From Fan to Social Media Star: A Chat with Laura Heywood
OnStage New York Columnist
Theatre nerds have been living vicariously through BroadwayGirlNYC's Twitter account for the past eight years. 2015 was the beginning of many exciting changes, starting with her big reveal. The joyful social media guru decided to re-introduce herself to the Broadway community as Laura Heywood and continues to champion theatre fandom one tweet at a time. I spoke with Laura about growth mindset, her job at AOL BUILD, and the three Broadway shows she's most excited to see this spring.
AR: Carol Dweck’s book “Growth Mindset: The Psychology of Success” has shaped your outlook on life. Do you have other suggestions for people who want to learn more about growth mindset after reading this book?
LH: There’s a book called “Mastery” (Robert Greene) that I love. I just read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.” I’m really into empowerment like hard work is worth it and using failure as a stepping-stone to success. I don’t read a ton of fiction, but I do love reading about the lives of people who have ended up on top but haven’t gotten there easily.
AR: Who do you follow on Twitter for inspiration?
LH: There’s a guy named Simon Sinek who’s very much in that mastery/mindset world. I really like being reminded that there’s always something I have the power to change even when I’m feeling tired. I ask myself what do I know and what action can I take even if it’s just a little thing. Simon Sinek is full of little pieces of advice. Reminding people that they have control, they have power and that’s a good thing. I’m following a lot of political figures I admire. Kirsten Gillibrand is at the top of my list and Senator Elizabeth Warren. I find that they have the actionable advice of things that I can do to help get the word out about legislation I am either for or against and that feels really important to me right now. And, of course, I follow Lin-Manuel Miranda as well.
AR: Who inspires you creatively?
LH: My biggest inspiration is a group called Story Pirates. I’m on the board of directors of this nonprofit. Story Pirates are a group of educators, actors, musicians, comedians who go into low-income elementary schools and teach creative writing and literacy workshops. Then, the kids write original stories that professional theatre artists can make into Broadway-scale productions and perform them in the communities for the kids, their teachers, their parents, their community leaders.
In a lot of these spaces, the schools themselves have zero arts programming. The kids are taught to test, which means learning isn't actually that important; what matters is their test scores. When they get the encouragement to play and use their imaginations, they see what only exist in their minds brought to life by people at the top of their game professionally. It's clear that the effect on these kids is going to drive them to expand their own belief in themselves.
Also, the writing they’re doing is AMAZING because they’ve never been taught what not to do. They’re not working within guidelines or rules or structure. Sometimes their stories make no sense and that's what makes them so brilliant. They end up teaching you something that they never intended to or that they never knew that they would. I’m very inspired by the power of silliness, play, and joy. There’s no better example of that than Story Pirates.
AR: Best professional advice you’ve been given?
Do what you love and money will come isn’t enough. Do what you love and fight like hell to get paid for it.
I’ve had and think a lot of women have trouble advocating for themselves. I was asked to give a presentation on social media for Actors’ Equity and they said, “What do you charge?” I’ve never given a presentation like that before. Because I love Equity so much, I offered to do it for free. Kate Shindle, the president of AEA, said: “We’re a labor union and we pay people for their work.” I was so glad that she said that because she and I talked about what was appropriate and they ended up paying me for my work. It was a good reminder that I was worth it, but it felt difficult to advocate for myself because, you know, I don’t want anybody to be mad at me.
What I ask myself now is, “How would a man react to this?” and a man wouldn’t say, “I don’t want Kate Shindle to be mad at me. What if Equity never wants to talk to me again?” He’d be like, “Yes, it’s work and I should get paid for it.” The advice comes from Kate Shindle who says you deserve to get paid for the work that you do.
AR: What’s your purpose in this industry?
LH: Spread joy through contagious enthusiasm.
AR: What are your top three shows you’re most excited to see this season?
LH: “Amélie”, “Groundhog Day” and “War Paint”
AR: You recently interviewed author Veronica Roth (“Divergent” series) on AOL BUILD. It was very interesting to me because you steered away from your trademark theatre brand. Is that something you’re looking to expand in the future?
LH: Absolutely! My background is in journalism that has nothing to do with Broadway. I worked at Sirius XM Radio for 10 years, before that I was doing sports talk in San Francisco.I created the BroadwayGirl Twitter account because my professional experience gave me no access at that moment to Broadway. I’ve found that because I’ve become so publicly known related to the BroadwayGirl name that it’s hard sometimes to get people to understand that my expertise is much wider than just Broadway.I’d say that it’s a very beautiful, very comfortable, really fun pigeonhole and I have started putting my real name first. I’ve been saying, “I’m Laura Heywood, I run the BroadwayGirl social media accounts,” instead of saying, “I’m BroadwayGirlNYC” because that’s just a portion of what I do. I’m aiming in 2017 to expand my professional visibility beyond just Broadway but never considering leaving Broadway behind.
For more information on AOL's BUILD Series, go to www.build.aol.com. Follow Laura on Twitter @BroadwayGirlNYC and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Broadwaygirlnyc.