lies. Go into that place. Explore. That the reward for oneself lies there. The expectation of women is often that they should conform, hold back, do what is satisfying and expected by men/society. Don’t expect approval for this. It may be a lonely path. Quite a few men will not really be interested in your work but rather will want you to be their “Pygmalion” project or want to guide and direct you rather than the other way around.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Roszak. She performed for many years with the San Francisco Opera Ballet, and has danced with San Francisco Ballet. She has performed, choreographed and taught at the American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, San Francisco Opera Center, California Shakespeare Festival, and Berkeley Symphony with Kent Nagano. She created and produced original works for the Goethe Institute/San Francisco Mozart Festival, Theatre Artaud, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Roszak is an Artist in Residence at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California where she serves on the Choreography panel, and produces the annual Women Ballet Choreographers and Composers Residency.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I had a very unusual upbringing having been brought up mostly in Berkeley, California with parents who were writers and artists: My father was Theodore Roszak, the author of the best-selling “ The Making of a Counter Culture” and “Flicker,” secret history of the movies. My mother Betty Roszak is a feminist, author with my father of “Masculine/Feminine” and she is a published poet. I was brought up in the tumultuous sixties, meeting many leaders of the day such as Buddhist Alan Watts and activist Daniel Ellsberg (“The Pentagon Papers.”) and I was encouraged to go into the arts as a dancer.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I danced for many years with the San Francisco Opera Ballet and was always drawn to choreography and film. My parents both sat at desks and I wanted something physically active and collaborative. My father was a huge fan of the movies. Two movies he took me to that stand out were “Gone with the Wind” and “2001.” I “lived” these movies and saw the power of film to tell stories.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There are many intriguing stories and most of them involve meeting fascinating people and seeing a possible way to work with them. I met internationally acclaimed author Isabel Allende at a breast cancer fundraising dinner in Sausalito, California. I told her I was a dancer and she offered to send me one of her books. I thought she might not remember but the next week her book “ The House of the Spirits” arrived signed to me. I later wrote to her and said I was inspired to create a ballet and she gave me permission to develop it. In 2021, I plan to show a highlight of this ballet at a new dance series I am curating at the Berkeley Art Museum which will be presented live and also we hope digitally. In terms of film, it was discovering one of the stars of my short film “Agent Femme” jazz violinist Mads Tolling in a little jazz bar Divino’s in Sausalito. Mads is a two-time Grammy Award winner and Divino’s owner Elizabeth had been trying to get him to play there for years. I just happened to go there on a Thursday night and saw him perform. The jazz bar then became a location for my female action-adventure film still in production.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once entered the wrong scene in the San Francisco Opera where I was dancing. It was a fully choreographed scene for the chorus in “La Forza del Destino” complete with marching and singing. I entered with a fellow dancer and we were dead center stage in full view of the conductor Maestro Kurt Herbert Adler who frowned and glared at two dancers who were faking it. I learned to look before I leap.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to my teachers. I had a ballet teacher who was also a woman choreographer, Jeannde Herst, and that inspired me. I think friends can spur you on, and can sometimes even be an indirect muse, mentioning people, places, or ideas to pursue. It’s important to tune to influences that may be indirect.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact, perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?
I believe it was Tennyson who said something along the lines of “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” It’s very important to reach your ideal. You will never know otherwise. It’s important to be courageous. If there is someone you want to learn from or involve in your work, make every effort to meet them. Develop your network and then have something of value or interest to say or offer when you are in front of the people you wish to involve.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am the founder and producer of the annual Women Ballet Choreographers and Composers Residency held every year at the internationally acclaimed Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California. This year we went digital and we are producing a conversation with Wendy Whelan, Associate Artistic Director of New York City Ballet and Victoria Morgan, Artistic Director of Cincinnati Ballet. The conversation centers on challenges faced by women artists. We plan to release the interview and others with San Francisco Bay Area directors and composers on the Djerassi website.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
If you can’t see it, you can’t be it (Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s “Miss Representation”). Also, diversity allows for a variety of points of view. I believe audiences value diverse stories and don’t desire a monoculture. My latest film employs women producers and cinematographers. Though this is behind-the-scenes, it’s important in the making of a film to include women’s perspectives.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. I wish I’d been told it would be ok to fail. Being a ballet dancer is all about seeking perfection but to create you need to experiment, and for women the competition is fierce and there isn’t room to fail. Many women do not have that opportunity. They aren’t forgiven for failing and aren’t always given a second opportunity.
2. To have the courage to ask for help. Often, we think we have to solve everything ourselves but others often have an idea or observation that can be very revealing.
3. Don’t stick with something after it’s losing some of its initial vitality, inspiration. So often, we stay with what is familiar when we may need to depart.
4. By the same token, lead from your strengths. Go as far as possible in finding, developing, and expressing your unique voice and ideas. There is no competition there-only your own.
5. The very thing that may seem like a “problem,” may be where your true strength lies. Go into that place. Explore. That the reward for oneself lies there. The expectation of women is often that they should conform, hold back, do what is satisfying and expected by men/society. Don’t expect approval for this. It may be a lonely path. Quite a few men will not really be interested in your work but rather will want you to be their “Pygmalion” project or want to guide and direct you rather than the other way around.
Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
1. I walk and hike the stairs of Sausalito, California
2. I value reading novels, short stories, poetry, having a conversation and going to hear live music, theater, and dance.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ram Dass said it: “Be Here Now” Because this moment is what we have.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I hope that my work of highlighting women’s’ stories and success will promote more women being hired and supported in their fields. Ultimately, we want to understand that the world is richer when we do hear from and include women who are more than half the human race!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Martin Scorsese as I’d love to discuss his body of work with him and why the ballet film “The Red Shoes” is one of his favorites. Similarly, I’d like to meet Viggo Mortensen, as he is a Renaissance person. I’d like to know how each of them would advise a woman in film.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
About The Interviewer: Karina Michel Feld is the Owner and Executive Producer of Tallulah Films. Karina has 20+ years of experience in TV, film, and print and is a respected member of The Producers Guild of America. The mission of Tallulah Films is to bring together directors, entrepreneurs, film investors, and screenwriters to produce award-winning TV and film projects. Tallulah Films continues to be drawn towards films that are meaningful, influential, and uplifting. Karina is also Co-Owner and CFO of Fresh Patch LLC (as seen on ABC’s “Shark Tank”), which has been featured in Authority Magazine, Oprah’s Favorite Things, Reader’s Digest International, The Today Show, Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend, Thrive Global, M, Celebrity Hautespot, Buzzfeed, TRESA, Fupping, Forbes, Elle Magazine, and The Brazilian Times.