Ada Zhang is an opera singer turned stage manager based in NYC. After attending Peking University and majoring in Art History, Zhang attended graduate school at Columbia University, majoring in theatre with an emphasis on stage management. She’s been on the road with the Wicked International Tour, Kinky Boots Asia Tour, Theater in Quarantine, SIX Aragon Tour, and most currently, Mahinerator at the Tank NYC! When she’s not onstage, Zhang is a huge advocate for The Tank NYC, “an off-off Broadway theatre that supports young artists who are in their early career” that curates equity and diversity in the arts industry. Her advice to young artists? “If you are SURE you want to do this, be brave, be resilient, and always be yourself.” Read on to learn more about Ada Zhang and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Ada Zhang
Hometown: Beijing, China
Current City: New York City, NY
Current project: Stage Manager for Mahinerator at the Tank NYC
What are some of your favorite credits/projects: Wicked International Tour, Kinky Boots Asia Tour, Theater in Quarantine, SIX Aragon Tour
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
It is not an easy industry to stay in. If you are SURE you want to do this, be brave, be resilient, and always be yourself.
How did you get your start?
I started being in theatre as an opera singer and transitioned into stage management when I was in college.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
When I recommended myself to be the show caller on Kinky Boots when my PSM was going to do a surgery on the second day, even though it meant I would receive basically no training. But at that moment, I was so certain that I could do it. I love those moments when there was a very clear voice in my mind that told me what to do.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
Trying to break the barriers to get to the next level. In SO MANY situations, it is not your skill, ability or anything that has to do with you that leads your career, it is the timing, which is absolutely not in your control.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I‘m a highly sensitive and emotional person, but I'm trained by my job to not show any emotions at work. And now I am pretty good at it.
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
The Tank NYC. They are an off-off Broadway theatre that supports young artists who are in their early career. They provide space and resources for young theatre artists to put on their shows for the NY audiences. Being a non-profit, they still aim to pay people as much as they can for their works and have done a lot to create diversity, inclusivity and equity for the industry. As a theatre company that does not function with a Broadway budget, they put on all different kinds of cool stuff all year long and they are able to keep their missions throughout some of the hardest times in the industry. If you are in NYC, check out their shows! https://thetanknyc.org/
Do you have any mentors?
Yes. My mom has been my mentor for a very long time, since before the pandemic. Work wise, the production stage manager on my first professional job has been a great mentor of mine. He has guided me throughout many difficult moments in my career.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
Interestingly, I always have this vision of myself working in the arts. Even when I was very little, I knew that I would stick to the arts when I grew up, although I had absolutely no specific idea of what I would do. Very abnormal for an Asian kid raised by a traditional Chinese family that has nothing to do with show business.
When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?
In my junior year in college. I majored in Art History in college but I couldn't see myself researching paintings for the rest of my life. I was also in the student choir at that moment and I found myself enjoying every single moment whenever I sang. That was when I knew that my life needed to be on a "stage" somehow.
Is where you are now where you thought you’d be?
Lololololololol no. If you asked me in 2019 what my life would be like for the next 5 years, my answer would not even be close to what had happened in the past. It is nothing but a wild ride, but I am grateful for everything. I wouldn't be my current self without any of these odds.
Do you have any other “special skills?”
I guess I'm pretty good at analyzing people's personalities and complicated situations by gathering small details and evidence, then giving out reasonable judgements.
If you come from parents who aren’t in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the business?
Being reflective, brave, resilient and flexible. Working SO DAMN HARD.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Things will absolutely NOT go as you wish, but it is ok! You learn more from the unexpected and you will love the person you grow into.
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
Being flexible and kind. Learn how to manage your emotions and feelings.
If you work in more than one facet of the entertainment industry, tell us a little about what else you do!
Although my interest is in stage management, I worked as a company manager in the past couple of years, but now I have fully dedicated myself to stage management work. And obviously being Chinese, I work on international projects between China and the U.S. as whatever roles that bridge the two together.
Do you find that any of your skills cross over and help in other jobs or projects you do, both in the arts or outside?
Absolutely. My experience working as a company manager makes me better at tackling interpersonal issues. Although the specific responsibilities and work flow are different from a stage manager, the communication, organization skills are certainly transferrable. All these have benefited me when I come back to stage management.
Where did you study at?
I went to college at Peking University which is in Beijing, China. I majored in Art History. After graduation, I went to graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, majored in theatre and specialized in stage management. I got my M.F.A. in May 2020.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Managed to survive in this country as an international person who works in theatre throughout the pandemic.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
What do you love most about what you do?
The moment when I feel that with everyone's effort, we make something that can make an audience member's day, and I am a part of it.
What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career?
Oof. Time and consistent effort. It absolutely sucks when something like this happens, especially if it is not even your fault, you just take the devastating consequences of a chaotic situation. My key is never give up. Unfortunately the process of coming back is not linear, it goes back and forth and will take probably longer than you thought. However, please always make the effort to drag yourself out of the dark hole, although you may feel freaking lost, emotionally drained and helpless all the time. Ask for help, go to therapy, lean on friends and keep making the effort. At the very end, time will cure you and you will become stronger than ever.
Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane? What was your self care routine before the pandemic and how has that (as well as your views of self care) changed throughout the pandemic?
Yes! Well honestly I did not have a self care routine before the pandemic. My work is my life and if my work sucks, my life is ruined. During the pandemic, I realized that it was not right, so I slowly started to build some routines to keep myself healthy physically and mentally while drawing a line between work and personal life. The big things for me are cooking my own meals and going to the gym. Both of them help both my body and soul feel good. While I was on tour, it became really hard to keep up with these two things, but I tried my best to do as much as I could.
Since so many of us spent a lot of time isolated during the pandemic, how has that experience specifically changed your creative or preparation process or your outlook on life?
I spent a lot of time reading books and reflecting on my past experiences. Sadly before the pandemic I had not had a lot of time to really read, nor to really spend time thinking about things. This industry, together with this world, is so fast paced. We are very used to taking actions without even thinking or reflecting afterwards. In my personal experience, reflection is a critical part that keeps me moving forward. I always believe that quality weighs way over quantity, it is important to get the experience, but if you never think about them after you are done, you'll never grow.
What inspires you?
People who have stayed in this industry long enough to understand everything, but still be so kind and passionate about what they do.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?
If you love to observe people, have a brain that's good enough to work logically and sometimes be sarcastic over desperate situations, I'd like to be friends with you!
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