For all students, the transition from art school to the professional world is a journey of transformation often wrought with surprises both good and bad, but it takes particular skill and dedication to turn such life experiences into a work of art.
With her original work “Chrysalis,” NYFA Musical Theatre alumna Kodi Milburn morphed the challenges she found in the entertainment industry into an artistically satisfying and empowered performance piece. We had a chance to catch up with Kodi to hear about her collaborative creative process and thriving in life after NYFA.
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?
KM: I grew up in Nebraska with my single mother. She is both a hippie and a musician, qualities that shaped me into who I am now. I’ve always been into music and theater.
My first show was as a baby in “Fiddler in the Roof,” followed by “Peter Pan.” My mom was Peter and I was a Tiger Lilly dancer. Time went on, and I knew I wanted to pursue art further. It’s kind of the same old story: a small town girl from the Midwest moves to the city to pursue a dream.
I chose NYFA because it was a more down to earth and artistic environment than other schools. I needed that freedom to work on my art. I also noticed the star-studded list of instructors, some of which had directly inspired me to become a performer (Deidre Goodwin). How cool is it to learn dance from a woman you used to watch on TV?
NYFA: Why musical theatre? And, what has inspired your work lately?
KM: I have since branched out into different genres, but the core of my training is in musical theater. I think that as a musical theater performer you have to be a triple threat. Therefore, I feel prepared to attack any genres head on. Lately the work of my peers, Terra Warman, Caleb Settje, Zoey Michaels, and Makayla Benedict, has inspired me to put up local theater and produce more of my own work!
NYFA: What surprised you most about your time studying with us? Do you have a favorite NYFA moment?
KM: I was surprised at how close I got with my peers and instructors. You’re really going through the trenches together, and I work with those same people on nearly every show I do outside of NYFA. They quickly became family to me.
My favorite NYFA moment was being selected to sing for the Jonathan Groff master class. You had to be nominated by your teachers to be selected. That was a validating and humbling experience, to be chosen by the people I held in such high regard.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your experience filming NYFA movie musical “Seeking Alice,” and seeing it go on to win awards like Best Musical at the Nova Fest?
KM: Filming “Seeking Alice” was a hoot, but we were up all night and filming outside in January. You do it for the art though! Funny enough that was not the first time I had played Tweedle Dum, and I got to revive the character alongside one of my dearest friends, Jonina Bjort. The crew and creative team for the film were innovative and an absolute joy to work with in such hard-core conditions. I mean, I got to eat ice cream, refine my MUA and Hair tech skills, and belt Bobby Cronin’s original music — of course it was amazing.
As you can imagine, we were all thrilled to see that the film was loved as much by the professionals at the Nova Fest as it was by all of us involved! Truly the icing on the cake
NYFA: For our current Musical Theatre students, what did you find most challenging in transitioning to work outside of the program environment, and do you have any advice for navigating that transition?
KM: I found that the balance between working on art and becoming a responsible adult was the hardest transition for me. Here’s the thing: That transition is hard for everyone. The good news is the instructors at NYFA have the tools to help you into the real world. I’m sure you’ve heard it from them but my advice is to follow these four rules.
1) Be professional. (Meaning, show up early and show up prepared).
2) Take yourself seriously and take care of yourself. (Get up and go to that 5 a.m. audition and invest in your own business. Get a survival job! You have to pay your rent to stay here).
3) Be a good person. (You will work with the same people over and over again, do not burn bridges!)
4) Be true to yourself. (There is no right way to be successful in this industry, so if you end up doing something that isn’t exactly what you planned, that’s not a fail, it’s part of a path.)
NYFA: How did your original project “Chrysalis” come about? Can you tell us about that creative process?
KM: I started writing “Chrysalis” after I graduated. My friends and I were auditioning and it seemed that we couldn’t book anything because we were too thick or too dark skinned or not blonde enough, not because we weren’t talented. So I wrote a show for those people and me to perform artistically satisfying pieces without feeling like we needed to change something about us in order to do so.
The creative process was a lot of work. I began writing music and then the script. Next I gathered my team (which included NYFA alumni) and began rehearsals. I then pitched my show to a millennial, all-female, producing team called The Creators Collective. They picked up the show and we began fundraising.
We received free space from CC and 100 Bogart, and most of our funding from a group funding campaign and a live fundraiser in my hometown of Rushville, Nebraska. The show went up on Aug. 5, 2017! We are now recording a cast album and applying for grants for a 2018 run of the show.
NYFA: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you are working on?
KM: Currently I am continuing my work on “Chrysalis,” appearing in Tandem Children’s Theater Company as a female Harry Potter, collaborating with Caleb Settje on his new musical, “aKing,” partnering with my producers and AirBnB for live AirBnB experiences, taking promotional photos for SHIFT dance collective, and working with Makayla Benedict and Zoey Michaels on a song set for live performances. My Facebook is updated with my current/future projects.
NYFA: Anything I missed that you’d like to share?
KM: I am a promotional portrait photographer with reasonable rates for fresh graduates and students. You can contact me if you would like to set up a session.