Forever a Cyclone: Caitlin Clements (’07)

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Tony Award-winner Caitlin Clements was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and is a Casady “Lifer.” While at Casady, she was chosen to attend the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, where she was a Film and Video student. She majored in Film Studies at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, as a recipient of the 1693 Scholars merit-based scholarship. She completed her Master’s degree in Cinema Studies at New York University and began assisting with various Broadway shows.

Ms. Clements has been involved with the musical Dear Evan Hansen since it began workshops and readings in 2014. By 2017, she won a Tony Award for co-producing Dear Evan Hansen, and the show won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. 

Dear Evan Hansen is the story of a socially awkward high schooler who feels invisible. A tragic event and a misunderstanding lead to Evan’s opportunity to be somebody else. The show is about belonging, and it has appealed to audiences across North America and internationally. The musical is currently scheduled to perform in Oklahoma City on February 2-7, 2021. 

My interview with Ms. Clements quickly revealed she is intelligent, humble, and incredibly kind. She reflects on her time at Casady, shares what it’s like to be a Broadway producer, and gives great advice to Casady students. 

Reflecting on your time as a Casady “lifer” what were the most valuable lessons you learned that helped prepare you for college and your career?

Ms. Clements: On a very practical level, Casady prepared me for college life in a way I could have never even fully grasped until I was immersed in it.  The expectations and benefits of a Casady education meant that, from the very beginning, a college course load felt more manageable. I was already equipped with skills in organization, collaboration, time management, and problem solving. Casady also prepared me for the rigors and the fulfilling joys of an intimate classroom setting with lots of personal and meaningful faculty interaction. It was never daunting to be called upon spontaneously to offer an opinion in class, or to engage in an in-depth office hours dialogue with a professor, because that’s something I’d already become acclimated with during my formative years, thanks to the Casady educational experience. 

In terms of my career, some of the incredible Casady faculty members were the first to instill in me an appreciation for the power of great storytelling in its many forms.  From my earliest reading and English classes in the Lower and Middle Divisions, to the more specialized film and photography classes I was fortunate to experience in the Upper Division, I always had teachers who helped make stories come alive, and have a real resonance in the lives of myself and my classmates.  Now that storytelling is a crucial component of my profession, I’m keenly aware of the foundation that my earliest educational experiences laid for me. 

You attended undergraduate school at William & Mary as a distinguished 1693 scholar. Could you please share what that program was like for Casady students who might be interested?

Ms. Clements:  William & Mary delivered all I could have dreamed of, and so much more, when it comes to an undergraduate experience. Peers who unfailingly matched my own level of inquisitiveness; professors who would become lifelong mentors and friends; an engaged,  enthusiastic, and civic-minded student body; gorgeous and historic trappings that are steeped in tradition.  Sound too good to be true?  Yes, I would have thought so as well, until I had the great fortune of experiencing it first-hand.  A truly wonderful four years that I wouldn’t trade for anything, despite having initially been pulled in many different directions when it came down to making my college decision.  

I’m also pleased to report that all of this is true for any William & Mary student, not just the small group involved in the 1693 Scholars program. That program was truly just the icing on the cake of a delectable experience. In fact, I had ultimately found myself ready to commit to William & Mary without knowing I would receive the scholarship. That said, should any Casady students have the chance to submit a supplemental essay or participate in an interview for the program, they should absolutely do so, without question. Having that smaller community within an already incredible overall campus meant the world, and has given me an even more intimate and engaged alumni base to stay connected with over the years.  Plus, the 1693 Scholars program funded my feature length honors thesis film thanks to a generous research stipend. How many student filmmakers have that kind of good fortune?

How did you know what you wanted to do as a career, and how old were you when you realized this? 

Ms. Clements:  Haha, mine was a very winding path indeed. Had you told me as a middle schooler, or a high schooler, or even an undergraduate that I was ultimately destined for a career in theatre, I would have never believed you. While I was always an appreciator of, and sometimes even a dabbler in, the arts in all its many forms, I was never really the quintessential “theatre kid.”  I occasionally ran spotlights or assisted with props for the Fee Theatre productions, but that’s mostly because I liked the faculty or I had friends involved. All the way into graduate school, I was a “film kid” through and through.  (And I still am, really.)  However, when I moved to New York to pursue my Masters at NYU, I soon learned how my many interests and skill sets could overlap, and apply to more than one industry and art form. I definitely have Casady to thank for laying that foundation, and for exposing me to so many different areas of the arts – orchestra, creative writing, video production, photography, ceramics, choir, stagecraft, film theory & criticism… just to name a few.  I still thrive on taking an interest, either professionally or just as an enthusiast, in a great many facets of the arts all at once, and I think I’m better at my job because of it. 

Congratulations on winning a Tony Award for co-producing Dear Evan Hansen! What was that experience like for you?

Ms. Clements:  Thank you! It’s been an utterly surreal ride from the very first time we sat in a near-empty rehearsal room in 2014 and heard the cast read a draft of the show aloud for the very first time. And then to travel and help support the show, its cast and creators, wherever the journey has led… to DC for its world premiere, then back “home” to New York, then to Toronto, and on tour to cities across North America (hitting OKC in 2021!) and most recently to London’s West End. The Dear Evan Hansen family has grown and evolved over those years, but has remained incredibly tight knit through it all, and those bonds have truly made the whole experience. 

What are your responsibilities as a producer for Dear Evan Hansen?

Ms. Clements:  I work as Associate Producer in the office of Dear Evan Hansen’s lead producer, and that’s a role that has evolved right alongside the production. In the early days, it involved organizing readings and workshops that were the first steps in the show’s development, or helping coordinate investment documents alongside our general management office. Then, planning opening nights, special events, and cultivating relationships with some of the show’s marketing and not-for-profit partners.  

Please describe a typical work day as a producer for Dear Evan Hansen.

Ms. Clements:  Some of the roles mentioned still factor into my day-to-day, especially when it comes to the not-for-profit partnerships.  We learned from early days that Dear Evan Hansen had something to contribute to the mental health conversation.  Our audience was telling us that consistently in their reactions to the show. Thus, I’m honored to act as a liaison between the show and the many incredible mental health organizations we’ve become connected with, both here and in the UK, and to help continue to find ways for us to support and collaborate with them. 

A large part of my day-to-day also involves the creating and maintaining [of] the show’s digital presence, so that we always continue the conversation with our audience. This work is done alongside our incredible digital agency, and consists of video content, weekly social posts and recurring series, initiatives involving cast members in our three companies, supporting industry-wide charitable projects, etc.  This element of the work has taken on a whole different meaning now that Broadway is in the midst of a COVID-19 hiatus, and our social platforms remain the only way, for now, that we can still engage with our amazing global fan base. 

What advice do you have for students who would like to pursue a career with theater, and in particular to become a producer?

Ms. Clements:  Fear not if you think you got started too late, or you aren’t “in the know.”  This is an industry where, if you demonstrate passion, a work ethic, and a willingness to learn, you’ll likely find someone who’s excited to embrace you and show you the ropes. If you’re a Casady student, you’ve probably already got all of those attributes covered, so don’t be afraid to make your interests known – to pivot and follow a new path that you think might be summoning you. 

What is the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned while being a producer?

Ms. Clements:  I talked earlier about the familial vibe that permeates the entire world of Dear Evan Hansen, and it’s truly so important. Before I began working in producing, I worked as an Assistant Company Manager “in the trenches” at the theatre, present for nearly all of the eight shows a week. I kept an odd schedule and my social life was a bit stunted, but it was the most valuable experience in really grasping the nuances of the role that every single person plays on a production. From the box office to the ushers, the managers to the dressers, right down to the team that guards the stage door. The show truly wouldn’t go on without every single one of them. 

When you work in producing, you often end up keeping more regular “9 to 5” office hours and aren’t necessarily at the theatre for every single show. Those experiences in my early years have continued to prove valuable in ensuring that every single person in the family knows that you know their worth, and that they’re appreciated for the integral role that they play.  

What advice do you have for Casady students preparing for college and trying to figure out what career they want to pursue?

Ms. Clements:  Don’t be afraid to try it all in college:  classes, clubs, etc.  It’s easy to go in with a sense of “this is my major and this is my path and I can’t afford to deviate.”  It may prove that you were right all along, but I hope you take the time to deviate a bit anyway.  There’s a chance you find some wholly new path you never expected and yet find utterly fulfilling. If not, you’ll still have gleaned another layer of your diverse and valuable experience that will make you a more informed and well-rounded leader on the path you do pursue.