Everyday Icon: Theater Producer/Director, Summer Slim

Summer shares the unique story that led to launching her own theatre company, from the influence of a brief career in nursing to the importance of taking risks.
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Barbara Sueko McGuire
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Summer shares the unique story that led to launching her own theatre company, from the influence of a brief career in nursing to the importance of taking risks.
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Don't be fooled by Summer Slim's easy, almost girlish laugh. Though the tight curls of her hair may shake with delight when she's amused, she's a boss lady, and she means business.

A fairytale princess-like voice also beguiles the drive fueling this 30-year-old Southern California native. Instead of waiting for others to create the change she'd like to see, she has locked, loaded and come out guns blazing, starting her own female-run theatre company, Nitewaves, which aims to tell diverse stories missing from mainstream media.

"I danced and studied ballet for about 12 years before discovering theatre my freshman year of high school," Summer said. "It was like finding an old friend. Never had anything felt as right as acting had."

She continued, "I pursued acting until I was 19, and then I had a career freak-out and decided to do something practical, so I became a nurse. That lasted all but a few months into my first job before I realized I couldn't do it anymore, as I just didn't feel much like myself. I went back into acting four years ago, downsized my life and am much happier for it."

Not many would have had the courage and wherewithal to forego their head for their heart, but if anything, Summer's education in nursing has helped make her successful at producing and directing, as both pursuits are essentially creative ways to take care of different projects and people.

Though she'd never boast it herself, Summer is an in-the-flesh example of the complex characters she hopes Nitewaves can bring to light. Keep reading to learn about the ways in which she defies expectations and has fun doing it.

You've got a lot going on! First things first: you're currently producing and directing a play, "This Is Our Youth." Can you tell me about how you got involved?

My girlfriend Carolyn Gilroy was self-funding and producing this production all by herself – as well as starring in it – so I offered to help her in any way that I could, as she's immensely talented, and I wanted to see this project become successful for her. So I came on as co-producer.

A month into the rehearsal process, while I was away in Europe, she decided to part ways with the director and called me to ask if I'd be interested in coming on as the new director. I freaked out inside, meditated on it over some wine in a weird bar in Amsterdam, got some sound "take risks" advice from my husband and favorite Dutchmen, called her the next morning and said yes. I've been producing music videos for the past two years, but this is my first time directing.

What are some of your main duties as a producer and why do you enjoy it?

Producers tend to do a lot of everything, depending on the project and its scale. For the play, producing-wise, I mainly managed the two-and-half month rehearsal schedule, purchasing props, being an ear for the actors and previous director, keeping the production within budget and handling various crises – shoutout to the sewage pipe [that] burst on stage, 30 minutes before our show.

Producing really feeds my OCD side and allows me to channel my neurotic energy into something systemic. But there's also a relational aspect to producing, keeping the mood on set or in rehearsals, that I really enjoy. I love artists and I love the creative process, and producing really allows me to be there for everyone in a way that takes some pressure off of them.

Likewise, what do you love about directing and what do you find most challenging?

I fell in love with everything about directing. I've been acting on and off for the past 16 years, and for the first time I discovered I was able to now actually say what I was thinking about the creative direction of a project, and like, tell people what to do, haha.

I'm a very visual person and it was really cool to be able to do what I wanted visually, to musically construct the mood of the production and to create an experience in general for audience members. It was interesting and very helpful for me on the acting side to have the opportunity to look at the characters' journeys from the outside and from a place of story. To work with the actors from an actor's perspective, and learn how not to interfere with their creative journey, but allow them the freedom to explore while guiding them when need be.

On top of everything, you're also starting your own theatre company, Nitewaves. Where did the inspiration for this come from?

Ever since I began producing, I knew I wanted to start my own production company once I found the right person to collaborate with. It was important for me to find a woman to start Nitewaves with. There's something special happening for women right now and for me personally, as I've discovered a lot about my own power and the stories I want to tell. I have just been waiting to find someone who I gel with creatively to get Nitewaves going.

Just before we opened "This Is Our Youth," Carolyn and I were talking about how much we had actually accomplished and how hilarious we thought it was because we had never done anything like this before. She kind of jokingly, but not really, suggested that we should just start our own theatre company, and I kind of jokingly, but not really, said yes. We both have struggled to find a creative home where we can produce the work we want to produce while not having to wait on anyone else's permission. We just realized the best way to find this was to create it.

What about Nitewaves is different from other theatre companies out there?

I think what will differentiate Nitewaves is our perspective and what interests us. I don't really see any other theater companies in LA right now run by young women with content focused on current yet universal societal themes, especially as they pertain to women.

It's also a personal goal of mine to create a diverse atmosphere in our projects. As a Mexican and Lebanese actress, I can understand like only other non-white actors could, the frustration in always seeing almost all-white casts, especially on stage. Where you find diversity in casting, you also tend to find stories that revolve around heritage or ethnicity or cultural differences. While those stories are equally important to tell, I'd also like to see Asian actors for instance, telling a story that has nothing to do with the fact that they're Asian.

It may just be 99-seat theatre, but we have to start changing the landscape somehow because I'm really not trying to play a "Devious Maid" all the time.

If you could change one thing about the entertainment industry, what would it be?

One thing! Oh god, haha. I would really love to see diversity progress much more in the mainstream entertainment industry. Of course it's better than it was, but to expect people to shut up about it because they give us our token Hispanic, Black or Asian person per film or TV show is almost as insulting as the core issue itself. Straight white men do not represent everyone and I believe it is imperative to our youth to start representing people who look like them, much more often and much more devoid of the offensive stereotypes they often come with – hi, "Two Broke Girls."

You're a server on top of all this – how do you find the energy to work a 9-5 and a 5-9?

Hahaha, I'm not sure really. Lots of mini car naps for one. When I was in nursing school, I worked three jobs with no days off for two years. I would like to think that has something to do with it, although I'd be lying if I didn't mention how much I also really love being at home, wasting away on my couch watching "Real Housewives" in between projects.

How would you describe your work-life balance, and how do you try to create space in your schedule for yourself and your own personal needs?

I've only recently discovered that the busier I am, the more I'm able to balance it all. When I don't have a lot going on, I find it harder to feel inspired and I'm generally less motivated. This always seeps into my personal life and sort of challenges every aspect of the rest of my life. When I commit to a project I'm passionate about, whether or not I know what I'm doing, everything else sort of just naturally fits in around my obligations. You have to find time when you have no time.

What's your favorite part about living in LA?

I love how creative everyone is here. The weather is beautiful, and you can go to the beach or hike Angeles Crest on any given day. I also really enjoy having friends in different creative realms, especially in music. It's nice to be around people who have nothing to do with what you do but who can still inspire you.

p.s. Have you met the NY Metropolitan Opera Singer