Written by Roberta Coffin.
“All the world’s a stage,” yet who knew that one day this semi-professional ballerina would not only work with the Texas state legislature, but also become a heralded satirist and theatrical producer whose first four-weekend run was a more-than-sold-out success.
Stephanie Chiarello Noppenberg, WCA’s 2017 Anne Durrum Robinson Creative Initiative Honoree, is working her sixth session at the Texas Capitol. She currently serves as a Senior Policy Analyst and the District Office Director for Senator Kirk Watson. A UT alumna, she earned undergraduate degrees in Dance, Theater and Biology, along with a Masters of Public Affairs.
We had a moment to chat with Stephanie and learn more about her!
WCA: What are some challenging aspects of your job and what are some highlights of your career?
The politics in Texas create the biggest challenge. There is such a severe unbalance of power. I also do a lot of constituent management, which means managing people’s personalities, plus a fair amount of triage and talking people off of a ledge.
I work for a great Senator who is doing really good work. And, every day I get to feel like I am doing something positive.
WCA: Where do you find creative inspiration?
The legislators – their ideas, their bills and their mannerisms – are great creative inspiration. The sketches practically write themselves. Many of our sketches included actual quotes from legislators, like in “Doctors Without Degrees”. Just shining a spotlight on the Texas Legislature and using their own words are all it takes to create a parody.
WCA: Please tell us a little more about “Over the Lege.” Where did the idea come from?
Every legislative staffer and insider is glued to committee and floor proceedings for the House and Senate. Mostly because we need to know what is going on, but also because there is no better reality TV than the Texas Legislature. Yet it goes unnoticed, dwarfed by national politics. The general population isn’t paying attention the Texas Legislature, and I desperately wanted to shine a light on the shenanigans taking place right here at 1100 Congress Avenue.
I love the Daily Show, Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live; and I felt like Texas needed its own political satire show – over the legislature – i.e. the lege – and how they are going over the ledge. And taking us down with them.
About three years ago, I came up with the idea of doing a live comedy show and wanted to pitch the idea to a local station or produce something web-based myself. Then the Institution Theater announced they were auditioning for new theatrical ideas. I pitched and they said yes.
WCA: Can you provide us with any info on Over the Lege Part 2 returning in Sept? (sneak peek for fans?)
The plan is to return in September with Over the Lege Part Two: The Governor Strikes Back. We don’t have any sketches written yet, but I have several great ideas in mind. The fact that Senate Bill 6, the transgender bathroom bill, was presented under the guise of protecting women from sexual predators is a likely to be addressed, along with some type of skit regarding Charles “The Gavel” Schwertner. And, we are going to do some more improvisational games.
WCA: What is the best professional advice you have been given?
Don’t lie. If you do not know the answer, don’t make one up. You do not have to answer every question. Also, silence is very powerful tool. If you are going to make an ask of someone – you make the ask, you make it direct, and then you are quiet.
WCA: What advice do you have for others who may be trying to bring their own creative initiative to life?
Women are really bad about taking credit for their work, so while I want to do that and be a good feminist – I also want people to know that I did not do this by myself.
My advice is: use your network and ask for the cookie (i.e., ask for what you want). Talk to people who you trust and get to know people who have done something similar. Find out where they found success and where they found problems.
Asking for what you want also means taking risks and being scared. I was scared when I made the pitch. But I did it and they said yes. The worst someone can do is say no. Maybe they will point and laugh at you, but that’s about them, it is not about you. At least that’s what my parents always told me.
Surround yourself with people who support you, and you can do amazing things.
WCA: What does the Banner theme for 2017 “Opportunity Blooms” mean to you?
I have found that much of my career has been about being in the right place at the right time. However, you also need to have the right skill set. “Opportunity Blooms” means to me – always being prepared, so that when that opportunity presents itself, you are ready to burst forth.