On Monday, October 30th, CMA hosted The Tipping Point, our first annual Story Time event. The evening showcased six speakers in the industry, sharing their stories on “the tipping point” in their careers. The night made for many laughs but also deep and varied insight into how our colleagues have maneuvered their way in the children’s media space and found success.
Sponsored by Out of the Blue, HITN, and The Fred Rogers Company, the evening started off with an introduction and story by Grammy Award winner Tim Kubart. Kubart began by detailing his experience as a “yes” person, someone who never turns down an opportunity to prove his ability. Kubart’s story chronicled a particular experience he had as a young actor in NYC, accepting commercial work for which he wasn’t well suited. Kubart shared that he may not have been the best fit for the role, but he still gave it everything he had. Looking back, Kubart felt that moment was emblematic of a change in his thinking that went beyond acting. It played a major part in how he addressed later experiences that maybe didn’t fit his skill set but still interested and excited him.
Next up was Sonia Manzano, who came to fame as Maria on Sesame Street. The Emmy Award winning actress and author instantly warmed us with her story about growing up in New York City. Manzano recalled her childhood nights, when she was put to bed with stories of her mother’s childhood in Puerto Rico. She loved hearing about life in Puerto Rico and how it differed from her upbringing in upper Manhattan. Manzano later came to appreciate other stories, like those of the Dick and Jane series. The stories she read were thrilling from beginning to end, but she found her tipping point when she realized that reading happened beyond books. In fact, her life was filled with opportunities to read and interact with the world beyond her imagination. This thrilling moment in Manzano’s life proved to be pivotal, since it anchored her love for reading and opened the world to her in a way she had never seen before.
Angela Santomero took the stage next to share her love of Mr. Rogers and children’s media research. Santomero found Rogers to be a major inspiration in her life and credited the legend with being the voice that always pushed her to take chances. After interviewing and getting rejected from the Children’s Television Workshop three times, Santomero went on to great success at Nickelodeon, where she would later be dubbed “The Preschool Whisperer” because of her talent and instincts in the field of children’s research. This reputation eventually earned her the opportunity to develop the wildly successful Blue’s Clues. Santomero noted that her outspoken, “Jersey girl” attitude helped her to put herself out there and not slink back when she knew she had a valid and unique opinion. In many cases, that attitude helped to create the tipping points in her career that enabled her to fulfill her dreams.
Dr. Shalom (Sholly) Fisch next came up to share a recent experience supporting a television producer working with the children of Syrian refugees. Fisch spent time troubleshooting ideas with the producer, who was struggling to find ways to relate with children who were born into a war-torn world. Fisch went on to explain that this conversation was not unlike others that he has had in his career and while they are difficult, he felt that it was important to continually create positive impact through his work. Whether that impact is felt by many or a few, making a difference where possible, at heart, was the most important part of his work and the driving force that propelled him forward.
Jens Peter de Pedro, who was part of the founding board of Toca Boca and recently founded Biff Niff, shared that his success came from keeping his work kid-focused. In developing Toca Hair Salon, de Pedro felt it was important for the app to be simply fun. The app took on a play-focused goal, a less judgmental turn on the typical kid app experience. This came together with the app’s clear focus on art design and the introduction of a new IP. These distinct choices helped Toca Boca carve a clear direction for how the company would navigate the kid app space.
Linda Beck closed the evening with stories about her early years in the theater industry, including multiple awkward, near-interactions with famed actor Matthew Broderick. After spending several years in the acting world and sending Matthew Broderick fleeing for reasons that were never revealed to her, Beck felt that her place maybe wasn’t on stage. This led her to take her first animation job at the Animation World Network (AWN). From this point, Beck found that her career took off. Taking part in organizations like CMA and ASIFA East, Beck was able to meet many major players in children’s media and channel those relationships into her work as a consultant. This took her to many of the top animation studios and, eventually, to Marvel and Spin Master. While Beck has found her ever-ascending career to be exciting, she shared that she found the work to be humbling, as television produces a constant roller coaster of fully realized successes and development cancellations. Much like Fisch, Beck found that putting good back into the world best helped to temper the rough days. In her closing words, Beck noted that we were at our best when we are applying ourselves to projects and services that were meaningful.
There was so much to take from our evening with this wonderful group of storytellers. While I expected to hear stories of the value of grit and hard work, I was also reminded that the things that drive us are the people around us and the experiences we engage in. Those experiences happen beyond the office and through taking on projects that enrich our world view. That balance is how we best service the community we have chosen to engage.