Laura Hunter Drago is a producer living in Los Angeles, California. Originally from a small town in Virginia, Laura grew up performing in theatre both in school and professionally. She trained as an actress at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied at the Atlantic Theatre Company School and the Lee Strasberg Institute. She is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA, the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Ms. in the Biz, a website founded by Helenna Santos that provides resources for female entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry, and co-founder of New Girl Pictures with one of her best friends from her high school theatre days, Samantha Macher. Their production company focuses on getting women into positions both in front of and behind the camera early in their careers. Her first feature film, To the New Girl, which was made by an all-female cast and creative team, is released on VOD on August 11, 2020.
When I was 22, every audition I went on felt like it was life or death. This is an especially unfortunate feeling for an aspiring actress because there is so much rejection already; when you start to feel like every time you get the chance to walk into a room you have to succeed, you’re setting yourself up for a tremendous amount of misery.
Much of this feeling came from the constant reminders that “everyone” (AKA, like five or six people) that I’d gone to college with at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts was having what seemed like a meteoric rise to fame. Even my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend ended up booking a series regular role in a huge television series, her face plastered all over billboards outside my apartment in New York City. I didn’t even know the girl, but her success and that of others around me seemed to indicate that they were winners and I was … not. They got the piece of the pie that I’d wanted so badly, I thought, and I was just going to have to go hungry.
That feeling made me a bitter person, and most certainly also impacted my ability to audition well and improve my situation. That feeling of scarcity, of if they get this, then there isn’t anything left for me, is toxic in so many ways. I look back on that time and those feelings with such sadness for my early-twenties self, and also annoyance at how much time I wasted over a feeling that was so unhelpful to myself and everyone around me.
Notably, this toxic competitiveness was not something that I saw my male friends in the industry experience. Sure, they wished they’d booked their last big audition too … but it wasn’t on the personal level that I and my female friends experienced it. That always struck me.
I finally attributed this difference in experience based on gender to be something that had started for me as far back as middle school and high school. I’d been really blessed to attend great schools with awesome theater departments my whole life, but they were always disproportionately filled with young girls who were aching to be cast in the lead female role … and about four or five boys who ranged from being very enthused about being in a play to those who had had to be lured away from the soccer team just to fill the cast.
I remember very well my first audition for a high school play. I was new to the school as a sophomore, and after my audition, an older girl who was in the theater program walked up to me and said, “I hope you know your place here.” She was upset because there were only three roles for women in the play we were auditioning for – versus 15 for men – and she thought the new girl was going to take one that she deserved. I really wanted to make friends at this new school, so this was unsettling! Looking back, though, I get it. We were kids, and there just wasn’t enough to go around. For the record, that particular story ends with both of us getting cast in the play and becoming very good friends. But there also ended up being quite a few times at school that I was less than friendly to new girls for the same reasons. I thought that was just the way it worked; we all did.
If women in the arts are dealing with this kind of scarcity so early, it’s no wonder our competitive attitude is deeply ingrained.
More than a decade on from those early twenties years, a lot of things have changed.
One day, I woke up and didn’t want to wait for anyone to “pick me” anymore, and I started taking matters into my own hands. More than that, I started to look outside of myself to the larger entertainment industry and how I felt I could make an impact on it.
I thought about what mattered to me, and what repeatedly came up for me were all of the heartbreaking stories of actresses and women in the industry, myself included. The countless times I’ve felt objectified in a performance or audition space. The stories of friends (even very successful friends) who’ve been reduced to answering crude sexual questions in interviews or put in compromising positions on set. The many roles for women which still reduce them to mere props for their male counterparts: a wife, a prostitute, a mom. A situation which is even worse for women of color. The incredible inequality that exists behind the camera, too.
I started writing for and eventually became the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Helenna Santos’ Ms. in the Biz, a website dedicated to creating content to help women in entertainment. The Ms. in the Biz community was incredibly inspiring, and I met so many women who’d once been on the same audition grind as myself who were now creating their own work. I thought, OK, I can do that too.
And so I produced my first feature film, To the New Girl, which is released on August 11, made by an all-female cast and creative team. We funded it on Kickstarter, made it on a true micro-budget of $20K, and shot the entire movie in three days. It was written by one of my best friends from high school, Samantha Macher, who I coincidentally met in that same theater program so many years ago. We’re really proud of it as a film, but maybe even more so because it was the first feature for almost all of the major people on our team. I’m also extremely proud that, on the strength of the film, a lot of those women have now booked additional work.
The reason I had the nerve to crowdfund and then make To the New Girl was that I’d changed my professional outlook drastically. I realized there was no reason to compete with the women in my life, and every reason to collaborate with them. I had a cause to champion that was so much greater than myself, which I’ve found is vital for me in avoiding imposter syndrome. I was never confident in feeling that I deserved success, whether in an audition room or elsewhere. The idea that I was creating an opportunity for these amazing women to do what they love and are so talented at, though? I knew that was a more than worthy endeavor.
One of my favorite quotes comes from digital creator Erica Cook: “I’m not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.”
I really hope we all do.