ALEXA KARAS / SCREENWRITER / CHICAGO, IL
Tell me about what drove you to become a screenwriter.
A: I have always loved writing. Even as a kid. I would sit in my room and write stories all the time about young, women detectives and explorers, like that was my idea of fun from the ages of six until twelve...which is a little weird, but I loved it. As I got older, my love for writing changed. At first I thought I wanted to go into journalism, so I worked on the high school newspaper, but then when I got to college I realized I didn't really want to be a journalist. The landscape was changing and I didn’t know how I could fit in. I was scared.
At Northwestern, I originally pursued a traditional business degree. After some time, I looked for something more creative in the curriculum because that's really who I am and was, at heart, and I found...the film program. I never thought of screenwriting until I was in college, to be honest. I never thought about writing for that medium, but I'd always loved movies, TV...and to be the story behind a film was super interesting to me. I double majored, have been writing for a few years, and most recently I’ve written and produced a show, The Limbo Lounge, an immersive, happy hour, “playsical” — which has been the best thing I have ever done.
Can you talk more about how you were able to create your own musical? I know it’s pretty impossible to get into the “scene” in New York.
A: They say everyone in NY and LA has a script in their back pocket. It's one of those industries that attracts thousands of people; so even when you ask experts or teachers for advice on how to break in, they never know. No one can say to you, “Here's how you do it.” If you want to be a doctor, you go to medical school; but with film, there's no path, no clear direction. I'm someone who likes to go out and do things — make things happen. I love being an owner, project manager, or producer in every situation. I had an idea for something that would be better live on stage than as a film. Then I thought, ‘Why not try it in a bar?’ because the show’s setting is in a bar and I haven’t seen or heard of any full plays happening in a small, common space in Manhattan.
From there I pulled together an incredible cast by using friends and Backstage, I contacted local bars, sold in the concept, and did everything else from writing music with the talented Konner Scott, to physically designing and printing Playbills. I have to mention that I also had a lot of help from friends and family in getting the first show off the ground.
So how do you manage your side hustle with a full time job? What recommendations do you have for other people trying to do thE SAME?
A: I do sales for a big company during the day and I always give my all because everything I do, I care about. I love the people I work with. Some nights, when I get home, I’m exhausted and I want to curl up and watch TV. And some nights I do, do that because it's really hard to get into writing when you’re about to fall asleep. However, once I get on a roll, I'll try to map out each day for the next five or six days — what I want to get done — and then I literally cross it out as I finish it. The key is not beating myself up if I don’t accomplish something by my personal deadlines. I have to remind myself that I have a life. I have to sleep. I have to do my day job.
You have to be comfortable setting things in motion and going with the flow a little bit. While you do have to be a perfectionist in a lot of ways, you can't let perfectionism take over your project. You have to get 90 percent of the way there and then be comfortable with mistakes, accidents, and life getting in the way. So I try to follow that mantra and that keeps me sane as I work on projects.
Are there many women screenwriters? Tell me what it's like to be an aspiring screenwriter in a male dominated space and how does that come through in your writing?
A: The fact that there are few women writers is intimidating, but also something that really drives and excites me. It's almost like you get to be a little entrepreneurial and break into a space where you have to fight to make a mark, or be noticed. I reckon that maybe I'm destined to be in a lot of male dominated industries because I’m a writer and my day job is selling beer for a major company. I was recently promoted and I heard a stat that only 3 percent of the people in my new role are women. When you think about all the progress women have made these days, while we are seeing some industries get better, we still have a long way to go.
To hear that 3 percent stat is scary but I also say to myself, ‘Hell, I'm gonna go in there and be the best. I'm gonna have to be the toughest. I'm gonna have to be stronger than the average person.”
I have to remind myself to keep my head up, be tough, and that I deserve to be where I am. It’s the same thing with screenwriting. When I write, I consciously try to make sure I have strong women in my script. I don't try to do it where it’s too over the top because at the end of the day, that may not be true to real life. I want to portray real life. I love writing a strong woman character because I think we need to see that more in society. There are so many women that I know — all of my friends are super amazing, powerful, and strong women — and I want the young women of America and the world to see strong women in what I write.
How will you bloom in the next year?
A: Oh my gosh! I am so excited to bloom this year. I've been trying to really put into place a lot of pieces of my puzzle during this last year in order to get to where I want to be. I've been taking a professional writing class once a week with UCLA. I've been writing TV pilots and getting a collection of work together for my portfolio. I've been putting on my playsical, The Limbo Lounge, in New York and we're going to do more shows in upcoming months.
I’m really excited! My cast is amazing and there are a lot of incredible women in the show — Tess, Lauren, Aria, Lea — who inspire me every day. We have a very open door policy where we give each other feedback and that’s been great. So I'm gonna bloom with my writing and producing by taking this show to the next level and by entering contests. I actually got third place in a small contest a few years ago and I recently said, ‘Why aren't I doing contests anymore?’ I need to keep getting my work out there because I love writing!
I'm moving to Los Angeles for my day job to lead a new team and it's a big move for me. I’ve lived in New York for the last five years, which is the bulk of my professional career. This move will be a big adventure and I hope to bloom out there by helping this new team drive their businesses. I also hope to meet new friends and have new experiences as I grow into my 30th year. I am gearing up for a power 30 and I think I'm really putting myself in the right place professionally and personally to get there.
I also want to bloom by continuing to support my network. I was talking with a friend recently about how everyone's doing really cool stuff right now. I want to continue to support the fellow women in my life with their dreams because I'm so inspired by them. They support me so much that it feels like we're, not to be cheesy, but we’re all part of a garden that's blooming together and feeding off of each other's growth and development.
If you could give three pieces of advice to a reader who's going through something tough what would you tell them?
A: Be unstoppable with what you do. Don't stop because the only way anyone ever gets anything they want is through a ton of hard work and then a little bit of luck. Be humble. Someone gave me a powerful piece of advice a few years ago, they said, ‘When you’re early in your career, ask a ton of questions and be a sponge. People want to help someone who's young because they feel like they're supposed to be new and inexperienced.” But I think if you keep a humbleness about you, you can always continue to get advice even as you age. Don't be weak, but be humble.
The last piece of advice would be to really try to go out of your way to nurture relationships with friends and family. Be the person who calls. Be the person who asks how someone's doing. Be the person who goes to the event. Be the person who tells a joke. Be there for others and while they may not always be there for you, sometimes they will, and you're gonna need them when you're struggling one day. So be intentional and be there for others and then you'll always have the support you need in the future from someone in your network.
What do you want to be remembered for?
A: I want to be remembered for making the world a better place. I don't mean like ‘world peace’, I mean more like making people think and understand each other in a better way. I want to do that through art and writing. There are so many stories out there that have made me a better person and made me realize that the world isn't about business or politics or left or right or up or down — it's about love. I want to be remembered as somebody who spread love, brought love, and sought to understand as many people as I could during this journey through life. Hopefully I can be remembered for how my art inspired others, whether it is live theatre or on the screen.
Anything else that you want to share that I didn't touch upon?
A: Even though I'm still blooming myself, I still want to help as many women as I can. So as my business develops, my side business of my writing develops, I'll probably need some bad ass woman to help...so any young readers, keep that in mind and I would love to help you grow in the future whether as an advisor or even simply as someone to talk to. So if that sounds cool, get my contact info from Bloom Journal, and maybe we can work together and make each other stronger.
MEET THE CAST OF THE LIMBO LOUNGE
*I also would like to thank Bloom Journal, Konner Scott, The Cast of the Limbo Lounge, Hen Jerram, Joanne Warren, Steve Pals, Nate Muszczynski, Laura McGinnis, Maribeth Walke, Ellen Nazarenus, Tom Muellner, and Susan Karas for supporting me both emotionally and professionally in the last year.