Welcome to DELVE Interviews, a look into the unique paths of artistic and creative individuals. These conversations are a branch of our DELVE Workshops and Events, where we celebrate and discover everyone's unique paths as artistic and creative forces.
**Join us for our next DELVE: Comedy + Art event on Tuesday, Feburary 3rd at Made in NY Media Center by IFP in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Get tickets here!**
Today we're excited to be speaking with Susannah Bohlke, a Nebraska-born, Brooklyn-based comedy writer. She is a writer for the PITtv house team Waterbirth, producing videos on a monthly basis for the PIT’s online video channel. She has also written and performed with the all-female sketch team Doctors Quinn, Medicine Women and the Mutual Appreciation Society at the People’s Improv Theatre. Videos she’s written have been featured on Jezebel.com, The Daily Dot, Cheezburger.com’s Fail Blog, Serial Optimist, Yahoo Screen, Right This Minute and more. She lives with her cat, Wizard.
Thank you, Susannah, for sharing your story with us!
Can you describe your path in the creative industry – from where and when you began, until now?
My path looks something like a google maps search history from a scavenger hunt. A little indirect, but still enjoyable.
Growing up, I was always involved in creative activities. I think I first got the bug when my story “The Christmas Kitten” was published in the town newspaper when I was seven (you’ll never guess what it’s about). When I was in junior high and high school I did a lot of theatre and my friends and I were huge fans of making videos for class assignments. They weren’t always on point and usually involved a mannequin and Bob Saget, but I like to think we got bonus points for our creativity.
I studied literature in college and after graduating and holding a few odd jobs, I ended up working as a grant writer for the nonprofit gallery Storefront for Art and Architecture. This lead to a crash course in non-profit management, development, and arts administration and I’ve continued to work in that field since.
During my 20s, I worked with a lot of artists and design professionals, but I had been putting my own creative aspirations on the back burner. Actually, the back burner still gets a little heat: my creative work was essentially in a locked walk-in freezer at a Sizzler closed for health violations. I’d see things and think, I could do that!, but then a raspy voice that sounded like a cross between a parrot and that competitive friend you keep thinking of unfriending kept taunting “Yeah right!”
Finally, in the peak of my upper-mid-late 20s, I defrosted the freezer and started taking classes in writing and illustration. The derisive voice had developed laryngitis. I took a children’s book writing class at the School of Visual Arts and also took the sketch writing program at the People’s Improv Theatre (The PIT). I continued to write and perform with groups of friends and then I was placed as a writer on the PITtv team Waterbirth, producing monthly videos for the theatre’s online video channel.
I’ve continued to take classes and work on creative projects, but I still balance it with my full-time professional job. Luckily, I work in an office where no one bats an eyelash if I have a disassembled mannequin behind my desk leftover from a video shoot.
Can you describe a day, or week, in your professional life?
I work full-time, so adding in opportunities for creative work has forced me to crack the whip on my schedule. But as much as I’m the merciless gym teacher with a monogrammed brass whistle expecting my calendar to do 500 squats without its inhaler, I also have to turn my hat and be the cool substitute who tells jokes during Algebra. That is to say, I have a strict schedule, but creativity requires unstructured time. I’ve found ways to use small windows during my work week. My daily subway ride can be a brainstorming session or a chance to wrap-up drafts. It’s amazing what can be accomplished during your lunch break!
After work (and a really productive lunch hour), my night might include a writer’s meeting, a class, or time for writing. I like to reserve at least five hours over my weekends for uninterrupted work blocks, but sometimes that block becomes a twelve hour video shoot. I also keep a calendar placeholder for a quarterly “personal board meeting” where I put on a blazer and look deeply into the soul of my many unfinished projects. This is when I prioritize, cut, and make plans about projects over a longer timeline.
What is your favorite project that you've worked on?
Tough question! I once photoshopped and hand-crafted twenty imitation Yogi tea boxes for a video sketch. My favorite moment in a project is where you cross the brink from what is necessary and you’re into what is special. All of those fake tea boxes have the same lining as the real Yogi tea boxes, but I don’t think you can ever see that in the final edit.
What's the most valuable lesson you've learned from managing all of your projects?
Share your work. I have so many half-baked projects that I’ve barely shared. But when I started sketch writing, I learned that it is a collaborative process where sharing is essential. It’s really easy to get stuck in the private hall of mirrors of an idea, only reflecting back on yourself, about yourself, with yourself. Invite people in! Perspective is an amazing thing.
Share the work. What you do with the help or input of other people will almost always be better than what you do on your own. Collaborating and working with other people is really important.
Don’t be precious about your ideas. Even if your idea is so perfect and shiny and amazing that it can turn blenders into hummer limos, it might need to be cut. No idea is more powerful than the red pen. Editing is your friend. Embrace it.
What advice do you often find yourself giving to the artists that you work with?
Don’t be precious. See above.
Drink as your pour. (I don’t remember where I first came upon that phrase and an internet search only lead me to a cocktail recipe!). It’s easy to overextend yourself and put your all into a project, but it’s just as important to nurture yourself.
Play your hand. You don’t decide what you’re dealt, but use what you have and get in the game. (The character Douglas Wambaugh from Picket Fences said something along those lines in an episode, so I always hear this in the voice of Fyvush Finkel.)
And finally, where is one of your favorite places to go to be inspired?
Google image search!
I also love looking at lists. From researching horse breeds to colonial ailments, you’ll find something inspiring. My favorite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lists_of_lists
Away from my desk: I don’t travel as much as I would like to, but I’ve had some pretty illuminating moments at airport bars.