Alumna Q&A: Deby Guzman-Buchness ’15 makes it in New York
Deby Xiadani Guzman-Buchness ’15, a neuroscience major and theater minor at Dartmouth, is working her way up the performing arts ladder in New York City. While at the College she was involved with Casual Thursday, a short-form improve comedy group. Guzman-Buchness recently finished a production internship with four-time Tony award-winning Broadway producer Harriet Leve, producer of “Stomp,” “Beautiful: The Carole King musical,” “An American in Paris” and most recently “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” She currently works in New York City as a fitness instructor at Oasis Fitness Club. She is set to shadow Peter Hackett, director of “Orwell in America,” in the coming months as an assistant director. “Orwell in America,”originated at Vermont’s Northern Stage, is coming to New York City as an off-Broadway show at East 59 Theaters.
Can you tell us about your current work?
DG: For the past year, I was working for Broadway producer Harriet Leve who was an incredible mentor and role model because she started producing in her mid-30s and I feel like at my age, art can be very daunting as a career field. But she is living proof that you can start in your mid-30s and be successful.
Can you tell us about your experience at Dartmouth? What did you study? What kind of clubs were you involved in? And how do you think these experiences shaped your interest in your future career?
DG: The biggest thing was that I realized how much I loved entertainment and comedy and knew I wanted to get into that. So here in the city, I have been able to use that comedy background and try to establish that with other comedic artists. I also feel like the connections I’ve made through Dartmouth have really helped me outside especially in New York City where there are so many of them. In fact, the Harriet Leve producing job that I got was through a Dartmouth alum.
The analogy I would make school to is a ladder where you have these steps to get your major or to go forward, and you are constantly climbing up the ladder and the rungs are already there for you. The arts outside of school is much more like a forest where you’re finding your path so there are no rungs for you but it’s incredibly engaging. I was really craving that ladder-like structure that I’m used to since kindergarten when I got out of school so I decided to make my own curriculum. I realized the reason I did reasonably well at Dartmouth was because it was six weeks of intense pouring yourself into your classes, into your studies, into that focus and having a goal at the end of it. So I designed my own six-week curriculum and decided to focus on my performance when I was working with Harriet Leve. I was also rapping and setting up these projects that would be the essay equivalent at Dartmouth. I would set these goals for myself and have one for each week and I was finding that I was extremely successful and was able to learn the most from it. It was a way to almost make a ladder in a forest or make my own path in the forest. So now I’m performing, in addition to assistant directing, at an open mic which I created myself at a place called Von on Bleaker Street. Now I’m trying to continue working on my comedy and my rap and looking for an agent — those are the next steps in my curriculum.
Can you elaborate on your comedy and your rap?
DG: I think initially, artists try to do what they know, so a lot of my initial stuff is about who I am and is origin-based. I did Women of Dartmouth my last year and I really appreciated that event because it was one where I was able to share something really personal, but I felt like I was able to make it a little funny, and I was able to illuminate the seriousness of it. So a lot of my rap and content is about the comedy of our origins, the comedy of my origins, specifically, my past, which is about making it funny because why not? I think we are very attracted to people that make us laugh and I really like making people laugh. I’ve always been a rhymer, and I also make beats on my computer. So I put these rhymes to a beat and they end up being rap. I started my rap initially being very aggressive. I think women are less socially admired when they are aggressive so there’s a little bit of political and social satire in my raps as well. My raps are conscious; I like diving into real-life issues. My art is not going to be for everyone; it doesn’t need to be for everyone. But it gives me such thrill to make art that means something to me and then for it to mean something to someone else. That’s why I’m here!
Who are your inspirations or role models, either in the arts or in general?
DG: Harriet Leve, again, is my biggest role model because she’s shown me that you can be a woman in the arts and be successful. She’s a woman from a middle-income family and is now a high-grossing Broadway producer. She used to work at a travel agency and absolutely changed her career midway in her mid-30s which answers the question, “Do we need to figure out what we’re going to do now?”, to which her answer is, “Do what you love now. And then you will do what you love later.” You will continuously do what you love if you practice doing what you love currently and practice it for the rest of your life.
What’s it like being a ’15 trying to make it in New York?
DG: It is entirely dependent on the type of personality you have. I get such inspiration and energy from people, so in a city of 8.5 million people, I am totally invigorated. It’s not even an issue of do I want to be doing this, the question is how. And I think for anyone coming out of college, the question should not be, “Do I want to be there?” You find a place you want to be, and figure out how you’re going to make it work. For me, New York is the place I want to be — that’s the first step. While at Dartmouth, I took a term off and lived on my own in Chicago for three months which prepared me for life after college. Learning how to create my own budget and working with it was very important. I was very fortunate because I was a Zumba instructor in college and found a fitness instructing job here in the city. What I definitely recommend to anyone is, don’t go into just doing something for the money that you don’t like; there are so many jobs that can utilize your specific skill sets. You also have to just tap into that network of people willing to help you, and they will. The biggest thing about being in the city for me is utilizing the support you know you have and realizing that now is the time for you to make the best moves for yourself and to be bold about getting the help you need, which is why I’m trying as hard as I can to be a support for people.
The article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.