There are some artists that fully immerse themselves in one artistic discipline: eating, living, and breathing that one particular craft. On the other hand, there are artists who give the term “jack of all trades” a whole new meaning. We spoke with installation artist, theater technician, director, producer, interior designer, and “creative” Annamarie Rose to learn more about what inspires her across her various mediums of art.
Tomorrow’s World Today (TWT): How did you get started working in theater?
Annamarie Rose (AR): I’m originally from New Jersey, [I was] born and raised there. Now I’m living in Pittsburgh. Back in fifth grade, we got to see the older kids perform a musical. And I was so enthralled, I’d never seen [anything like it] before. I heard kids in class singing musical songs, and I [thought], “I don’t really get what this is about?” [But] I was hooked ever since then. In 7th grade, once I was able to perform, I got to [perform in] Guys and Dolls. And then in 8th grade, I got to do Once Upon a Mattress and I [played] Sir Harry in it. And then later in high school, I got to do [that show] again, and I [played] Sir Studley… So that’s where I began.
TWT: What has been your biggest challenge working in theater? How did you overcome it?
AR: I think it was really hard in high school to learn what I was good at. And for me, the criticism didn’t really happen constructively. I had the choreographer make fun of the way I was dancing in front of everyone and then I heard him talking privately to the director about how I couldn’t dance and sing at the same time… that was a really big challenge as a kid because this was something I loved, and I was told I’m bad at it. So I shifted what I was doing. I [worked] backstage, did stage management, and [worked] front of house. Then in college, I was a part of our student-run theater group which involved: directing, scenic work, painting, and improv comedy. So a little bit of everything.
I think it’s hard to focus on one sector because I am very much a jack of all trades. First of all, I love that phrase. And I learned this year that there was more to it… A jack of all trades is a master of none, and yet they are better than a master of one. And I really liked that because sometimes I feel like I have too many paths that I want to take, which is a challenge in itself. [I’m] always saying yes to people [and] always wanting to do things. And I’ve learned as I’ve [grown] older [that] time is so valuable, especially how you allocate your time to decide what projects you do. I’ve definitely said yes to things that I didn’t enjoy because I felt like I needed to. I felt like I needed to make certain connections with people [or] I felt like I needed to be seen [or] if I wasn’t on stage every weekend, I might phase-out of people’s memory. In 2020, because the state of the world changed, my mindset had to as well. Yes, I still coach, I produce, I direct, I do stage management, I do technical [work], and I still perform. It’s not like I really stopped doing all the things I love to do, I’m just trying to become more intentional about what projects I take on and how many I agree to at any given moment. I won’t miss out on anything because I focused on 2-3 things instead of 6-8. It’s about not only being mindful of my time but giving myself permission to slow down.
TWT: What are your goals for the future? Is there a particular show you’d love to work on or perform in?
AR: I love doing immersive theater. I’ve [had] the chance to work with Vigilance, which my friend Sean Collier and Renee Rabenold both run. I’ve [had the chance] to work with so many new faces through that. And it’s a very unique experience doing immersive theater because you’re a little bit closer to the audience. And I like the intimacy of it. I like how it pushes me outside of my comfort zone in a lot of ways and really makes me embody the character and try to think the way the character thinks. In Vigilance’s 2019 production, Hollow Moon, I got the chance to be a front-of-house character who quickly died off, which was great because I don’t love lines but I do love the improv part. I [played] a spirit who spoke in a lot of metaphors and rhymes, and I got to make up new lines every single time. My entire dialogue was based on what I observed in the space and the people I interacted with. I really love having guidelines without having a script. And I think that immersive theater really lets you tread the water with having a plot, having themes, having that structure, but still being able to improvise the script in a lot of ways. So I’m hoping to do more [immersive theater], maybe even write and produce something of my own.
TWT: Who are your role models and why?
AR: My role models have always been my friends. My best friend Katie is in New York, and she has always wanted to do design layouts for magazines. She just went from being the artistic director at Popular Science to being a branding director at the New York Times. She’s talented and incredibly driven; such a powerful role model. She picked up rock climbing and is a beast at it. For reference, when we were kids we were not athletic children, so I admire her a lot for the discipline it takes to excel at this sport. And then I have my friend Amanda who is also in New York. She has her day job, but still auditions for [shows] at night and on weekends, living that not quite Broadway yet life. She’s acted and directed in plays and short films, like Disaster Panties, which was a part of the 44th Asian American International Film Festival. Sometimes we’ll talk about things and she’ll be discouraged, then she’ll pick up a new project and be invigorated with new energy. I get in those slumps too and it’s motivating to know I’m not alone. Then Selorm is in LA doing some similar things. She was balancing her corporate career for a while with her love of music and she’s now living the dream of self-producing, which is no small feat. These powerful women in my life both drive and inspire me, but also remind me that we’re all human. You can look at celebrities doing these amazing and crazy things, and it feels intangible. But these celebrities are my best friends who at the end of the day, still want to goof around and have fun. They’re not different people just because of the role they were cast in or a position that they got. And that means so much to me, to be able to grow together throughout our lives.
TWT: What is your favorite show you’ve worked on or a favorite role and why?
AR: I love doing things with Arcade Comedy Theater in downtown Pittsburgh. I feel like that’s my home for comedy, and I’ve [had the chance] to produce some really awesome shows there. Jesse LE and Matt Hartman crafted a character-based improv show, Camp Loose Leaf, which feels like the immersive theater that I was talking about. Because you have your character, [and] you have slight parameters or themes for the show, and then you improvise the dialogue and the scenarios. I got to perform as Maddie, who was a very enthusiastic camper, loved her field guides and was always flipping through the pages, looking at herbs and plants and tumbling around on stage and being loud and exciting, a very physical character which I love. And then I got to produce that same show and coach the team after the original producers stepped down. That was an incredible experience.
I’ve [also had] the chance to [produce a show] for Pride, Donatella, a queer variety show. I love creating shows that have a bunch of different acts, [it] had some burlesque, poetry, guitar, improv, standup, [and] interpretive dance. We even had a person who brought a bicycle to the center of the stage. They did an incredible body movement piece, about running out of time. It was really powerful. [I enjoy] getting to produce works like this where we pull talent from across a lot of communities. I like to look for niche talents that you don’t regularly see on a main stage.
TWT: What piece of advice would you give to anyone aspiring to work in theater?
AR: Don’t do it for the money. I admire people who make it their career, but I have a day job. I love my day job [and] I love theater in different ways. I don’t think I would love theater as much if it was also my day job. Some people have the talent and ambition to pursue it full-time, but that’s not how it was for me. I tried a bunch of different things. I went to college for architecture, and then I switched my major because I didn’t want to be an architect. And then I studied ethics, history, and public policy integrated with architecture thinking I would go into city planning or policy. Instead, I was a teacher, traveling artist, guest speaker, sales manager, freelance designer, and now I’m a visual merchandiser…So keep trying different things and understand that you don’t have to be the best at something to do it… and keep doing it so long as it brings you joy.
I feel like we have this hustle culture where everyone [thinks], I’m so busy, I [have] to be the best at everything. I multitask all the time, that’s who I am by nature. But I’m doing the things I love, and I never want to lose that. I think that’s my advice, try a bunch of different things, see what works for you, but always check in with yourself to make sure that you feel happy. Be kind to yourself throughout the process. And if something’s not bringing you that happiness, pivot. There’s always something else, always another opportunity, there’s no one path.
TWT: How would you describe yourself as an artist (producer, designer, performer, etc.)?
AR: That’s a tough one, I would say that it’s easy to describe myself as a creative. Honestly, I struggle with this question more often than you would think because when people ask me [what I do], I don’t like to say my job because I’m so much more than my nine-to-five job. I love my job very much, I do fashion merchandising and it’s very rewarding and challenging and I’ve learned so much by doing it. But I’m also all of these other things too. I knit, watercolor paint, and I’m an installation artist. I love moving my body. I love things that make you think. I love the philosophy behind art. I love pushing different boundaries. I love the community and the connectivity. And I know some of that stuff is not who I am, but I think that’s what I like to evoke [in my art]. [I like to] evoke spaces where people can both feel safe and included, but also where you can challenge your perspective on things [and] breakthrough social taboos. And maybe you go away thinking about something new you hadn’t thought of before.
TWT: How has your work changed over time/how have you grown?
AR: I think that the big change is allowing myself to pick up a different project and put the old project down. I used to try and do everything simultaneously. And moving to Pittsburgh, I got the chance to renovate my own house. I knew a little bit from taking woodshop [and] I learned from my uncle how to lay down flooring and do a lot of really unique things. And in doing that, a lot of my [projects] had to stay in boxes. That means I haven’t [had] the chance to really knit or watercolor paint as much, and that’s okay. It’s [about]… giving myself permission to not beat myself up when I have a day off or a weekend [without] plans. I [think to myself] “I should really make something, I need to write something or paint something or be productive.” But the units that you create are not equal to your worth.
I think that’s what I’m trying to teach myself right now, to be kind to myself and remind myself that doing small things for me is a unit of kindness… It’s [about] balance [and] intentionality. As a kid, I wanted to do it all and I wanted to be the best. I wanted more than what I have, but what I have is so amazing that I was taking it for granted. If five years ago, I got to talk to myself right now, I’d think, “Really? You’re doing those things. You’ve succeeded in this area and that area.” Meanwhile, now I [think] I’m not doing enough. I think maybe in five years I’ll be more of this or that. But you are yourself from five years ago already, you’ve achieved so much. So celebration is the main theme for me, have patience with yourself and just go back to that idea of kindness.
TWT: You’ve worked with installation art in the past. Could you describe your work and what inspires your art?
AR: The first big installation that I got to do outside of classes was my Capstone Project where I paper-mâchéd statues of people and put them up in our University Center. I collected quotes from across the campus [on] how people felt about controversial topics. I asked [questions] and people had very polarizing opinions. I would write those [quotes] across the statues’ faces, arms, legs, and all over their bodies. So you’d be walking through the University Center and you couldn’t walk the way you normally did because these [molds of] people are literally blocking your path. Some people ignored and walked around them while others stopped and they read, interacted, and took pictures with [the installation], and that was the point. The minority can affect the majority. Even if you don’t directly interact with the paper-mâché people, you have to alter your path because of their presence. [The theme] was about how people can be architects when they assemble and when they have a message to share. I think we [see] that a lot in the power movements that we’ve had throughout the nation. People bring their voices and use their bodies to create these beautiful marches to share how important it is to have equality, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
I love being able to create art that touches on some of those themes and makes people think about how we physicalize concepts. And I’ve [had the chance] to do a lot of work around healing from PTSD, healing from trauma, consent, and sexual assault and how that has impacted people. I [was able to] interview a collection of different people and share their stories through a found-object installation. I created these moments that represented what each person went through… And I think that’s what I look for in my installation art is taking a concept and bringing a new physicality to it that makes you think and challenges your definition of it or makes you talk about it.
TWT: You also work in interior design. What was your favorite design project you’ve ever completed and why?
AR: I toured with my installation art… [and] after doing that, I came back to Pittsburgh. I came back in a lot of ways for Arcade Comedy Theater because I took a class with them in 2015 when I graduated. When I was back for one of my shows, I took a pop-up class that they had and I reconnected with my friend Aaron Tarnow, who’s the technical director there. And he said, “You should come help out, we’re doing stuff with the new theater space. Come over and help us build some things.” The other reason I stayed was to do some freelance interior design for a real-estate developer in the East-End, which was incredibly fun. I got to work on a Church in Garfield on Kincaid Street and bring a lot of color and life into the building…I redesigned my house which has been incredibly rewarding too, but I wouldn’t say it’s completed yet. I’m always finding a new part to work on. I love how it’s evolved over the past four years. Tearing out carpet, learning how to install an overhead light, all for a space I get to wake up in every morning and call my own.
I also love organizing, that’s what I do most now is helping people organize their closets, [and] rooms. Helping them pick out practical furniture pieces, making sure that these are spaces people can interact in. Especially when you’re living in the same space that you’re working, [it] has different functionalities and [there are] different ways to separate those functionalities. [For example], my friend Amanda, who lives in New York, said that she would sit on her bed sometimes to work. I said, why don’t you get a collapsible chair? So if you want to use your bed as the desk, you’re opening and closing that chair. That act is going to segment your room from your bedroom into your workspace. And when you’re living in a tiny apartment in New York, sometimes that’s really all you have to work with.
For more information about Annamarie Rose and her projects, visit annamarierose.com or follow her on Instagram: @a.rose_blooming, @two.cats.design