From Child Actor to Founder
The following is an excerpt of an interview from our friends at Splacer, a company that brings together people and unique spaces. Written by Katy Hallowell.
Just the other day we took refuge from the heat inside the dimly lit café, Black Brick Coffee, in Williamsburg to meet with Claire Wasserman. Wasserman was already there when we arrived, sporting her trademark cat-eye and tapping away on her phone — no doubt strategizing and networking even on-the-go. Claire is a modern renaissance woman if there ever was one. She is also proof that – no matter what your parents said – Bill Gates isn’t the only successful college dropout. At 8 years old she talked her way into landing a role on Paul Simon’s Broadway musical, without knowing how to sing, and dropped out of college at 22 to move to Bosnia and produce an Academy Award nominated film. On paper she might sound intimidating, but in person she’s inspiring. At a town hall style event Wasserman threw in collaboration with Working Not Working and Ladies Get Paid (ladiesgetpaid.com) – hosted in Splacer’s Bowery Loft space (check out our feature on the event) – and even more recently working with us on our monthly Breakfast Club. The Claire we have come to know is fearless, she is an enterprising woman willing to take on the challenge of confronting social taboos.
SPLACER: WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOUR WORK THAT MOTIVATES YOU?
CLAIRE WASSERMAN: Everything with Ladies Get Paid is a manifestation of my skills and my interests. I’m so passionate about lots of things and that’s what your early 20’s are for. Trying them all on, but you have to keep getting really real with yourself and focused with what you are at your core.
SPLACER: LET’S GO BACK ALL THE WAY TO THE BEGINNING. WHAT WAS BABY CLAIRE LIKE?
CW: I grew up in NYC so I was an adult by birth, came out of the womb totally articulate. My dad has always been in publishing so he has something like 17,000 books. So think about an NYC apartment. The entire place is just lined with books, such an incredible environment to be raised in. My parents would have dinner parties with the intellectual elite, my mom has always worked in the opera. Growing up at these dinner parties they wouldn’t let me sit at the table, but I was too excited to go to sleep, so there was a piano adjacent to the room and I would be able to set up a little fort and throughout the whole dinner party I would just end up watching everybody. Obviously I didn’t understand what was really going on, but I would just observe peoples body language and just the way people were connecting and the environment. So when I think about what I do now, I very much tie it to that. Because that’s also probably my most prominent memory and obviously for a reason.
SPLACER: You mentioned you were a child actress.
CW: Yeah, so I was in a Broadway musical when I was 8 — it was short lived. It was Paul Simon’s play, “The Capeman”. I auditioned for Paul Simon and I had no idea what I was doing. I can’t even sing. In my audition he just told me to pretend I was in a garden with a snake and that I had my brother there and I said, “what kind of snake is it?” and he said, “a garden snake, but you’re still scared: go!” and then I said, “well hold on, what kind of relationship do I have with my brother? Are we close?” Then he just hired me on the spot. I was charismatic, I wanted to do a good job, I was precocious and I’ve lived my live like that ever since then. Shoot for the moon, if you believe that you can do it, you can. If you say that you are something, you are that. That being said I’ve also really acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege and my parents have opened doors for me — though they have said, “we opened the door, but you walked through it.”
SPLACER: Did you have any strong female influences growing up?
CW: My mom. She was the first class of women at Yale. I think there was also a lot of trying to fit in during that time, they were such trailblazers, but at the same time it was still very much a man’s world. There wasn’t much feminist talk in my house, but I’ve just watched my mom grow. I’ve watched her go from being a man’s right hand woman to taking on a leadership role. Sometimes I end up feeling like her. This morning at the Breakfast Club I gave a mini-speech and I literally felt like I was her. She led by example. I actually had mostly boys in my life — my dad, my two identical twin brothers. I had a lot of guy friends, boyfriends.
SPLACER: Do you think that being surrounded by so many men made some sort of impact?
CW: It made me really want to develop a community of women because I actually didn’t feel comfortable with women and I knew I had to seek that out. I felt like I didn’t bond with a lot of girls. I went to a small school and it was a lot of sorority types. I think, like most people, I want to meet others I have something in common with. My family really bonded, and bonds, over work. So I saw what that was like, my parents ended up on different coasts because of their work. It made me realize the importance of balance.
SPLACER: So how do you find that balance? You said that you spend the weekends up in Maine with your husband.
CW: Yeah and this is actually the first time in my life that I’ve had balance. I’ve always just burned out. I can’t not do something 150,000%. That’s just who I am and I’ve come to terms with it, but there was no outlet for release. It was just go, go, go. I feel like that’s probably why I ended up leaving every job I’ve had after a year or so, because I gave it my all and just burned out. But I’ve learned techniques for how to conserve my energy. I try to be aware and present, but still conscious of how much of my energy I’m using.
SPLACER: Do you have any morning rituals that help you?
CW: There is one thing I do every morning and it’s usually on the subway. I shut my eyes and envision molten gold lava, an acupuncturist told me to do this, coming down over my head and covering my whole body. What it’s basically doing is preparing me to conserve myself, but it’s not a shield — it’s malleable. I’m protecting my core. That visualization is so helpful for me. I don’t do it at home though, I do it on the subway because there are so many people around me with so much of their energy. I know that if I can get into my zone in that place then I’m good.
SPLACER: So you’ve left the full-time job world. What’s next on the agenda?
CW: Ladies Get Paid is my focus, but I am taking some freelancing jobs. I got hired to be a career coach for somebody and I’m really enjoying it. I’m also doing some gigs with experiential marketing making content for creative brands to create buzz in the community.
SPLACER: When did you break into this industry? What was your first job?
CW: I actually started as an independent film producer. I left college early and didn’t graduate — or at least I didn’t officially graduate for a few years. So I went to Bosnia and I made a film there. Theater, film and performance were my first true loves. So I made this short film there, I was the fundraiser and producer of it, and then I marketed it to film festivals and did panels about it at colleges. And then from that job, it was in 2009, I had to figure out what I needed to do to get a job in that awful economy and it was the fundraising component. I was that classic case of moving to New York City jobless, with 30 dollars in my bank account and living in the Bronx on my cousin’s couch and I just knew that I wanted a relationship with the city.
SPLACER: Were there any moments in the beginning of your career that made you notice an un-level playing field between men and women in the workplace?
CW: There comes a point – I have found this in my career and I’ve had conversations with a lot of women about it in the community – when I think bosses can be threatened, especially if they’re male bosses, by young women who they view as their mentee outgrowing them or coming into their own. Instead of being nurturing and encouraging they start talking down to them. I have definitely experienced that, in all of my jobs actually, and I’ve only had male bosses. I’m sure I contributed to that as well, I’m sure at a certain point I stopped the whole, “yes, of course, whatever you want sir.”
SPLACER: A little less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?
CW: Exactly. It was a defining moment for me. Then my boss ended up dissolving the company because he wanted to travel. I realized then that I needed to take time to try and figure out and realize what it was that I really wanted to do. So I started to ask a lot of people in my life how they got to where they are, especially creative entrepreneurs, and I started recording what they were saying. That led me to a job at the Art Directors Club. I ended up getting brutally fired and at the time I was devastated, but it was a learning experience and I knew I didn’t want to be a career fundraiser. When you think about your own career and the learning curves, has it happened from your successes or from the biggest challenges? It’s usually the challenges.
SPLACER: We just got to work with you on one of our Breakfast Clubs. How did it go?
CW: It was perfect because it was exactly the kind of event I wanted to do, it was full of event planners, experiential marketers and curators. People like us who are connectors and community builders, we never get to do it [have events] for ourselves. We’re always event producing for somebody else and there’s been a rare time when somebody goes, ‘hey, you connectors, you should connect with each other,’ and that’s what this was about. Everyone came in and just started gabbing and eating. I got to talk with the lady who owned the flower shop where the Breakfast Club was hosted and she ended up being interested in hosting a town hall.
SPLACER: The first time we worked together was when Working Not Working and Ladies Get Paid collaborated on a town hall style event in a Splacer space. What was that like?
CW: That ended up happening because Leta Sobierajski asked me to do some kind of event. I came up with the town hall and produced the whole thing, and Working Not Working was generous enough to sponsor it. I didn’t have any intention of making this a business or an initiative until people wrote me afterwards and told me very specifically what they did after the town hall to make a change in their life, like marching into their bosses office and asking for a raise or setting expectations and boundaries. I realized that was the activist quality that I was looking for.
SPLACER: Two women started Splacer so that was a particularly special event for us to be a part of, we loved being there.
CW: Yes! The next one will be even better. I had an eye-opening experience at the Cannes Lions Festival last year with Working Not Working. We would go to these glamorous parties, but we kept seeing such pure misogyny night after night. I just couldn’t believe that I was being asked questions like, “whose wife are you?” But of course, my reaction wasn’t ‘what’s wrong with men’, I internalized it and thought, ‘is it because we’re at a bar or is it because I’m sort of sexily dressed’. Like, how long have I been navigating this sh**? It’s been throughout my entire career and it’s exhausting.