Today we’d like to introduce you to Krista Gano.
Krista, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I would say that I got to where I am today based on mentorship and saying “yes” to opportunity….even if I didn’t think I was ready. Looking back, I was really lucky to have fantastic mentors in my life as early as high school. I went to LaCueva High School in Albuquerque, NM. Our theater department was fantastic and formative. High school and college theater departments are crucial for young artists, and I wish we would invest in them even more. At the University of New Mexico, I had three wonderful mentors. Digby Wolf, one of the writers on “Laugh-In”, encouraged my comedic writing, while Paul Ford and Denise Schultz continued to demand hard work and press my craft.
Post college, I was a personal assistant to Dustin Hoffman and his family. Dustin and Lisa taught me so much about the entertainment business, from how it works at the highest levels, to having a generosity of spirit for others. Jay Cohen gave me my first glimpse of what being a good producer looks like and he encouraged me to identify what I wanted, and go for it. At The Geffen Playhouse, I was the assistant to Tony Award-winning producer, Stephen Eich. Steve taught me to find the opportunity that lies in the gap between administrative need and artistic vision in a way that encourages artists while also setting boundaries to ensure healthy outcomes. The greatest gift he gave me was the encouragement to be fearless and the reminder that I could do whatever I set my mind to.
As Executive Director at The Groundings Theatre and School, I learned from the best comedians in the world. It’s here that I stepped into leadership, learned to hold my own in a room and to pitch. It’s also where I had the privilege of supporting and engaging in the work that happens in the trenches years before the “overnight success” hits. The power and connection that comes from laughter very much inform my work today.
Thirteen years ago, we moved to Denver with a vision of raising our family in a great city. My husband (a musician) and I weren’t sure where we would find our place. It was here that I was called to mentor others. Whether it’s working with corporations to improve their team communication, coming alongside care providers at Kaiser Permanente to have better interactions with patients or coaching actors and content creators as they blaze a trail into the professional landscape, this part of my career has been a lovely surprise. To be doing all of that AND be self-expressed as a producer/writer/director is unbelievable. I could have never planned this life.
I try to remind those who are starting, or who are re-inventing themselves, that there is magic in the now, and it’s okay that they don’t know how it will all turn out. One day, you’ll open your eyes and realize how all the experiences you’ve had, good and bad, can open up to create a space that only you can fill. You just have to keep saying “yes”.
If I had any advice, it would be three-fold.
1 – Find your people, create your villages (there are often more than one, and that’s okay), and continue to learn and grow.
2 – Create. Work Hard. Anxiety lives in inaction….so get into action.
3 – Say “yes”. Especially when you are standing in those moments where the excitement is equaled by fear….say yes.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I think anyone with a 25-year career in anything will tell you that there have been plenty of struggles. Money, time, and imposter syndrome are just a few. It is not easy to carve out a career and raise a family in a field that is not always monetarily valued. One of the aspects of art and entertainment is to make it look effortless. And because of that mirage of effortlessness, it can be hard to be compensated. Educating clients on the value of content and story can be challenging. Our work tends to require continual investment in equipment and classes, can be grueling, feel rudderless, vulnerable, and require being unstoppable in the face of “no”.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s also joyful and vital. I believe that we are pretty shut down in our culture these days. So, to be a vehicle…a conduit…for someone to feel, is worthy. The trick is to embrace the struggle because it’s a fruitful place of learning. In improv, you learn to struggle joyfully. That works in business, as well. It’s certainly not easy. In times of struggle, we want to isolate. But, these are the times to lean on your team. When your team can hold space for you when you are vulnerable while also helping to take things off your plate, the struggle can become an opportunity.
I also chose a male-dominated field in comedy, entertainment and leadership. There have been plenty of times that I have been passed over, dismissed and under estimated. I like many, manage a very active and internally vocal imposter syndrome. That voice is always questioning if I’m the right person to take on a challenge. While it rarely wins the argument, it always has its say.
I decided why stop at choosing the arts and breaking the glass ceiling, let’s up the stakes one more time and become an entrepreneur. So, there is no safety net. I have to say, I wouldn’t have made a different choice. I work like crazy and feel lucky to love my work. Perseverance, grit and problem solving are key. When resources are in short supply, an obstacle presents an opportunity for creative thinking and partnership.
Tell us about your company. What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of as a company? What sets you apart from others?
I have two companies. The first is called is Working Artist Group, and is helmed by myself and Laura Carson. We offer coaching and management services for the Working Artist. For actors, we offer on-camera classes, marketing materials, and business building. We are known for educating and guiding artists in their careers and helping them to be prepared for the professional landscape. We have artists in New Mexico, LA, NY, and Atlanta. I get completely jazzed when our clients succeed in meeting their goals, and I think they know that I dance and celebrate each success with them.
The second is Innovative Improv Solutions. I met my partner, David Jahn, at The Groundlings. We offer experiential workshops that give companies a fun way to educate and tackle team communication, emotional waste, and empathy in the workplace. I have a great love for this work because you can see a positive change in teams right away. It is incredibly fun and satisfying to also bring “play” back into the workplace. Facilitating moments of learning and play with overly stressed and hard-working eager adults is the best.
Recently, I’ve been able to blend both skill sets. Working Artist Group has partnered with SeriesFest to help support Denver’s own Pitch-A-Thon, which will coach participants from all over the country to build a successful television pitch that can get their creations into production with leading networks.
Additionally, the most recent short film that I directed and produced, “Losing Antonia”, just screened at the Tall grass Film Festival and the Orlando Film Festival. And we aren’t stopping there. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement about our new location and a partnership with Talk To The Camera.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck is an interesting piece of the puzzle. There’s no question it’s a factor. So given that, I think the better question is – are you prepared to use it or brave enough to say “yes” anyway? There are times when luck lands in your favor and other times when you experience loss. Work and courage are steady factors. Be ready to accept the wins and to roll with, learn from, and transform the losses. Here’s the thing. Identifying a win, accepting it with grace and being able to leverage it into a next step, is not as easy as it sounds. So, working hard, being flexible and present to opportunities is really your best way to leverage luck no matter the way the coin toss lands.
Most importantly, work to be relentlessly open to possibility.