What Made Me: Studio Theatre Founder Joy Zinoman

Her thoughts on rejection, finding opportunity in unexpected places, and being a woman in theater.

By: Sophie Gilbert

Photograph by Douglas Sonders.

The setback: I left the US when I was 18 and lived in Asia for 14 years. I sort of ran away with my husband, who was an American diplomat, and had a risk-taking education by adventure. Coming back to the US and going with my résumé in hand to every one of the few theaters in Washington and being rejected drove me to do my own thing and take matters into my own hands.

The experiment: The biggest opportunity that came my way was a boarded-up, bombed-out neighborhood with industrial spaces in it. It was a place to find out if audiences were willing to come through the condoms and hypodermic needles littering the streets.

The motivation: Not many people in the theater have children, but I have three. So if they were going to make sacrifices to have a mother in the theater, then something had to come of it.

The gender role: My son Jason recently described me as someone who doesn’t like to think of herself as a woman. In my day, you didn’t want to talk about that. You were equal, and you didn’t want any handouts. Now I think being able to play the strong part of a leader and also the kind, maternal, teaching part of oneself—being able to do both—is nothing but an advantage.

This article appears in the March 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.