Sarah Chapman is a local actor, musician, and currently the Education Director of Sweet Tea Shakespeare. She has been in local productions such as “Evil Dead: The Musical” (Gilbert Theater), “Dogwood” (A Yellow Beanie Project) and “Much Ado About Nothing” (Sweet Tea Shakespeare). Bradford Dougherty, also a local actor, is a solder at Ft Bragg in the 44th Medical Brigade. We both have been musicians and performers since childhood. We married in 2018 and have three children, Tristan, William, and Genevieve.
3 Things making your life richer & why
Brad: my family, art, and career; being in a career of service, both by medicine and the army has given me a unique perspective in what I can and should do for the people around me. My art gives me the opportunity to participate intimately with the things I’m passionate about, and my family provides a warm and supportive environment. They inspire me to want to better myself in all aspects of my life.
Sarah: Aside from having wonderful, empathetic children of my own, I love watching appreciation of local artists, and the arts in general, grow exponentially from what it used to be in Fayetteville. I grew up here, and I’m proud to contribute by working with our local youths in theater. I also find wealth in simplicity: occasional peace and quiet is a privilege these days and I don’t take it for granted.
Local artist you admire: We both agree that El’Ja Bowens is an AMAZING artist who has a unique way of delivering profound, impactful performances. We’re huge fans of his work!
What is one of your current artistic experiments? Getting up and performing for the first time was our icebreaker for putting ourselves out there. When Sarah isn’t working on music production for local projects, she’s making original music and when we come together we pick songs we mutually enjoy and practice. We’re also currently recruiting to expand into a full band.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Between the two of us, we have picked up more ways to artistically contribute and create within our community. More volume has required more practice, the necessity to find new skills and develop abilities (especially with tech), and it’s allowed us to collectively step outside of our comfort zones. We are happy with where this has led us and hope the trajectory keeps moving forward.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. We have a “studio” in our home. We recently upgraded it to professional status when we got Sarah top tier recording software and sound equipment. We are also able to house a full five-piece band including 4 mics, plus we have a few classical instruments. Sarah has an old desk in this space where she does her work with pictures of our kids and gifts from friends and past students displayed.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? It’s different for both of us. For me (Sarah), my brain is on the go at all times, and everything is sensory overload on my worst day. Music and art is my safe space. When it comes to original work or performing live, I peak when I’m feeling everything in the moment and lose myself. Writing a song when I’m anxious, portraying a character in theater; everything is visceral and authentic.
Brad says: I like a good story, so if there’s something I’d like to recreate, if it moves me, then I’ll want to riff off of that. Sometimes it results in me writing work for intended film projects, sometimes it pushes me toward musical collaboration where musicality communicated between me and other musicians in a jam session. That communication can tell it’s own story.
Advice to newer artists in your genre.
Sarah: Set realistic expectations, practice, and don’t allow criticism to discourage you. I also believe in staying humble because success comes from others’ appreciation and support.
Brad: Find an influence that’s better than you, and steal as much as humanly possible. Everything you learn playing their licks is going to make you a better musician, and developing skills listening to lots of other musicians can help you develop your own musical identity. Also don’t skimp on your hobby; that doesn’t mean you have to drop a ton if money for top of the line gear, but if you are serious about playing, decent gear will give you a chance to hear and feel when you play well, where cheap or bad gear is going to provide a miserable experience and will discourage you, because it isn’t going to sound or feel like you are improving. The cost incentive is going to make you want to make the cost worth your time as well.
This is an answer that has changed for me over time. I think it’s happening for everybody: COVID forced us into a different set of priorities, and we’re going to come out changed.
I’m an ambition-oriented guy, or that’s been my story. I like little achievements. I like badges. I like awards. I like degrees. I like collecting things like rank and status. And the sort of gamification of life has been the language I have understood and been successful at to this point in my life.
But I think where that’s changing is the artist in me actually has always wanted to push against that. To disrupt it, to use the language all the young people use these days. What does it mean to make art that actually doesn’t try to get to the next level, but is perfectly fine and happy where it is? I think the framework that runs counter against achievement-oriented success is meditative and reflective space. So how do you do that? I mean, theater does that naturally but, how do you, say, run a theater company where the goal is not to grow? That’s what the business world does: the pressure of work, capitalism generally, is to keep achieving and to keep growing. There’s a personal health version that’s necessary, but the economic version of that is not particularly healthy.
So it’s just more and more and more, and if you chase that rabbit too far, it goes to the opposite of Wonderland. So for me, what is the space that pushes against that? What are the hedges we build to create that space? What does success look like in that world, which is sort of quiet, maybe methodical or repetitive or, to use another word from another part of my life, liturgical. What does that work look like? I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately and it’s drawn me to some early conclusions about how success is quiet. Success is being able to get up in the morning and have two hours with a cup of coffee and my mind. I’m not getting up, looking at my planner and trying to think about the nine things I have to knock off my to-do list.
In my recent history, the last five years, I’ve had to really re-examine what success looks like. It used to be how many tickets can I sell and will my theater company survive? Will I get the kind of attention I got into this business for? But is that space as healthy as it can be? Is it as sustainable as it can be? That’s been a real shift in terms of success personally, artistically.
I also think success is about how am I empowering others to do what they need to do. I just turned 40 this past year and I’m working with folks in the Sweet Tea world who are younger and I’m remembering, oh yeah, I was basically exactly like that. What did I need that I didn’t get that I can provide to others? I worked in that sort of mode for a long, long time. I no longer have to prove anything to anyone. I can just live my life. And there’s a calm that can come with that.
I think this is true for all kinds of artists, but I know it is true for theater people: it’s like an addiction. And I mean that in the most direct and literal sense. It takes you to dangerous places if you let it. And it requires a kind of constant state of recovery–in all of the senses that that means–to be ongoing. And so success is a little bit like what success would look like in AA, which is did you make it through today? Do you have support? Did you make responsible choices today? And if you didn’t, are you cool to reset and keep moving on? So much of the talk about artistic life is really positive. I mean, there’s the negative side of it, nobody makes any money at it, for example. But if the positive side is oh, you’re this leader, you do eccentric stuff, you do things that nobody else does, you have talents nobody else has. And all of that is true, but I think for a lot of artists, if they’re in it, they’re doing that expression because there’s so much pressure and a lack of conformity in the other parts of their lives and it’s super stressful, incredibly exhausting, and risks being pretty dark. That is the addiction part of it, too. Everybody wants to talk about the high, they don’t want to talk about the withdrawals. They don’t teach about that in directing school. And so success is am I doing this in a way that is making an ideal life, just today?
What change do you seek to make with your art?
The change that I still have the fire for is a change in belonging, how we think about belonging. I had a lot of theater experience before I started Sweet Tea. That’s essentially why I founded a theater company because I think it was very rare to get right the idea of belonging. We use ideas like “community” and “common experience” and how we’re getting everybody in a room and we’re breathing the same air, how all the heartbeats in the room sync together.
But then we have professional structures where everything is temporary. And this is true, not just in the professional world, but also in community theater, educational theater. At the same time that we champion safety and care for actors but don’t provide that economically. Yes, there are lots of people who do this just because they love it, and the pay is bonus, but there is no security even in unpaid theater contexts because you never know the next play you’re going to do. You’re sort of artistically homeless the whole time. And that was something I felt like we mostly get wrong. And a lot of that, I sort of lay at the feet of bad tax policy and non-profit policy.
The theater world is such that you go contract to contract four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks at a time, if you’re really lucky, it’s much longer than that. But then you’re homeless and you’re jumping from spot to spot. But there are things that people like me can do, that theaters and arts organizations can and should do within that context. What does it look like to play around with the idea of a continuing community ensemble where actors and other artists have a stake and a say in the direction of the place? And that’s the experiment: the art is the company structure. The way of making plays in this regard has been the thing behind things.
And I say that on the educational side, too. There are days I feel like I’m good at teaching. For me, it exists on two extreme poles: I can work some magic because of my actor background, in a room full of 80 people who need the fire of a great sermon about whatever that thing is that day. And then the other side is one person at a time. But so much of the expectation of being a professor is nonstop measurement of what you’re doing rather than doing what you’re doing. And that’s just built for discouragement. Despite theater being a collaborative art form, if you’re in higher ed, you’re a silo, doesn’t matter what you do, you’re a silo because that tenure race is yours to run by yourself. There’s no one to hand the baton to. So we’re not good about creating spaces for belonging in that world. That’s the kind of change overall that I think I’m after.
How have you constructed the bridges of your career?
The bridges I’ve built have to do with two things. One is miracle: I have a mix of great privilege as who I am constructed in the universe. There are people who are constructed like I am, who don’t do what I do. The simplest way to describe it–although it seems a little woo-woo and new agey–is that I can manifest some shit. I can have a dream, whether it’s career-based or artistic-based, work or life oriented, and I think about that and it basically becomes true.
And the other piece that is a different kind of miraculous is I have just incredible resistance and grit, although I pay for it dearly. Like, I can keep going many times more than others who will quit earlier. And I have learned enough over my life to know that–I’ve had to go to therapy for some of this–but there’s a magical mix of questionable self-worth that I am built with that would cause other people to quit because they have too much self-respect or their time becomes too important to them. There have been long stretches of my life where that just hasn’t been true. I’m trying to prove something because I feel inadequate or whatever, and that kind of drive doesn’t happen in everyone. And the fact that I keep going, I think makes the manifestation thing more likely to happen.
And so, in terms of building bridges, there are lots of things that people who might otherwise be in my shoes would have said no to, and I haven’t, I said how can we make that work? My first two jobs in higher ed I got because I was a sort of jack-of-all-trades who could do theater tech work in addition to directing plays. I wouldn’t have gotten those jobs had I not said yes to the tech and design stuff. There are examples like that all over the place. There’s a version of that with Sweet Tea and founding the company: is this the way I would have done it had I the budget I wanted and the way I wanted? And the answer is no, I’m going with a path of at least less resistance. And that’s been part of the puzzle too.
I am happy and glad that Sweet Tea is able to expand to Raleigh, but I don’t think we expand there and then think, Hey, we’ve achieved the end. I’m honestly not sure what the other end is except more adventure. And, frankly, a little bit more financial predictability.
Who do you consider your present artistic cohort?
A handful of folks. Individuals and groups at Sweet Tea: two assistant artistic directors Claire Martin and Tracy Zapata, and music directors Jake French and Aaron Alderman. Dena Vassey, who does our costumes and Sana Moulder, who wears several hats from box office to costumes and other things: they’re part of that mix. And it includes this funky company that’s built on a medieval guild structure. So all the folks involved in that: it’s structured for us to develop those people and for them to weigh in on the company. That is a really, really difficult thing to manage and smarter people would probably choose not to do it, but it’s part of the soul of the place.
Outside the company, in terms of people that have and continue to influence me, I would include the American Shakespeare Center as a cultural institution.
My dad has been a big piece of this. He and I kind of follow each other: I got into Shakespeare grad school and then he took an interest, then I started a Shakespeare company and then he started a Shakespeare company, and we directed for each other, things like that. And he’s a college professor. So we sort of lead the other person now and again. And my mom is a jane-of-all-trades sort; the music piece is definitely tied to my mom, who plays piano.
Then there are a couple of other people: Rob Gibbs, with whom I’ve done a podcast off and on for years. We went to grad school together and we just fit. He’s a Hollywood screenwriter now. He landed in a different spot than I did, but we work together really well. And Rick Blunt, who’s another grad school friend. He’s just a good friend who cuts to the actual truth, whether we’re talking about art or whatever else. And that’s great.
There is a saying that goes “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. Tim Zimmermann’s goal is to be a master of as many things as possible, and approaches his crafts–acting, singing, music and producing (with a little bit of dance thrown in for good measure)–with that same acumen. Originally from Philadelphia, his first professional gig was as a singer for the United States Army Reserve band based out of Fort Dix, New Jersey. After a stint in Nashville teaching and recording, Tim boarded the Norwegian Breakaway to perform in their concept rock and roll bar production show “Syd Norman’s Pourhouse.” After 10 months total on the Breakaway, he transitioned to Norwegian Jade, where he performed as a production cast vocalist, traveling the world from Italy to Greece, down through the Middle East and to Southeast Asia. It was there that the Covid-19 Pandemic hit and forced him to return to Fayetteville to stay with family and attempt to rebuild.
Since moving to Fayetteville, Tim has had a wealth of opportunities and his proud to call Fayetteville his current adopted home. He was fortunate to be cast in the Gilbert Theater’s productions of Rope (Granillo), Oedipus Rex (Creon/Corinthian Ambassador) and is preparing to play the role of Bobby Strong in Urinetown: The Musical. He additionally performed the role of Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing with Sweet Tea Shakespeare. He will also be performing with the Fayetteville Dinner Theater in their upcoming show: “Beyond Broadway – Music of Our Time”.
When he is not performing musicals, he is performing his own headliner style shows: “Broadway Blitz” (rock and roll Broadway revue) and “Rockestra”(classic rock revue), using his own self-produced tracks through his digital recording studio “True Fortune Studios”. What will come next for Tim isn’t certain, but he looks forward to each new challenge!
3 Things you can’t live without & why: In no particular order: My computer I quite literally can’t function logistically without. It’s where I produce all of my music, mix and master, design my shows, write music, research roles, etc. Technology has begun to play such an integral role in what I do.
I also couldn’t live without the support of my family. They are my lifeblood. They have supported me so much throughout this creative journey I’ve been on; I believe I would have given up a long time ago without them.
Finally, though I wouldn’t die without it, my soul thrives on travel and seeing new places/things. I haven’t gotten to do as much traveling as I did before the pandemic, but I hope for all of us to be able to get back to it soon!
Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: It’s difficult to pick one! I would say all of the artists I have gotten to perform with at the Gilbert Theater and Sweet Tea Shakespeare.
What is one of your current artistic experiments? My next big adventure is actually one I started a long time ago that I mothballed for a time. It is a rock opera that is also a graphic novel (it will eventually be an app that you can watch and interact with) that I hope to adapt into a stage show. In addition, my two headliner shows Broadway Blitz and Rockestra are always evolving!
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? For me, after I got off the ship, I began to envision myself as a successful artist and work accordingly. Before that I was really afraid to audition and put myself out there, assuming I didn’t have what it takes. With the pandemic I realized that we don’t have forever to make an impact on this world, and so I used 2020 to catch up to my peers. Though 2020 was difficult, it really challenged me to open myself to the world and put myself out there, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. True Fortune Studios! Which is essentially my desk in my bedroom, which is usually a mess and covered with stuff. In addition I have my electric drums and keyboard that I work off of. When not there, I am generally found on stage at the Gilbert Theater, my home away from home. That stage is where everything I do started and I will be forever grateful to it and the people there.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? For acting, I audition for things I find interesting. I try to locate roles that are available that are in my wheelhouse and go out for them. My philosophy is that you can never do too many auditions! I love honing my voice and continuing to push just a little higher. I like to operate at the edge of my comfort zone, so I’m always looking for stuff to adapt into the style I’ve been cultivating.
Advice to newer artists in your genre. Trust yourself as an artist. Whatever your discipline, work harder than you think you should and when you have done that trust that what you do will be awesome. Don’t ever believe you can’t be successful, and if ever you find yourself asking yourself “Why me? What makes me think I can be successful?” turn it around and ask yourself “why not me?” Then just enjoy the ride!
The latest in Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s Honey Series is Sweet and Tart
Looking back on my misspent youth, it is easy to connect the dots of learning archery and carrying boot knives (not to mention my love of nonprofits) with my adoration of the Robin Hood legend. I now have another turn of the tale to add to my collection, thanks to Sweet Tea Shakespeare‘s original script “Maid Marian.” Written by local teacher and STS regular Jessica Osnoe, the story is written as a prelude to the myth that has fascinated for hundreds of years.
Osnoe’s script keeps us in Nottingham and the forest as we follow Lady Marian Fitzwalter, her siblings, and a cousin, as they attempt to outwit the Sheriff and Guy of Gisbourne who are stealing-er-collecting taxes for Prince John. Their merry band of women includes a pair of sisters from the village.
For those familiar with Sweet Tea’s set up, normally the spring & summer shows are held out behind the 1897 Poe House on Bradford Avenue. Audiences are encouraged to bring their own seating and sweet tea, beer, wine, water, and comestibles are all available (and all local: beer was from Hugger Mugger Brewery in Sanford, the tea from Winterbloom downtown on Hay St, and food from Fayetteville Pie Company in Westwood Shopping Center).
The night I took in the show, there had been rain, so the production was moved into the church social hall next door. Undeterred, the cast, musicians, and crew put forth a delightful performance, from the pre-show madrigal-esque tunes to the well-choreographed fight scene, and triumphant climax. As behooves this particular legend, there are plenty of ballads, interludes, rousing call-to-arms, and perhaps a love song, all of which fit into the story seamlessly.
Like the “bracing river” Marian and company use to delightful comic effect, this show is invigorating, both to the legend it’s based on and to local theater offerings. Contemporary without neglecting history, period without feeling dated: the show is stimulating for regular theater patrons and new audiences alike.
While this show runs through May 12, I am already looking forward to Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s summer rep programming, plus what they have in store with their youth council, Green Tea. Their shows are family-friendly–and if “Maid Marian” any indication–an exemplary way to get those not enamored with historical theater to be thoroughly in love by evening’s end.