“I’m a lion–a rose on the outside, but I have the heart of a lion and I enjoy conquering difficult tasks.” — Setor Attipoe
Acting is certainly a difficult task, better yet, a difficult career to break into and to maintain in. But then, there are those that are built for bearing their souls to an audience–people like actress, writer, producer and director Setor Attipoe. In senior year at Temple University, her boyfriend gave her acting lessons for her birthday because he saw she had a talent for the stage. She was interested in the class, but her passion lied in Apparel Manufacturing, in which she was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, only after teaching herself to draw and creating a portfolio. Unfortunately, because of financial drawbacks, Setor was unable to attend FIDM and moved back home to enter the corporate world. Knowing she needed a creative outlet, she decided to give the acting thing a try. She booked a commercial and two films, then decided to take formal training at the Acting Conservatory Program in Washington, D.C. Setor fell completely in love and not even her parents pleas could stop her from moving to New York to make it big. She is a living testimony for the cliche, if it’s meant to be, it will be. Setor had no problem landing roles and now her journey’s gone beyond acting–she has her own production company, touring show and skin care line. Setor’s truly the definition of AUDRA and she uses her inspiration from God, love and freedom to guide her on this path meant specifically for her.
When and how did you get your start in theater?
I got my start in theater in 2006 with a few off-off Broadway productions. I was only in New York for about three weeks when I got a call from the show Platanos and Collard Greens to audition. I ended up booking the role of “Malady” and I performed in Platanos for two years. That experience taught me so much. I got a chance to tour the nation and perform in front of sold-out 900 seat theaters. It was great. But after the 2nd year I knew it was time for me to move on. I wasn’t continuing to grow in the role anymore. That was my sign. For me, life is always about growth and evolving in to your best self.
On your journey to find your best self, it seems you found a niche in the theater world. What made you start your own production company?
As a Black actress with a very international upbringing, I feel especially stifled at the lack of variety in many roles that are available to people of color. I have always been a writer and I love to write, but starting Lamb To A Lion Productions was a strong statement from me to the world. “I will not be confined by any stereotype,” that’s what I want to say with my work. That doesn’t just mean racial stereotypes, it means artistic confines in any ways. I like to blend fantasy with reality in my work. I just try to keep it free and imaginative.
Why Lamb to a Lion?
Because I came in like a lamb but I intend to leave like a lion.
What success have you been able to see with this company?
It’s been an amazing and surprising journey. We won our first award from the Department of Cultural Affairs. I’ve been able to quit my day job. As any actress trying to make it can tell you, waiting tables gets old after a while. I’ve been able to tour the country with my own show. It’s terribly exciting and we have so much more to do and accomplish. 2010 is going to be our year. People always expect some older male to walk in the door when I get interviewed or meet with people at different venues. It feels amazing to hear “Oh, you wrote this play?” I used to get offended by that reaction but now I realize I’m breaking down mental barriers. I’ll take it.
I’m impressed by your entrepreneurial spirit. Is it challenging starting a company in the midst of your success in theater?
It’s definitely challenging to start a business, but the great thing is I already started one, so having experience makes the road smoother. Though I’m getting into the Beauty and Cosmetic industry–which is new for me–I realize that success comes from knowing your product inside and out and knowing how to sell it.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
I’ve only been in the entertainment industry for about four years and I’ve been so blessed to be able to act, write, produce and direct. It’s a huge blessing. But it takes a lot of focus, hard work and discipline to devote time to each career. I have a production company with shows that tour the country now. It’s a wonderful thing. But there have been times when my acting career has taken the back seat. This year, my commitment is to balance my careers more evenly and make sure every aspect of my career gets the attention it deserves.
What’s been you biggest disappointment?
I had the chance to meet with a well known entertainment lawyer a few years back. I was pitching him my show Love, Life & Redemption. Working with him early on in the game would have probably propelled me ahead very quickly but I failed to close the deal. I brushed that off and now my show has toured 22 cities and I have good representation. So everything happens for a reason and I learned valuable lessons along the way.
Tell me more about your show Love, Life & Redemption. How did you come up with that concept?
It came from God. He gave me this beautiful period of the strongest inspiration I’ve ever experienced and I poured out some serious writing. Love, Life & Redemption is a brand new genre in theater. It’s a Theatrical Poetry Performance. The show marries traditional theater with 15 short stories that are based on poetry. I took my own experiences, experiences of people close to me, and events in society and I wrote and wrote. I let my mind go free and God inspired the pieces in this play. I’m very proud of the show.
What made you spearhead this entire project?
We opened in February 2007 off-Broadway. I was terrified. It was the first play I ever wrote and I was presenting it in front of a New York City sold out audience. I was terrified. We worked very hard but I didn’t know how it would be received. After the show, there was an energy in that audience that no one could deny. A woman came up to me with tears streaming down her face. She said the piece about Amadou Diallo was beautiful. I knew I had to keep going because of the way the show was received. I thought “If I can touch people this way with my work, I have to push it.” We were offered an extension by the Artistic Director and we sold out again. That summer I started Lamb To A Lion Productions.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
When people show you who they are, believe them.
What advice can you give to those following in your footsteps?
Approach your goals in a smart way. Everything is a business. Don’t let people waste your time. Gather a good professional team around you. Never fall into the trap of negative thinking. Live and take risks or die a coward.
What are your passions—outside of theater?
I’m an odd mix of creative, artsy girl and business woman. I love business. I love to travel and I love food! Outside of entertainment, I’m developing a skincare line called Born In Brooklyn Skincare, made with all natural ingredients. I’ve always been into skincare so this is right up my alley. This summer Born in Brooklyn Skincare will be at the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta.
What are you currently working on & what’s coming next?
I’m in rehearsals for the off-Broadway show “Love Hurts,” which opens June 22nd at The American Theater of Actors. I just got a call back for Layon Gray’s new play about the 1945 all African American female baseball team. I really want to work with him so I’m praying. I’m hiring interns for my production company and I’m developing two new plays. They’ll be ready to tour in the fall. Oh yeah, I’m going to South Africa this summer to produce some theater for a conference. That’s going to be the highlight of my summer.
Tell me a little more about the conference in South Africa!
The South Africa project is for a non-profit called E-Three Labs. They do amazing work with underprivileged youth in Detroit and they have affiliates in South Africa. So right after the World Cup they are having their first annual conference and I’ve been asked to create an original theatrical performance that incorporates their mission statement with an artistic element. The performance is going to focus on the benefits of solar energy and urban farming with some surprises!
What is you ultimate career goal?
I envision a career that is immensely fulfilling, liberating and wildly lucrative. I’m choosing the roles that I want to play in film and TV. I’m appearing on stage once a year. My businesses are thriving. Oh, and I’m married to the man of my dreams. Ultimately I want my life to reflect the full development of my talents, artistically and business-wise.
For more information about all of Setor’s endeavors, please visit:
Images courtesy of Setor and Lamb 2 a Lion Productions