Hewitt’s Lunch and Learn series invites guest speakers to campus for intimate conversations with upper school students about how to connect their current interests to possible future careers. The series welcomes speakers, including Hewitt alumnae, from a variety of professional fields, giving current students the opportunity to learn and ask questions about fields they might not have even known existed. The alumnae who speak at Lunch and Learns are confident and enthusiastic professionals who cite their relationships with teachers, involvement in clubs, and exploration of potential interests while at Hewitt with helping them to develop a sense of purpose and direction. These alumnae encourage current students to think about how their experiences at school are helping to shape their futures.
This past spring, I invited Julia Dunetz ’15 to speak to Hewitt’s upper school students about her work as a theater producer. In her Lunch and Learn talk, Julia shared that she felt a deep connection to the theater at a young age. She recounted the story of her earliest theater experience, in which her first grade class at Hewitt took a school trip to see the hit Broadway musical Wicked. Although Julia did not fully understand the plot, she was moved by the feeling and beauty of the production. By the end of the performance, she knew she wanted to act so that she could give others an opportunity to experience such beauty. Once she discovered the wonderful world of theater, Julia knew she could not leave it behind, and spent much of her time in upper school performing in Hewitt’s plays and musicals.
As she got older, Julia thought carefully about what it would take to succeed as a professional Broadway performer. Though she enjoyed acting and was willing to make every effort for a career in the theater, she eventually realized that she would be most fulfilled working behind the scenes rather than on the stage. Driven by her passion for theater and with the support of Hewitt’s individualized curriculum and caring teachers, Julia was able to identify her strengths and interests and explore how they might lead her to a career in the arts. Recognizing that she was organized, interested in research, and good with logistics and numbers, she decided to pursue a job as a producer so that she could put her talents to work in the industry she loved.
During her Lunch and Learn, Julia shared that her time at Hewitt not only provided her with opportunities to pursue her interests and try new things, but also helped her learn more about herself and her identity. At Hewitt, Julia realized she was a self-starter, and when she graduated in 2015 she was confident, self-aware, and ready to make new discoveries and take on new experiences. She found herself motivated by the large community and range of opportunities that she encountered as a student at Cornell University, and like some of the other Hewitt alumnae who have led Lunch and Learn conversations, Julia shared that the academic and social confidence she developed at Hewitt quickly distinguished her from the majority of her fellow college students.
To give her audience of eager students a sense of how the confidence they are developing at Hewitt will help them succeed in the future, Julia told a story about her college statistics course, sharing that she was the only woman who consistently participated in class discussions. She attributed this to the fact that, after years in Hewitt classrooms, she was comfortable and accustomed to voicing her ideas and opinions in discussions and asking questions when she needed more information. She urged her audience of independent Hewitt upper schoolers to seek support from and build relationships with their teachers, and to be vocal about their goals, noting that voicing what she wanted to get out of college led her professors to help her identify and apply to specific, specialized programs.
Julia felt gratified to direct and produce works of theater at Cornell that she felt were meaningful. In her Lunch and Learn talk, she addressed the common confusion about what the job of a producer entails, explaining that producers are the “CEOs of the play or musical,” meaning they have the rights to production and are in charge of the budgets, advertising, and overall management of a show. Although she misses acting, she finds producing fulfilling because the job allows her to do different things everyday, including building meaningful connections with actors and directors, scouting different theater pieces, and utilizing her talent for organization and logistics to assemble exceptional works on stage.
When asked about her challenges and goals for the future, Julia remarked that she has found having a good work-life balance difficult and that as a young woman working in a male-dominated industry, she often feels that voices like hers are underpaid and underrepresented. She works to overcome and redefine these norms by seeking out professional mentors who, like Julia, are interested in and dedicated to uplifting the voices of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community within the theater industry. She hopes diverse voices, united together, will help diversify audiences, broaden the scope of the works being produced, and ensure equity in her professional field. Julia understands that as a young female producer, her own position in the theater industry is a step in the right direction. She wants to be a pioneer in the theater industry, and as she works to lift her own voice, she hopes to give people from a wide variety of backgrounds and identities a platform to lift theirs.
Julia also wants the musicals and plays that she produces to have a large impact on the audience. Maybe those who watch her shows will think about something differently, maybe a song or line or costume will connect with them personally, maybe her shows will change someone’s life. Since graduating from Cornell University in 2019, she has worked as an associate producer at Seaview Productions, where she focuses on modernizing and innovating Broadway productions, including Simon Stephens and Nick Payne’s Sea Wall / A Life and Carson Kreitzer’s Lempicka. She saw how “theater has the power to start conversations” while producing Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play, which follows three interracial couples trying to understand the effects of race on their relationships. After each production, Julia, along with members of the cast and crew, invited audiences to discuss the topics addressed in the play, including race, gender, sexuality, and the timelessness of theater. These talks gave audience members the opportunity to reflect on the piece of theater and their relationship with it. Julia found the audience’s thoughtful engagement with and inquiry into the play’s themes inspiring, and considers it evidence of the need for more diverse stories to be told in the theater industry.
Since her early encounter with Broadway in first grade, the theater has captivated Julia and she hopes that her work as a producer will give future audiences an independent theater experience that moves them to think differently about the world around them. Julia’s self-awareness, confidence, and ambition inspire the young women of Hewitt to pursue our own dreams and passions, persist through difficult times, and use our own success to amplify the voices of others.
For more information about Julia Dunetz ’15, please visit her website.