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Blast from the Past – Chelsea Sutton

Chelsea Sutton

It's time for our new series, Blast from the Past! In this campaign, we'll be focusing on former CFA staff members who have had a profound impact on our department, and who have gone on to interesting and significant careers in the arts community.


Chelsea Sutton, Former Marketing and Publicity Manager

When did you work for Center for the Arts? What was your role while you were there? Who were your co-workers at the time?

I worked for the Center for the Arts (CFA) for 3 years from summer 2014 – fall 2017. I was the Marketing and Publicity Manager.

Our fearless team while I was there: Alana Dowden, Todd Eskin, Daniel Lovett, Michael Zakian, Monica Chapon, Stewart O'Rourke, Rick Aglietti, Rebecca Carson, and Dani Lobello. Those were my main squeezes.


Please describe your arts background (education, prior arts-related jobs, etc.).

I'm a fiction writer, playwright, and theater director, and I was once an actor and dancer exactly one thousand years ago. My undergrad education was all writing and self-taught theater directing, and I also worked at my first theatre company during that time—Speaking of Stories in Santa Barbara, CA. When I moved out to L.A., my first job here was at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank (now the Garry Marshall Theatre). I started as the Marketing Assistant and then stayed there for seven years, becoming the Marketing Director before joining CFA. I've never been a person who was happy with just ONE job though, so I've always worked with various theater companies and freelance theater and writing projects on the side.


How would you describe the department culture at CFA?

I always felt like CFA was an oasis in the middle of the Pepperdine landscape. We had a certain professionalism, yes, but in the end we were all artists in one way or another and understood the arts in a way a lot of other departments on campus don't. It often felt like us against the world, which was nice. Also, when Todd and Daniel were there, the three of us often created an apex of sarcasm and attitude that was both hilarious and irritating to Rebecca (she can attest to this), but she put up with it. We were all pretty good at finding humor in things, so it was always comfortable and fun.


What are some of your proudest accomplishments during your time working at CFA (new initiatives you created, financial milestones, etc.)?

We had the best year ever while I was there (financially), but I don't know that it had anything to do with me. Daniel and I worked together with the IT department to build our CFA website, I created more of a social media presence, documented more shows through photography, had an amazing graphic design intern, and updated some processes that were a little dated. But my PROUDEST moments come down to three things:

  1. While organizing and cleaning up the MASSIVE amount of paperwork from my predecessor Brad White, I found his HIP HOP mix and it was a glorious moment of '90s nostalgia that led to a CFA Hip Hop Mix on Spotify that continued to grow.
  2. Every year we do a Year In Review for donors and I started creating the Alternate Year In Review just for internal purposes—basically I just collected quotes, funny photos, weird stories, and inside jokes from within the staff and compiled them into a PDF at the end of every season. The first year I did it in secret and surprised everyone with a 2-sheet PDF. But then it grew by many many pages the following years as everyone started writing down quotes and forwarding me things to include. I had a folder in my email for all those things. This actually continues to be a sense of joy for me.
  3. Brad White (my predecessor) was a perfectionist and amazing proofreader. Me, not so much. Michael Zakian especially compared me to Brad a lot and ONCE he actually said I had reached Brad White level... and that's a pretty big accomplishment.


What is your favorite artist/production/exhibition you saw at Pepperdine? Have you been back to visit campus or see a show?

I loved the production of Into the Woods directed by Dimitri Toscas my first fall there, but he's a friend and I might be biased. The Hot Sardines were probably my favorite regular CFA show. Also there was once an igloo in a student exhibition in the museum that took up the entire first floor main gallery. 


What have you done since moving on from Pepperdine? Have you kept in touch with anyone from CFA/Pepperdine?

I still keep in contact with most everyone on Facebook, and certainly Rebecca and Monica more regularly. Todd never texts me back. If he's reading this... you should text me.

I left CFA to go to grad school. So since leaving in 2017, I now have an MFA in fiction writing from UC Riverside, I've finished my first book of short stories, learned how to teach creating writing, and have worked on a multitude of projects including the production of three full length plays I wrote or co-wrote, directed a few plays, and am working on my first novel. Lots of things in the pipeline.


Why do you think the arts are important? What value do they provide to the culture?

I think the arts help us process our lives and understand who we are. They are the means in which we find our voice. We are programmed to understand the world through story. It's a way to help us learn and practice empathy. Arts are magic.


How have you been keeping yourself entertained during quarantine?

I have many little part time jobs that keep me busy, I've been reading more, and writing. I organized and curated a micro-film project called Puppets & Prose that teamed up prose writers and poets with puppeteers and artists to create five minutes or less videos; I created a mini play that unfolded over an Instagram feed, and have been taking a ton of virtual classes and webinars—including earning a certificate in grant writing. I guess I've gotten a lot done, but I never feel like I'm being productive enough. COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have both forced a lot of self reflection too, so perhaps my biggest hobby right now is just reflecting, learning, and dreaming. 


To learn more about the Center for the Arts, our current staff members, and for updates on our 2020–2021 season, please visit our website or follow us on Facebook and Instagram