In August 2016, Dust Can’t Kill Me, a folk musical by Abigail Carney (book) and Elliah Heifetz (music and lyrics), premiered to rave reviews. It played a sold-out run at the New York Musical Festival, winning five awards, including Best Music, Best Orchestrations, Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role, and Outstanding Individual Performance.
What is less well known? Abigail and Elliah met while undergraduates at Yale—recently. Abigail Carney, from a small town in rural Ohio, graduated from Yale College in 2015. So how did an English major at Yale in 2015 garner rave reviews from Broadway in 2016?
In the fall of 2014, Myra Evans Lapeyrolerie ’81, who had been informally mentoring students for years, decided to take her mentoring work to the next level. Myra was then chapter head of YaleWomen Cleveland. She proposed, as one of our YaleWomen Cleveland events, that we host a mentoring reception for Yale students from our area during the winter break.
Thanks to YaleWomen and Myra’s ongoing mentoring activities, Myra already had a great campus connection: Arielle Miller ’16, whom Myra had met via an email introduction from Susan Lennon, who was then co-chair of the YaleWomen Chapters Committee. Arielle was vice president of the student organization, Women’s Leadership Institute at Yale (WLI). Arielle and Myra met on several occasions during the spring of 2014. Arielle was invited to attend a YaleWomen Cleveland social during the summer to meet other alums and discuss the mentoring outreach WLI had initiated.
Arielle was instrumental in reaching out to current students from Ohio to invite them to the event during the winter break. Our local Yale club did not have a list of students beyond our Alumni Schools Committee area. Arielle created a list of Ohio Yalies from the school directory and conducted email outreach through WLI’s pan list and MailChimp. Arielle also created a Facebook page for the event, including biographies of alums and students to attract students and alums to attend the event over the break.
Through the ongoing activities of YaleWomen, we already had established channels for reaching Yale alums in the area. We published the event in our bi-weekly newsletter and also publicized it on our Facebook page. We found that the event attracted both our core group and other alums who had never attended a YaleWomen event.
LESSONS LEARNED: Alums are willing to make sacrifices to help students, beyond what they would do for an event that engaged only their own interests. We had alums drive in from several areas in Northeast Ohio. Ann Klotz ’82, head of Laurel School for Girls, donated the use of a reception room at the school and alums contributed the food and drink.
Current campus connections are critical in making student/mentor connections. In this case, Abigail’s connection was the result of Arielle’s PR efforts.
While the old boys’ network has much to recommend it, and many of us owe it much, the YaleWomen network is different. I personally have seen the inside of more sports bars that I could name. I am very grateful; both that I was included and that bonding in my almost exclusively male firm (in the 1980s) took such a benign form. I have friends who went to Wall Street and weren’t so lucky, or as one woman put it: “As the strippers were walking in, I was walking out.”
I also learned that there is a reason that many mentoring relationships are formed during outings to golf or sporting events; these are familiar, interesting, comfortable and informal environments for the participants. It is in these less formal environments that a different kind of networking takes place: the anti-hierarchical networking that develops into a mentoring or sponsorship relationship.
When we came to the event that December evening we had only one thing in common; we were or had been women at Yale. But this, coupled with the setting and the informal structure of the evening was enough to create that magical, comfortable environment. Soon people hung out, chatted and shared stories and common themes emerged. Students offered advice to other students. Alums learned about current trends on campus. Students learned what life as an Old Blue looked like at ten, twenty or even thirty plus years out. When we left the event, we were not just Yalies but comrades. Alums felt that we really wanted to help these, our younger selves, and students felt that they had a resource for questions not just about careers, but about life and Yale. Everyone felt they had encountered something unexpected.
LESSONS LEARNED: A casual, familiar environment can create the most lasting and possibly most valuable mentoring relationships. A familiar, comfortable environment for a women’s networking session may or may not be a box at the game or a round of golf (although I do love both). It could be lunch and a new museum exhibit, a potluck or perhaps (as in our case) a seat around the common room fire with coffee and cookies.
At the comfort level increased in the course of that initial meeting, Abigail admitted that although she knew she wanted to write, she wasn’t sure how exactly how to make that a career. She had written a musical Dust Can’t Kill Me and was considering work as a journalist or trying to get into the entertainment industry. Myra told her to send a copy of her resume, which Myra read and helped edit. She also recommended that Abigail have two resumes one for journalism and another one for her theatrical interests. Abigail took this advice and revamped her resumes. Then Myra opened her address book and began to reach out to anyone she thought might be able to help Abigail.
Abigail followed up with all of these contacts. She spoke to Elizabeth Sullivan ’73, a founding member of YaleWomen Cleveland. Elizabeth is a journalist and she helped Abigail navigate her search for employment after graduation. Abigail also met with Scott Delman ’82, producer of Book of Mormon and numerous other Tony Award winning plays and musicals. Scott was so impressed with Abigail that he agreed to be a sponsor of her production of Dust Can’t Kill Me, which debuted on August 1, 2016.
LESSONS LEARNED: Abigail did everything right. As a student, she followed the advice of the contacts she made, both during the first mentoring event in Cleveland and beyond. She rewrote her resume and always followed up with possible mentors and sponsors. Myra and Abigail remain in touch and whenever Myra is able to meet with Abigail (in Ohio, Los Angeles or New York) they get together for lunch or dinner and an opportunity to catch up. It is a relationship that began with a Yale bond but continues to grow.
Mentors striving for excellence, like Myra, maintain relationships with their students long after graduation. Mentors have a responsibility to check in with their students and recent graduates, and not only when they have a task to accomplish. Sharing words of wisdom or just being a good listener are key qualities for a good mentor.
Abigail and Elliah are unquestionably talented but talent isn’t always rewarded. Originally, Abigail didn’t know anyone in her dream field. Through the YaleWomen organization, she made contact with women who did; women who were not only willing to reach out to their own contacts but also to ask friends to share their networks. And with fewer than seven degrees of separation, something amazing happened.
So, although you might not always know someone who can get you to Broadway, if you are a Yale woman, never forget that through YaleWomen, you know someone, who knows someone, who… you see where this is going.
LESSONS LEARNED: The Yale network is alive and well and making strides in the new millennium.
Abigail and Elliah are currently rehearsing for a concert version of the show at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC with "The Score" podcast. (See article, The Score.)
—Elizabeth Gerard ’79, YaleWomen Council and YaleWomen Cleveland Chapter Head