Meet Debora Balardini, a creative disruptor who manages 3 successful ventures, director at large on the board of the League of Professional Theater Women (LPTW), a theater performer, director, producer, and educator. Taking a leap from multiple nominations for contributions to original theater productions, she was awarded an Essence of a Boss Award and a proclamation from The National Council of Women of the United States (NCW/US) for her humanitarian work dedicated to the empowerment of women.
Who is Debora Balardini? define yourself
I am a 30-year veteran in the arts, a Latinx feminist, a New Yorker and lifelong learner that embraces my Brazilian, Afro-Brazilian, and Native Brazilian heritage. I am driven and inspired as a performer, theatre director, producer, and educator to create an inclusive space in the arts for unique, diverse voices through original productions, signature cultural events, and fostering leadership. I am a mother, a friend, and an ally.
Tell us more about your family, how were you as a kid?
I was born in Curitiba, Brazil at the tail end of the dictatorship. Growing up in a middle-class family and being the youngest of two daughters, we were fairly normal other than the stifling silence created by censorship. Taking on conventional marital roles, my father was a banker and my mother was a stay-at-home parent. We moved and traveled often. I went to religious school until my early teens. I was very creative and my passion was always to move and entertain the people around me. Once our television, which back then was the center of entertainment in the house, stopped working. As the image improved I saw a performer moving to music in a big space. It was a moment of recognition. That’s when I realized that I wanted to be in the arts, in that vast space moving, dancing, performing—using my voice. I started my first dance classes when I was 12 and theatre classes a few years later.
"A good secret for success has been keeping my word and making sure my creative teams are okay, especially when it’s time to grow in a new direction"
You studied Portuguese and Spanish Literature at Universidade Federal do Parana; Dance, Modern, and Classic Ballet, Faculdade de Artes do Parana; Acting, Meisner Technique, William Esper Studio; Acting, Choreographic Theatre, and Roy Hart Technique, Pantheatre-Paris. Why did you decide to study all of that?
To this day I continue to take courses in many different subjects just for the fun of it. All these, of course, when I have some spare time. I love learning. I love growing. I love culture. I love studying. I love literature, art, dance, acting, and music. I decided to study to support my talents and aspirations but don’t limit my interests only to my craft and profession. I sometimes find myself listening to a sociology lesson or marketing course. I am also a lover of languages—if I had a more forgiving schedule I would speak 10 of them. I currently speak 3 and a half. Portuguese, English, and Spanish. French is the one I struggle with the most. The next one will be Italian and Japanese. My plan for that is in the works.
You are from Brazil, what´s the reason you moved to the USA?
Looking back, I didn’t decide to move to the USA but it never occurred to me to stay in one place. I was curious and interested in the world as far back as I can remember. Being in Brazil at the tail end of the dictatorship, I was even more motivated to explore other cultures and my voice I was finding that had begun to be expressed through the arts. I left Brazil to live in Japan for 6 months and from there a friend of mine who was a teacher convinced me to come to New York to see some Broadway shows and check out the dance scene. Rather than return to Brazil on New Year’s Day, I came to New York instead. What began as a two-month vacation ended up being more than 24 years of studying, hustling, and making it happen in the Big Apple.
You worked as Director Of Educational Development in East 3rd and Theater Coach in Brazilian Endowment for the Arts, how did you jump from that point to finding The Nettles Artists Collectives in 2004, later GROUP BR in 2011 and Punto Space in 2014?
I worked with East 3rd Productions for about a year and with the Brazilian Endowment for the Arts for 8 months, two amazing companies with fantastic teams. At that time, I had not had the experience of having my own business and I wanted something that was my fully expressed vision as an artist and entrepreneur. Nettles was already in its inception days creating installations and original experiential productions little by little. My friend and business partner, Sandie Luna, and I always had this desire to have a space to create and foster our arts community. That is actually how the concept of PUNTO Space came about. We developed these as sister entities.
Group.BR was created from the desire to foster the art of Brazilian culture, which is on my mind and in my heart, that is rarely seen, understood and celebrated. When I met Andressa Furletti and Thiago Felix, we realized we had the same desires and after 8 years we are still NY's only Brazilian theatre company. Thiago went back to Brazil to pursue his teaching career and Andressa and I are stronger than ever as business partners and friends producing original immersive productions and signature cultural events.
" I had to explore the discomfort of being recognized more deeply and take ownership of what it means to grow in the arts, especially with the state of women in the arts who are seen less as leaders and hence paid and considered less"
Can you briefly describe what each company is about and what does it make them unique in the entertainment business?
Punto Space is a three-level event and performance raw space in Midtown West that I co-founded along with my partners Sandie Luna and Duke York. While it is a for-profit business model, it’s designed by artists for artists with inclusivity, collaboration, and community in mind. The versatile venue has four studios and state-of-the-art amenities to support weddings and a wide range of arts, corporate, cultural, educational, and philanthropic events. The venue’s unique differentiator is that it’s artist-founded, Latina-run, and lends both creativity and professionalism to how it manages hospitality. Award-winning Nettles Artists Collective (NAC) is a Latina-run collective company with the mission of embuing the American scene with authentic, global voices and multidisciplinary collaborations by providing a platform for performing and visual arts. We are a company created and run by Latinas. NAC has received recognition for Apple of My Eye/Menina dos Meus Olhos, the presumably first professionally produced theatre production I directed written by Tathi Piancastelli, an artist and activist with down Syndrome. Currently, NAC is in a transition so we are excited to explore the next creative chapter.
Group.BR, NY's only Brazilian theatre company and non-profit, is also Latina-run and has nearly as many nominations over the years as it has theater productions. Our mission is to present Brazilian culture through the performing arts which have, most notably, been through immersive theater productions such as Inside the Wild Heart, and signature cultural experiential events such as Clarice’s Hour, Pão de Queijo Brunch, and Saravá!. We play an important role in the diverse, multicultural New York art scene and have committed to cultivating our Brazilian community and culture alive as well as sharing and including other cultures into the mix.
You are a creative disruptor who manages 3 successful ventures. Aside from being the co-founder of PUNTO Space, an event and performance raw space in Midtown West she also co-founded award-winning organizations Group.BR and Nettles Artists Collective, You are newly elected director at large on the board of the League of Professional Theater Women (LPTW). What´s the recipe of your success?
From performances and original productions to company operations and decisions to my new role as Co-VP of Programming for the LPTW, I rely heavily on my intuition, my artist mission, my belief in equity, and Hatha yoga philosophy.
Defining a specific recipe for success is not as straight-forward as it may seem but I try to focus on what feels right and stay in touch with my breath to make mindful decisions on a day-to-day basis. Having these organizations and joining forces with the League just feels right. A part of success for me is supporting the communities and people that are around me, directly or indirectly. Although as with any creation or production there is a life cycle before eventually something new grows in its place but a good secret for success has been keeping my word and making sure my creative teams are okay, especially when it’s time to grow in a new direction.
You accepted a 2017 SheRocks Art Influencer of the Year award and is 2017 40 Over Forty honoree, what does it mean to you?
Being recognized wasn’t always comfortable for me. As an artist, I wanted to solely focus on my work in the arts and immerse myself in the learning processes of techniques for my voice, dance and exploring avant-guard performances. Along the way, I began to realize, being invisible is the exact opposite of my mission as an artist which is to have a voice. So, I had to explore the discomfort of being recognized more deeply and take ownership of what it means to grow in the arts, especially with the state of women in the arts who are seen less as leaders and hence paid and considered less.
Most recently, I was awarded an Essence of a Boss Award and a proclamation from The National Council of Women of the United States (NCW/US) in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations alongside other honorees for our respective humanitarian work dedicated to the empowerment of women. These awards and the ability to be recognized have become very important to me. I feel grateful for having received them because it is a recognition of my work in the arts and my efforts to bring awareness to culture, the arts, our right to have a voice and to be included. That is what I strive for.
"Yoga is in the core in everything I do so, yes, Hatha has very much changed the way I see my life, my family, and my profession. Ever since I started practicing the physical and principal philosophy of yoga, my life has taken a turn for the better"
You have been a Hatha yoga instructor, does this factor has changed the way you see your life, your profession? Yes or no and why?
Yoga is in the core in everything I do so, yes, Hatha has very much changed the way I see my life, my family, and my profession. Ever since I started practicing the physical and principal philosophy of yoga in 2001, my life has taken a turn for the better. The simple act of breathing and understanding that this world we live in is, in a way, just a passage and that making the best of it inspires me and gives me the perspective and motivation I need to be an artist, a performer, an advocate for fair hiring practices, a mother, a friend and a lover of culture.
The word Yoga means union—in this case, the union of mind and body. Sometimes I momentarily let my awareness on my mind or body fall to the wayside before becoming again intentional about how important being centered is to my work and life. This is especially true in the social and political climate we find ourselves in that can invoke a negative direction of thought. That is where yoga philosophy and practice comes in.
Keeping the mind and body in balance with each other is no easy task and can take extra effort sometimes but it is not impossible.
As a director fueled by inclusion in the arts, you were invited to perform a segment of Apple of My Eye at Unicef, as the assumed first professionally produced play by Tati Piancastelli, an actress and activist with Down syndrome who wrote the original piece. The play went on to win international recognition in 2016. You and your team at PUNTO has prioritized working with intern programs such as H.O.P.E., UpNext Fellowship, and the Futures and Options Program for high school students interested in the arts. You advocate for EB Kids organization, having sponsored their event at her venue, PUNTO. What does it drive you? what´s your motivation?
What drives me to work with such incredible talent and to support such inspiring organizations is the desire to give back. Life and art don't have any meaning to me if I am not able to share it with others, with a community that I am a part of, and to give back to society. In the case of Tathi Piancastelli specifically, she is a woman who suffers discrimination and most of the time is not heard. Giving her a voice through her art is simply necessary and overdue. As agents of change, we need to shed light into the women, the youth, the underserved communities marginalized by discriminated so we can all be more inclusive. I advocate through my art, my organizations, and productions, and through volunteerism and philanthropy to empower women and youth. Sometimes one word can save a soul.
"I advocate through my art, my organizations, and productions, and through volunteerism and philanthropy to empower women and youth. Sometimes one word can save a soul"
What is the reality of your day-to-day?
The reality of my day-to-day life managing my role as Director of Sales, Operations, and Artistic Affairs at PUNTO, my role as Executive Director at Group.BR, my role as Co-Artistic Director of NAC, my role Co-VP of Programming for the LPTW, juggling family, personal projects, personal care, time to support and lend a helping hand to others is 11 color-coded calendars and making sure I don’t lose control of the system I created to handle everything. Even though I am very systematic, my schedule sometimes has drastic changes so daily life also means staying flexible to unanticipated change.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Meditation. Even though I may go a day or two without working out, I don't miss my meditation. It keeps me centered, it gives me perspective, and it strengthens my soul.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Flexibility, fairness and having a great team. There is no one way to strategize. Given any particular business or project within that business, different stages require different approaches. While a team that becomes disconnected can disenfranchise business goals, a successful growth strategy is directly linked to having a solid team and a healthy company culture that fosters quality relationships and productivity.
With theater credits to include The Cherry Orchard, Servant of Two Masters, Romeo, and Juliet, The Threepenny Opera and Don Quixote de La Mancha, In the realm of avant-garde performance, you participated in the opera U with the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble from Holland held at the Watermill Center residency program and Tropiezos, directed by Enrique Pardo in Santiago Chile at Universidad Mayor. As a theater director include The Serpent by acclaimed playwright Nelson Rodrigues, which role do you enjoy the most and what have you been your favorite work?
Oh! This is a tough question. I love all the roles I have ever played. All of them gave me a different set of challenges and a new learning experience but I have to say that my favorite role is always the one I am working on at any given moment. Right now, I am in love with the work I am doing with Inside the Wild Heart based on the works and life of author Clarice Lispector. Throughout the two-hour immersive theater experience that takes place in a non-traditional, multi-level venue, I perform 4 different characters that originated from her literary work. Of the 4, Victoria—a strong woman who had a tough life and has never been able to fulfill her dreams or pursue love the way she intended is my favorite. I love this character for the depth she brings to the audience. What a pleasure.
"There are no unrealistic expectations when we make an informed decision and take risks. We are all different people with different dreams and can't crush our dreams because someone tells us that what we do is unrealistic or that we must do this or that. Autonomy is the name of the game"
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love reading and have a passion for biographies and literature. Music is another passion that I can't live without. Everything I do has a musical accompaniment. I love listening to music such as Mozart, Puccini, Brazilian bossa nova and Kornos Quartet, to name a few I love watching heavy TV series and movies with complicated plots.
What are your plans for the second semester of 2019?
Right now we are developing a strategy to bring Apple of My Eye back to the stages of New York and have a fundraiser in the works for Inside the Wild Heart. I am in the process of directing a new solo show with a Brazilian actress. Also, writing a two-woman show that has my mom in the cast with me. Come December, though, I will enjoy some much needed time with family traveling.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, blossoming family life, and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, You are married and have a son, so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I can’t help but think that any statement of those natures is a reflection of the life and beliefs of the person who is making them. Any comments about what others should do or what others should be is always a reflection of our desires and criticisms.I think we, women, should strive to have what we think is right for ourselves. There are no unrealistic expectations when we make an informed decision and take risks. We are all different people with different dreams and can't crush our dreams because someone tells us that what we do is unrealistic or that we must do this or that. Autonomy is the name of the game.
How are you as a wife as a mom?
I feel great in these two roles. Apart from the usual saying that partners and children make us learn a lot about ourselves, I also think that being a mom and a wife brings me the awareness that life is short and this is the type of love I want to be surrounded by until I die. I am a very systematic and controlling mom and wife but when my boys tell me "you are being unreasonable, mom" or "please listen, Debora", I step back and let them show me what is the best way for us to solve a problem or live in harmony. I am very grateful for the family I created with my husband.
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented the glass ceiling? if yes, What are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
Even though, as an entrepreneur, I have some autonomy and control over my businesses, I cannot deny that the glass ceiling metaphor doesn’t apply to the arts sector. Just the opposite is true. It is happening right in front of our faces. Our next big campaign within the League of Professional Theatre Women is #RoadtoParity. We were hoping to reach a 50/50 parity goal by 2020 in the arts sector. We are still far from this goal so this year we have continued to push. We have become aware of cases that are just revolting and upsetting. We all need to overcome this together.
"Have a lot of resilience. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Make sure you know your business. I say business because most artists think they don’t need to know anything about budgets, marketing, operations, administration, and PR. Just the opposite is true, you should know how to run your business and know your value! "
What tips can you give to young girls who want to work in the entertainment business like you?
Have a lot of resilience. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Make sure you know your business. I say business because most artists think they don’t need to know anything about budgets, marketing, operations, administration, and PR. Just the opposite is true, you should know how to run your business and know your value!
I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you are (personally), and what do you (professionally), with this the idea in mind, what is being Debora Balardini and what's not?
Being Debora Balardini is living life as truthful as possible, creating a system for everything, and making sure I help as many people as possible before I die. Not being Debora Balardini is not being truthful to myself and others.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
I have a lot of women in my life that I admire because they inspire me to move forward. The one I admire the most is my mom. She just turned 80 years old and at 73 she completely reinvented herself by becoming an actress (like me).She continues the fight every day as if she was in her youth. When everyone around her is tired she is ready for a new adventure. Her mind doesn’t stop and she keeps her body active. No one can tell my mom’s age if you look at her you would say she is maybe in her mid-60s. Every time a thought of giving up crossed my mind, I think about mom and everything seems easier and possible.
Something else do you want to add or share with us?
I’m excited to share our future performances and cultural events with Welum readers.
Name: Debora Balardini
Company: PUNTO Space, Nettles Artists Collective, and Group .BR./ League of Professional Theater Women
Designation:Co-founder / Director