PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 31, Landings: Julia Dunetz

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Ilana Wallenstein: Hello and welcome to the PMA podcast. My name is Ilana Wallenstein and in this episode I interview recent Cornell grad and Broadway producer Julia Dunetz. Dunetz made her Broadway producing debut at the age of just twenty-two as a co-producer on "Seawall, a Life" starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge. Currently she is the associate producer at Seaview productions where she is working on the Broadway play "Slave Play" and the upcoming production of "Lempicka." Dunetz scheduled this phone interview for 8:00 AM on a Thursday morning and admitted she was getting ready for work as we spoke. She speaks quickly and succinctly, but with a genuine passion and sense of humor. You can hear her multitasking in the background as I ask her what the rest of her day looks like.

Julia Dunetz: Oh boy. It's a crazy day. I have to get two of our cast members during the Facebook Live to do these, the plan shooting, which I have to do, put out a bunch of fires, for, on Sundays... I produce a talk every Sunday for audience members... Have to prepare for that and a million other things. It'll be fun!

Ilana Wallenstein: For our listeners who may be less familiar with the roles in a theatrical production, I asked Julia to clarify what being a producer means.

Julia Dunetz: Yeah, I mean, being a producer means a lot of things and it also comes in varying involvement. So there are many layers to being a producer, whether in terms of like a commercial theater production, let's say we're talking Broadway. On Broadway alone, you have your general partner, your lead producer, your co-producer, your associate producer, just as a baseline. So like as a co-producer on "Seawall," really all I did was raise money. It's pretty minimal. So if someone's a co-producer on a show, all they do is raise money to put their name above the title. It's really more of a glory thing and financial thing than anything.

Ilana Wallenstein: Mhm.

Julia Dunetz: That's really in there. People that make an entire career off of co-producing, which is fantastic for them, it's nothing that I'm really interested in because all they're doing is raising money and they don't actually have any involvement in the actual production or the running of the show. Whereas like on "Slave Play," I'm the associate producer as I was on "Hundred Days" as well. And being the associate producer means that I don't have the fiduciary responsibilities or the fiduciary benefits, but it does mean that I am deeply involved in the running of the actual show. So I am working on "Slave Play" all day every day until it closes, probably until a week or two after it closes. So it's about actually making the show happen and producing in the way that I think a lot of people think of when they think of producing, when in reality, producing, it's actually very monetary. Whereas your lead producer is someone who is somewhere in the middle who is finding the co-producers to raise money as well as actually running the show by having.... So on "Slave Play" the lead producer is my boss and then I was associate producer who's making it happen every day amongst other people. So yeah, producing looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people and a lot different shows.

Ilana Wallenstein: So how did Julia get interested in this career path?

Julia Dunetz: As most kids in the theater industry do. I grew up wanting to be an actor. But it was somewhere in like late middle school, early high school where I was like, I'm not really getting the leads in plays, I'm not going to make a career out of this, but what am I good at? I'm good at math. I'm good at being organized and logistical and administrative. And I was talking to someone who was like, have you thought about producing? Like that, that could be a good fit for you? I knew that theater was more than a hobby, so I needed to figure out a way to introduce it into my professional life. So a couple of Google searches later, I discovered that being a theater producer was being a CEO of a play or musical, which is like the coolest job ever. And then the rest was history.

Ilana Wallenstein: Julia graduated in May of 2019 and already has an established career. I asked her what advice she would give to graduating seniors looking to enter the industry.

Julia Dunetz: Be fearless. You're not really gonna know... Like the issue with this industry is it's not consulting where they give out jobs in September that start over the summer. Like it's just not that easy. There's no linear line to it. You may get a job at a completely unexpected time, you know, like despite, I was one of the last ones in my friend group to get a job, but I started months before anyone else. I started three days after graduating. So there's really no, like, you can't have expectations about what it's going to be. It's not easy, but like keeping an open mind and understanding that like, you chose this industry for a reason. At the end of the day, you're doing something that you're passionate about and that you love, and like that there's like something you have to sacrifice for that, and you don't get to do that and have it super easy and make a ton of money, and have the job when you want the job. It's just not, that's not the way it works. But at the end of the day, I know I'm creating something that's more important than myself. And it's like, that's the tradeoff that I'm willing to make. And that's the tradeoff that you're all willing to make because you're doing this.

Ilana Wallenstein: When I asked Julia how her experiences at Cornell shaped her career or understanding of the industry, she hesitated. I pushed her to think more specifically about shows she was involved in or classes she took.

Julia Dunetz: Yeah. I mean the thing is, producing is not something that can really be taught unless you're doing it. However, you'll learn parts of it from everything. So especially when I directed "Constellations," I essentially produced it as well because that's what it was. And we had a pretty large-scale production on our hands given the space of the Black Box. We were being pretty ambitious with what we wanted to put on the stage. So working in spaces like that and like really taking charge was helpful. Of course taking the directing classes. Like I still think about those things. So I would produce, I'm creative producer. So you know, I see our shows and I give notes. So I'm able to actually reference the things that David [Feldshuh] taught me in class and be like, you know, if they just did X, Y, Z, you know, that trigger heap needs to be there. That's why that scene just isn't marking. It's cool to have that knowledge. And to just think about it differently, to have a less pedestrian way of thinking about what makes theater enjoyable and good. Also taking, I took a lot of classes on gender and like, especially women in the workplace and that was like a big focus outside of PMA for me. Having an understanding of that's really important. I mean, I'm very fortunate that I'm in an industry that's much better than most, but it is still antiquated and it's still run by old white men, straight white men and gay white men, but all white men. And having an understanding of like the statistics behind all of that stuff, and like also having a vocabulary about that is also super helpful. Um, not really related to theater, but like as a human being in the workplace, as a woman in the workplace, like, it's helpful.

Ilana Wallenstein: I found it interesting, although not surprising, that Julia mentioned her gender studies classes. Here, you'll hear me push her to talk more about what it's like being a young woman in the industry. Is there any way that you have seen in the past year that you feel like being a woman has affected you professionally?

Julia Dunetz: I'm completely underestimated sometimes. People just assume that I'm not as, you know, capable of like doing things, especially when it comes to raising money. So on "Seawall," under my general partner... So there was four general partners and each of them has a certain amount of co-producers who raise money. So under my GP, out of every single co-producer, there were like fifteen of us, I was the only woman. It was all men. I was the only woman. "Slave Play" for our co-producers, every single co-producer is a man, except for one. We wanted to be made up of women, but every... There's like, like ten entities. Only one has women. And I worked for a very progressive company that like, is actively looking to raise women and people of color. And we only have two black producers on "Slave Play." Not for lack of trying, but that's the reality, and it's like upsetting and frustrating and we know... The people exist, it's like just f***ing find them. Sorry.

Ilana Wallenstein: No, it's okay.

Julia Dunetz: Um yeah, no, I know I'm underestimated, but I also know that I'm good at my job and anyone who's actually paying enough attention sees that, and at the end of the day it's fine. But at first there's always hesitation there.

Ilana Wallenstein: Having met Julia my first year at Cornell, I consider her a mentor to me. I wanted to know who her mentors were and who had helped her along her path.

Julia Dunetz: I have a lot of incredible, incredible mentors. Like I'm very fortunate that I like, to give a laundry list of them wouldn't even be sufficient. I attribute so much of my success to Erica Rotstein, who, she was actually just at Cornell last week.

Ilana Wallenstein: She's talking about Erica Rotstein, a theater producer, talent manager and educator, and the director of production for Broadway Across America.

Julia Dunetz: She is like the most wonderful, brilliant, warm human being you've ever met in your entire life. She completely took me under her wing and has like fought for me. She is someone who, anyone in this industry who knows her is like, Oh, that's someone you want to align yourself with. Like, I'm inherently in better shape when I'm able to tell someone that Erica Rotstein is my mentor because people know her as the person with the kindest heart, but also who is just really good at producing, and really good at her job, and knows what she's doing. So she's someone, I actually met her through Dana [Lerner, Cornell Class of 2014], who was another mentor of mine, who I also adore. Erica is one of Dana's mentors as well. And so I became connected to Erica through Dana and was helping her on "Hundred Days" at first in just like a “I wanna help you” situation. Then eventually she gave me the title of producing assistant, I believe was what my title was. And then eventually I was just like her right hand doing everything, and I got bumped up to associate producer. And then for like really my second half of my senior year, I was full-time producing the tour of "Hundred Days." And I was like down in Florida for a couple of weeks for load-in for a couple of our stops. And she is just the greatest human in the world and I attribute so much of my success to her.

Ilana Wallenstein: And Cornell mentors?

Julia Dunetz: I was very fortunate to have David at Cornell.

Ilana Wallenstein: She's talking here about Emmy Award–winning, Pulitzer finalist, and Cornell professor David Feldshuh.

Julia Dunetz: You know, at the end of the day, PMA is still is a department with rules and bureaucracy. And David believed in me and he still does. He's someone who saw my potential and wasn't going to let PMA ever get in the way of that. So when there was something I wanted to do or something unconventional that I believed I should do he always fought for me for that, and it always was helpful to have someone like him on my side. Same with Beth. She's not really someone who I knew until the end of my Cornell career.

Ilana Wallenstein: This is Cornell associate professor Beth Milles, who formerly served as head of the directing MFA at Brown University and as an associate director at Trinity Repertory Company.

Julia Dunetz: And I didn't take a class with her until my senior year, but she is someone who as a strong woman who's been deeply successful in the industry and also like was working on Broadway when she was my age, um gets it. She is someone who's just really been a fierce supporter of me. Um, someone who I know I can always turn to.

Ilana Wallenstein: As our interview wrapped up, I asked Julia: Is there anything that you would do differently?

Julia Dunetz: I don't know. I don't like to have regrets. I don't think there's anything I would have done differently. Maybe I would have tried to have met even more people. Like, I think I did a pretty good job of meeting everyone in the department. But even when, you know, there's still a couple of professors there that I like never really knew. So yeah, I think meeting people is just deeply important to everything. So yeah. Meeting more people I guess.

Ilana Wallenstein: Absolutely. You always talk about networking, you're one of the best networkers I know. Would you give just a kind of brief like 101 course on how to network?

Julia Dunetz: Oh. [laughter] Networking is just about making genuine, real connections with humans. It's pretty simple, at the end of the day. Find people that are passionate about the same things that you're passionate about. And if that passion is mutual, like, that person's going to help you inherently. So reach out to people that you want to meet when you have the opportunity, reach out to people, don't hold back. The worst thing that can happen is "no." Send emails, make calls, don't come off as overly scripted, be genuine in the ask. Be nice, be kind, smile, show interest. And also your network is only as wide as the network of the people that you talk with. So whenever you meet with someone, asking them to introduce you to three more people, inherently they're going to at least introduce you to one. And then that person can introduce you to a couple of people and it's just going to grow and explode from there. So don't be afraid to ask.

Ilana Wallenstein: All right, Julia, where do you see yourself going from here?

Julia Dunetz: Oh, boy. That's a good question. I mean, I want to keep making good theater. I want to keep making good commercial theater and I keep on, I want to keep making theater that changes the world. I have some things in the works that I can't talk about quite yet, but some exciting things in my future that hopefully are going to help me accomplish those goals.

Ilana Wallenstein: That's awesome. That's incredible to hear.

Julia Dunetz: Thanks!

Ilana Wallenstein: Have a good rest of your day. Thank you so much again for your time.

Julia Dunetz: Of course, thank you!

Ilana Wallenstein: It's great talking.