The Theatrical Culinary Project, founded by Marlo Hunter, merges theater and gastronomy in an immersive experience. Collaborating with Chef Carla Hall, the project intertwines a play with a four-course meal, engaging all five senses of the audience. Originally inspired by Hunter’s Eating Their Words events, the project aims for a New York production and global expansion. Hunter’s journey, from choreography to directing and now film, reflects her dedication to storytelling across various mediums and her commitment to supporting fellow freelancers through workshops like The Freelance Artist’s Manifesto.

On this episode of the Thought Talk podcast, Karen speaks with Marlo Hunter, successful New York director, choreographer, and now Co-Creator & Founder of The Culinary Project an immersive play in development with chef Carla Hall from The Chew. Hunter also coaches creative entrepreneurs on how to make the freelance life work from a business perspective. In the podcast Hunter shares her own journey as a freelance artist, and also shares some of the challenges creative entrepreneurs face – and what they can do about it.

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The Theatrical Culinary Project

My guest is Marlo Hunter. She is the Co-Creator and Founder of The Theatrical Culinary Project in New York. She’s also a Director and a Choreographer of plays and musicals on an Off-Broadway. Marlo, welcome. I’m so happy you could join me.

Happy to be here.

We met because we have a mutual friend in common who’s also a director. When she told me about you and what you do, I was fascinated. Your most recent project is The Theatrical Culinary Project, correct?

Yes, it is.

I would love it if you could talk a little bit about what that is because it’s quite unusual.

The Theatrical Culinary Project is an immersive play in development that in an unprecedented manner, allows five esteemed playwrights to collaborate with Chef Carla Hall, who people may know from The Chew and from Top Chef. She was a fan favorite on Top Chef. We’re creating a play that incorporates all five senses. The audience would be submerged in a restaurant setting and as the play takes place around them in the room, they’re also experiencing a four-course meal created by Carla that mirrors the dramatic themes of the play. Her menu itself is a story.

Is this taking place in New York or other parts of the country?

We’ve been in development since 2015. The goal is to have a production in New York, but ideally, we would also love to have this run in various cities around the world.

What was the genesis of this? How did you get this idea?

In 2008, I founded a company called Eating Their Words. My goal was to see if chefs and playwrights could speak the same language and create a play with words and food that was greater than the sum of its parts. As a developer of new work and as a foodie, I had been looking for a way to marry those two passions. I did one night only events at restaurants in New York where a chef would collaborate with three playwrights and each writer would write a short play, a ten to fifteen-minute scene corresponding to an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. The actors in these plays would eat the course that was created for that play, and then the audience would experience that course in between the plays. It’s a little bit hard to wrap your head around if you haven’t experienced it, but they’re really exciting.

My goal was always to see if there was a way to expand the concept into a full evening, like a one play that had literary weight. I shelved it because it was so massive and hadn’t been done before until I met a producer and actress Sasha Eden in 2011, who had been the Co-Founder of WET Productions, which was an Off-Broadway theater company that developed and produced the work of female playwrights very successfully. We met up and I told her about this idea I had. She asked me what my dream production was and she became really fascinated by the idea. As a foodie herself and a Top Chef fanatic, Sasha, in a moment of great clarity and insight, called me one day and said, “I know who the perfect chef is for this project. It’s Carla Hall.” I said, “Do you know her?” She said, “I do not, but I have no problem cold calling her and seeing if she’d be interested in this.” At this point, Sasha was very onboard with developing this with me. Together, we started to create this vision, The Theatrical Culinary Project, which we had not yet named at that point. As fate would have it, Sasha was riding a subway about two weeks later and the doors opened on the L-train and it was empty except for Carla Hall.
Sasha has an uncanny way of manifesting things, so in some ways, it wasn’t all that surprising while it was simultaneously very surprising. They got to talking because Carla loves speaking to people on the train. Sasha went that night to an event that Carla was curating where she was pairing her menu with the movie Memento at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. On the train, Sasha didn’t exactly let her know what we’ve been cooking up, but she expressed her admiration. Then after she experienced that meal and saw how creatively-minded Carla was, she approached her and said, “I’m working on this project. Here’s the concept.” Carla said, “I have chills. This is my dream. I have always loved the theater and want to do something with food and theater.” We met and hit it off. We’ve been developing this ever since with a group of extraordinary playwrights who are diverse in every sense of the word, bringing such varied perspectives and humor and pathos to this play that comedically explores power dynamics, class and bias in America.

I particularly love that she ran into her on the subway. You know you’re on the right track when that happens. It’s interesting because in your career, I know you’re the Co-Creator and the Founder of The Culinary Project, but you’re also in your own right quite a successful choreographer and director.

I’ve been directing and choreographing professionally for nearly nineteen years now in New York and in the regions.

You were the winner of the Callaway Award for Excellence in Choreography on Unlock’d, which is a take in an Off-Broadway musical.

It ran at the Duke Theater in 2013. Prospect Theater Company produced it and it was a very special project to me.

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Theatrical Culinary Project: You don’t have comedy unless there’s some truth in conflict or pain.

We’re in a time where there’s a lot of talk about women and equality for women in the workplace. Is it unfair of me to say or fair of me to say that female directors on Broadway are fairly rare?

They’re rarer, but hopefully, getting less rare. Certainly, there are fewer of them.

Have you found that challenging in your career in being a stage director, or is that something that you’re navigating without much issue?

When I was going through it, I chose to believe that it wasn’t a factor because I grew up in environments and academic environments where my voice was heard equally. That was the dynamic of my family, my hometown, and the schools that I went to. I didn’t think about it but in looking back, I do realize that it played a fairly significant role in shaping my career. Primarily, it’s very unusual for people to come to stage directing first. Most people start out as performers or sometimes they start as choreographers and then they transition over. Most people assume, and this is how I’ve learned that the narrative of this was impacted at least partially by my gender, that I started as a choreographer and transitioned into directing, which is not true.
I knew I wanted to be a director from the time I was a child before I even understood what a director did. I started taking my first directing classes at theater camp when I was fourteen, and then went to a boarding school that had a robust theater department and directed plays first there in small black box settings. In college, I was directing and simultaneously choreographing the shows that I directed because I had that skill set as well. When I came out of college and directly to New York, I decided to forego MFA. That was not a path I wanted to take.
I came out and found that I definitely was getting choreography work but not directing work out of the gate. That was very confusing to me because I had always considered myself a director first. Not only was I a woman but I am 4’10.5”. I looked about sixteen when I graduated college. I do think that there was and is a stigma about a young-looking woman in the eyes of a hiring party. Whether it was conscious or subconscious, they maybe didn’t feel confident handing a project over to me at that time. I could also say that maybe I wasn’t working with the right people. To be fair, it’s hard to know, but I do know that the trajectory of my career at that point was that choreography work was much easier to come by.
I kept forging forward and that’s why I founded Eating their Words when I did. I was getting to a point where I was feeling a little bit pigeonholed. The craft of choreography is an extraordinary thing and I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who that is their primary focus as an artist, it wasn’t mine. I felt like I was being misidentified and that my career wasn’t within my control in some ways in terms of what I wanted to say as an artist. I started this company, so I could say what I wanted to say on my terms and see where it went.
The beautiful thing about the circuitous routes of an artist in theater or any other medium is that I thought it was dead in the water. I started that in ’08, ’09 when the economy collapsed. I couldn’t keep it running forward and I thought, “That must be the end of it, and that’s too bad because I had this vision for it.” Then I met Sasha and she forged forward with the idea and believed in the concept and we created The Theatrical Culinary Project together. Now, it lives. We’re working towards bringing it to life as I’ve always imagined it. It’s exciting and it goes to show you that you have to stick with it and find the right people.

It’s interesting because I noticed that when I was looking at your resume, you’re the Associate Director for Clueless, which is coming to Broadway, correct?


It’s been intended to go to Broadway.

I believe that is the goal is to bring it in. Who knows if it will go to a regional theater first and then come in or what the producers want for it, but yes, we have done a developmental lab and several readings for the project.

You were the director of choreography on a new musical that opened in Pittsburgh. It had its world premiere in Pittsburgh, Up and Away. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Up and Away runs at Pittsburgh CLO. It is a phenomenal new musical comedy, a retelling of the origin story of the world’s first superhero. The real beauty of this production is that it celebrates its medium. It was written by Kevin Hammonds and Kristin Bair with the intention of leaning into good old-fashioned stage craft. They thought, “What better way to do that than with a superhero story?” In part, it was a response to Spider-Man on Broadway and the amount of money that went into that production to tell a fantastical story. They wanted to see if that kind of story could be told using our imaginations without any special effects. There are no wires in our production, but there’s probably fifteen to twenty times that our superheroes fly. Nobody actually flies, but we’ve found fifteen different ways to make it seem like they are flying. The audience is in on it. They understand the rules of the world and they are loving it. It’s so well-crafted in terms of the writing of the project. Our cast is phenomenal. My team was great and I had a blast. It’s a show I’m proud of and is close to my heart.

[Tweet “The show belongs to the actors once it opens.”]

You’ve directed musicals and you have directed straight plays. It seems like you have a real love for musicals, as I do. Is that correct? Are musicals the thing that gets your heart, even more than stage plays?

You tend to get work where you’ve done work successfully before and I have more of a proven track record industry-wise in musical theater. I tend to work more regularly in musical theater, but I certainly find plays equally fulfilling in a very different way. I’m looking at this juncture to be able to work on more straight plays. I would never give up musical theater, but I’d like it to be more of a norm and not an or.

In general, what are one or two of your favorite musicals out of the musicals you’ve ever seen? The actual material that you go, “That was an amazing musical. That was a fantastic example of what a musical should be.”

I am very fond of A New Brain by William Finn. A Chorus Line will always hold a very special place in my heart. The Book of Mormon in the contemporary canon is probably one of my favorite musicals. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in the theater before or after that production. Once On This Island is also a show.

Which revived on Broadway.

It’s an exquisite production by my friend, Michael Arden.

How about some of your favorite plays?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. Another show that I directed in college and I’ve had a fascination with wanting to get back to ever since is Nöel Coward’s Hay Fever, which is not one of his most produced plays, but the dysfunctional family dynamic is something I am very drawn to and the way that the sadness of all of these people is couched in ingenious humor. I love Proof. Those are probably my favorite plays.

You mentioned that you love some of the family dynamics in that play. What kind of stories are you most drawn to as a director and what kind of stories do you want to investigate?

Whenever I’m asked this question I have the same answer, and yet it’s not the shows that I end up working on so much. Dysfunctional family dynamics are my favorite kind of work to investigate. Many of us come from dysfunctional families. I have always, in my life, turned to humor or try to find humor in every situation as a means for survival, strength and perspective. In my personal life and in my professional life, I am always on a quest to understand and empathize with varying perspectives in a family dynamic that otherwise seem incomprehensible. At first glance, you couldn’t imagine how somebody could behave that way, but I love the idea of trying to get inside the minds and backgrounds of people in a family structure.
I find families to be the strangest and most universal subject matter. A group of people, some of whom chose each other but chose each other at a time before they changed into the people they are now and then produced more people who aren’t necessarily people you would like or choose, yet you’re all living in this one space together and you’re being told that nothing is more important than the people around you. It is so bizarre, fascinating, compelling and emotionally rife. In terms of the work I want to be doing on plays, understanding our bias towards people in a family and in a culture and striving to have empathy where you otherwise might not.

Do you feel that that informs the pieces that you choose to direct?

It informs everything that I do as a director, even when I’m working. This is going to seem totally antithetical, but I do work a lot on broad musical comedies. I am very particular about ensuring that those comedies are rooted in truth. You don’t have comedy unless there’s some truth in conflict or pain. If it’s just fluff, if it’s just a gag for the sake of a gag, I’ll never go for it. I’ll never understand it. Sometimes I get flack or frustration from my teams with love, about why I’m asking so many tough questions when it’s just a light comedic moment, but at the end of the day, if none of us understand how the stakes are so high that that character needs to be doing that action that results in a moment of hilarity, then I can’t get behind it. I don’t know how to guide it. That kind of investigative work informs everything I do, whether it’s a broad comedy or a drama.

You’ve made the switch to film. I know you’re directing a feature film, American Reject. I’m not sure when it’s coming out but can you talk a little bit about that?

It’s very exciting. This is my first feature film. It is called American Reject. It’s written by Kathleen Monteleone and Jeffery Self and it’s being produced by Full Armor Films. We’re shooting this spring. The goal is a release and that it would make the festival rounds in the fall and next winter for release in 2019. It’s a music comedy. It’s not a musical, but it is a story about a woman who is on a reality TV show, akin to American idol, and America votes her off. She’s America’s newest loser. The show decides that they need some more content and so they’re following some of the losers around to do a segment called After the Final Cut. She was selected to go back to her hometown, which is not the image she wants America to see. That’s not how she wants to put herself forward. She’s very embarrassed by that place. She discovers that losing is the only way to win.

What’s the most exciting thing for you about moving into film directing?

Before I went into theater, I had fought my whole life, my whole life being my 21-year-old-life. I was going to be a filmmaker. I’ve always been cinematically minded and sometimes, even when I’m working on shows, sometimes I think cinematically and then I have to translate that into staging essentially and production design for stage. In some ways, I’m naturally suited for it but I’m very excited about being able to tell stories with more visual emphasis and with more subtlety than theater allows, and also to be able to capture the entirety of the story in a way that can’t be shifted. What I love about theater is that it’s a fresh performance every night. The show belongs to the actors once it opens. It should and it’s a beautiful thing. They take it, they run with it, you leave after opening night, and you wish them the best and they live in it. Film is you get it in the can and it’s your vision. It’s a collective vision of every artist that worked on that film, but it’s set. That’s new and exciting. It’s the way we want it to be and that’s the way it will always be viewed.

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Theatrical Culinary Project: Understand that you have control of your perspective at all times.

I’ve always found that interesting, having done plays that once the play opens, the director is out of there. I don’t think a lot of people know that, who are not involved in theater necessarily, that the director does not come to every performance and watch the actor’s performance. The director rarely comes back at all once, even on Broadway, once the play opens.

A lot of directors have resident directors or associates who come in and check in on the show in some cases nightly, but usually once or twice a week, take notes to maintain it because no show can remain in the shape as it was on opening night without an observant eye. Things naturally shift but the director is gone. That is the end of his or her job.

With film, it isn’t done until it’s in the can and it’s done, you get to shape exactly what’s going to be there forever.

I’m looking forward to editing almost more than anything else because so much of the storytelling happens in editing in terms of the rhythms of it. I’m one of those directors who also loves tech. Some directors hate it. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process. You see the marriage of the actors’ work with the production design and the whole vision coming to life I find endlessly thrilling.

You have been an actor as well, haven’t you? You’ve been a performer.

I performed through college.

You have basically seen theater from all different points of view. You’ve written, you’ve acted, you’ve directed, you’ve produced, you’ve had a wide experience with theater, and now you’re moving into film. Part of what I wanted to ask you about was that kind of life, being an artist, and doing an artist’s life. The audience doesn’t realize it’s cliché and true that it’s hard to make it as an artist whether it’s the visual arts or it’s the theatrical arts because in part, you are a freelancer, but also in part because being an artist is challenging just to do that kind of work. You’ve done some work with other freelancers. You have a workshop called The Freelance Artist’s Manifesto. Is that correct?

I sure do.

Can you talk a little bit about how you coach and support other freelancers and artists in their artistic life and their business life?

In 2009 when the economy tanked, I found myself both without a creative job and without supplemental income, which was a very scary place to be. Usually, at least if you’re a working artist and you find yourself without a project, you’re waiting tables which I did for another eight years, but I had neither. I threw myself a pretty spectacular pity party. When I was done, I thought, “If I looked back on this time, what would I regret that I didn’t do? What do I have at my disposal if I have none of these things?” I thought, “One thing I do have is time right now, and I wish that before I had entered into this lifestyle, somebody had collected for me all of the things that I needed, all of the tools mentally, emotionally, and practically that I needed to be able to weather a freelance lifestyle successfully.” I thought, “You have the time right now, just do it. Why don’t you do it?”
I sat down and, in a week, I wrote an entire book, which I called The Freelance Artist’s Manifesto. It was created as a workshop. It was inspired by The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron but my tone and my approach is very different. For those who are familiar with The Artist’s Way, it’s very gentle and a very spiritual process for arts and for growth personally as an artist. I come from the land of tough love and, “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” and we don’t have time to navel gaze. I felt like I didn’t have time to navel gaze. I had to address my issues head-on and find ways to mitigate stress and rejection and bolster my resilience so that I could continue to create the work that was important to me and continue to make a contribution to society. I’m in my workshops, I’ll be forthright. I’m an artist elitist. We are incredibly important documentarians of our time and that we deserve to be paid for our work and for our contribution to society. I come from that perspective. What I’ve done is to distill that book down into a workshop.

When you were in that process and you thought, “I don’t have time for all of us navel gazing,” what were two or three of the things that you realized are important for freelance artists to embrace?

There are three things. One, the most important thing is understanding that you have control of your perspective at all times. I live my life by trying to live my life by this. It is a challenge. There are so many things that you cannot control in life and certainly if you choose to be a freelance artist, know that our roots are circuitous no matter what. You and I could start in exactly the same place and land in New York on the same day and even get the same internship right out of the gate and our careers will not look alike in any way if you look at them fifteen years down the line, which I find very freeing because you can’t waste your time ogling other people’s career. You will, because that’s human nature, but if you can take a step back and go, “All I can focus on is the way I’m looking at my life in any given circumstance.” “Today, I got rejected,” or, “Today, I didn’t get that gig that I wanted,” or, “Rehearsal went badly, but I have full control over the way I’m going to view that rejection and how I’m going to use it to move myself forward and how it’s within my control to communicate my way through a problem on a given day rather than deciding somebody else has all the power in that situation.”

[Tweet “Fear is the worst motivator.”]

Secondly, I’d say instinct. I don’t mean necessarily following your instinct because that can be hard to do. It’s hard to know what’s instinct and what is a knee-jerk response to fear. What I do believe is that we can assess where are our instinct blocks are. If you know that there are certain situations that are going to muck up your ability to listen to your own instinct, you have to get better at learning to stay away from those people or those situations. The difference between freelancers and what I call civilians is that our lives are not compartmentalized. We are our work. There is no such thing as leaving the office and coming home and trying to leave your work at the office. You are the office. When I talk about things like instinct, everyday situations, problems with a friend or family member, that impacts our work on a daily basis.

You’ve got to be much more scrupulous about the people you surround yourself with as an artist because it will sap your creative energy and if you don’t have that, you don’t have much of anything to give. There is also a complacency among artists that we don’t have a set salary for the most part, so we don’t have to be as cognizant about our finances or healthcare and that we can’t budget, which is untrue. There are absolutely ways that we can budget. That’s also kept me afloat.

It’s interesting because part of what I talk about on this program is what I call the everyday artist, which is that I say every part of what everyone does is part art and part science. You do art for a living, but in what way do you consider yourself a true artist in your work?

Being able to take my life’s perspective and put it into a production design and an overall production concept in a way that is truly unique to me, to my vision, to my background, and my history. Also, in a collaborative art form like theater, it can never be all about me. It has to be the marriage of that vision with the writer’s story and ensuring that that vision is fully in support of the story that the writer wants to tell and everybody in that room is on the same page and bringing that story to life.

That must be challenging in something like The Theatrical Culinary Project because you have five or seven writers?

It’s five.

You have five writers. You have to do that throughout the course of an evening.

We call it the play, but this is not a devised work. A devised work would be that all five of these writers sat down in a room and collectively wrote the dialogue for the story and wrote the story as a whole together. That’s not even a conventional means of producing theater, but it’s even less conventional than that, which is to say that each of our writers has written four characters at a different table. They have a story, a play that they have written, and each play is a three-act structure that runs through our evening. Then they work together to determine when we’re going to hear from each table.
When we move back and forth between storylines, they have been sculpting that together with myself, with Sasha and with our dramaturg. The way I approached it is like a musical because many times when you work on musicals, musicals are often created by three people, a composer, lyricist, and a book writer. Sometimes it’s not three people, sometimes it’s just one person, but in the instance that it is three people, all three of those people need to be working together to create one cohesive story. Their voices, while different, need to feel like they are all a piece. Because I have so much experience developing work in new musicals, this seemed like a natural progression, even though all of these writers are playwrights. It was the same approach.

What’s next for The Theatrical Culinary Project? What are your goals for it?

We’re looking for developmental partners to move the project forward. We are aiming for a workshop in 2018 or early 2019 where we can explore bringing Carla’s menu and the place together with a small audience who can experience the piece, so we can explore the rhythms of food service and how the food in the play coalesce where they’re not coalescing, so we can learn how to continue to develop either or both. Then find a way to bring it to a broader audience in New York either in conjunction with a theater company or in development with other producers in New York City.

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Theatrical Culinary Project: Remaining true to your vision and your voice is the best thing you can do to continue to break that script.

There are a couple of themes I always ask every guest on this show and one theme is what I call the joy of missing out. We live in a time where people have this gigantic fear of missing out and it sometimes drives things that they do that maybe they shouldn’t be doing. It was that thing you were saying about their instinct. It may even be against their instinct, but this fear of, “I can’t miss out on this because everyone else is. It’s on Facebook and it’s on Instagram and I’ve got to do it.” Part of what I like to ask my guests is what do people have a fear of missing out on in terms of their creativity and/or artistic expression, that in your opinion they shouldn’t have a fear of missing out on? What’s something that we should have a joy of missing out on regards to the larger creativity conversation?

Missing out implies that there’s something that seems fun out there that you want to be a part of but might not necessarily be right for you. In the theater, and this is something that is true both for artists who are on the rise and who are early career artists, but also, I’d say instances where you maybe become a parent as an artist, but sometimes there is a fear of not working. Because if you are not working, you’re going to be forgotten, you won’t be moving forward and somebody else will get the opportunity. Sometimes in doing so, you take on a project that either you’re not the right match for and you know it, or particularly your heart is not in.
We’re all going to do work as artists that sometimes are more for a financial gain but are not necessarily passion projects or projects where you generated the work. That’s totally fine. I have been in a situation before more than once, but there was one in particular where I was mostly driven to take on a project because I was worried that I wasn’t working enough. The project was not something that I loved, and it was not something that I even totally understood aesthetically. I wasn’t the right match for this project and I knew it, but I thought, “I can make it better because the writers are young, and they haven’t learned yet.” I let my ego drive the process.
Not surprisingly, it was a miserable experience for me and for everyone involved. It was incredibly frustrating and absolutely not worth it. In my conceit that I could make this project better, I only ended up making myself miserable. Also, who am I to say that that’s my job? It’s not my job. It’s something that will only cloud you artistically and I learned a lot. This was many years ago but I learned a lot from it. I’m happy to say that that project after many years has found its people and is having a life now, which I’m really happy about. I wasn’t right for it, and I’m so glad to see that the right people found it and it looks like it’s going wonderfully. I’m so glad for the whole group. There is certainly no ill will. It was my mistake for insinuating myself on the process of that.

It’s funny how consistently people, whether they’re artists or academics or they come from business or science, have said to me something similar, which is that out of some kind of fear they took some job on and then as soon as they were in it, they went, “I shouldn’t be doing this.”

Fear is the worst motivator.

I heard Bette Midler once talk. She was talking about a film she did. She was talking about what an unhappy experience it was. She didn’t like doing it and she didn’t think she was very good in it. She said to the interviewer, “I’ll be honest, I did it for the money and that’s something I’ll never do again.” We don’t want to be insensitive or inconsiderate. We’ve all had to do things for money and to survive. We have children to raise and bills to pay. That, having been said for artists, sometimes we’re too quick to take things on for the money out of that fear that you were talking about.

That’s where following your instincts becomes critical because there can be commercial projects that you can take because the pay is really great and find joy in it. There are things that you can find that end up being a lot of fun. Maybe it’s not making your mark necessarily as an artist on that particular project, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be joy in it. If you know that it’s going to be money, but you’re going to have to sell your soul in some way, whether it’s working for abusive producers or content that you do not feel comfortable putting out into the world ethically, it doesn’t matter how big the paycheck is. You will bring that home with you and you will never feel good about it. It will impact the rest of your work elsewhere. You have to look at what it is that you’re taking on and that you’re devoting yourself to for however many weeks or months you’re going to be doing it.

The other theme I like to talk about on this program is what I call living beyond the script. There’s this prevailing script of how we’re supposed to live our lives in a lot of different ways. I believe there is also this prevailing script for artists and for creative people. I’d love to get your take on what you think the prevailing script is for creative and artistic expression and how people can go beyond that.

For every kind of artist, there’s a slightly different script. Maybe it is that you struggle for your art until you are somehow plucked, or you get that big break. Hopefully, it’s early enough that you’re still youthful because after a certain point in time, it becomes much harder for you to be successful in some ways, certainly in musical theater and in straight theater as well. There is a certain subset of people who start winning certain awards and grants, but then it becomes the same people who are winning those awards and grants. They keep winning all the awards and grants until they’re lauded and then they become the next hot new things in our industry. It becomes a little bit exclusive.

You’re saying that was the old script.

There is an emphasis on youth, but then simultaneously, don’t expect to be directing and choreographing on Broadway until you’re well into your forties. In some instances, that will happen sooner and that does happen sooner, but there’s also when age is on the other side. Everybody’s comfortable, especially with a woman directing on Broadway once she’s of a certain age. I do definitely think that there’s a gender disparity in that regard, but now with the Me Too and the Time’s Up Movement, that narrative is shifting.

[Tweet “For every kind of artist, there’s a slightly different script.”]

How do you think we are moving beyond them or can move beyond them as artists?

I believe in generating your own work. If you continue to find the people who are hungry for what they want and have the same vision that you want, I do believe that the landscape is opening up for people to be creating their own companies, creating their own work, that grassroots theater and film making is being embraced. Remaining true to your vision and your voice, I think that is the best thing you can do to continue to break that script, just finding collaborators who want what you want and moving forward as a force.

Thank you. Marlo Hunter, thank you so much for being on the program.

Thank you. It was wonderful to be here.

My guest has been Marlo Hunter. She is the Co-Creator and Founder of The Theatrical Culinary Project. You can find her online at

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About Marlo Hunter

Marlo Hunter has directed, choreographed and developed new work at Second Stage, Long Wharf, Williamstown, Roundabout, Sundance Theatre Lab, Bay Street, NJ Rep, New York Stage & Film, and Pittsburgh CLO, among others. Winner of the Callaway Award (Excellence in Choreography) on Unlock’d which she directed & choreographed Off-Broadway (Prospect). Co-Creator & Director, The Theatrical Culinary Project – an immersive play by Chef Carla Hall (Top Chef, The Chew), and playwrights Jeff Augustin, Martyna Majok, Daniel Pearle, Harrison David Rivers, and Julian Sheppard. Recent: Associate Director, Clueless (Dodgers Theatricals); Director/Choreographer, Up and Away (Pittsburgh CLO – World Premiere). UPCOMING: Director of the feature film, American Reject (Full Armor Films). Princeton University.

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Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.