Where Are They Now?
This series puts the spotlight on former staff and participants showing what some of our alumni (and beloved community members) have been up to in the world, and how they think Wayfinder helped them get there.
Finding Confidence With Max Friedlich
For this week’s entry into our Where Are They Now series I had the opportunity to talk with Max Friedlich, yet another creative type who credits Wayfinder as the place for the majority of his development. Max is a playwright, after his play Sleepover was put on at the Fringe Festival, in NYC, he signed with United Talent Agency and has had his work produced at various colleges (including Northwestern and Ithaca), and by some theater companies. He is graduating from Wesleyan and headed out west to pursue a career writing for television. For Max a lot of the help that Wayfinder has given him in his career and life is less about the specific skills of playwriting and more about the way he carries himself into situations, particularly because he often finds himself as the youngest one in the room. “I went to Wayfinder like a supremely not confident person and left there with a lot of confidence, and I think I just that ability to make the decision that I’m going to present, I’m going to roleplay someone who has it together.” That kind of confidence carries a lot of weight in the world, and is something we all struggle with so to hear from Max (both a close friend and former SIT of mine) that we were able to give him a space to develop that was a moment of pride.
The difference in Max’s development at camp being restricted to more development of self than development of skills may have to do with the timing of Max’s departure from camp. He stopped coming when he was 17 years old, right when he started to find success in the world of playwriting. He worked in our workshop departments as a staff in training, and while he may not have hung around long enough to run his own department (something he would have crushed) he still points to this as being a “big thing in life,” going on to say “the experience of becoming an SIT and going from a time where staff were these godly celebrity figures to being friends with them kind of taught me that people aren’t scary. All these crazy, macho dudes with tattoos and piercings are just dorky sweethearts. It helps me navigate to this day.” Being able to remember this about the people he’d looked up to as a kid has helped Max in professional settings, being able to see anyone sitting on the other side of the table as their person and not their job title helps to pull some of the intimidation factor which they may hold.
As with so many other alumni of Wayfinder, camp holds a special place in his heart. “For whatever it’s worth any time I have a project I thank Wayfinder. Even though I’m five or six years removed every time I think about things that have been formative to me and things that I have been incredible indebted to I always think about Wayfinder. It’s really stuck with me.” Camp is built around that kind of shared experience and exploration of self. Roleplaying is nothing if not an introspective act, having a space to do all of that together is something that most people never get so it makes sense that it holds that space for so many of us, but still thanks, Max. It’s always good to be reminded of the effect we have on the people who occupy space within this community.
As for other growth that came about because of camp, while it may fall into the same type of growth that has served him professionally, the recognition of people for who they are combined with the expansion of personal confidence is something Max returned to often throughout our interview. “Someone actually said this at a closing circle, ‘you can just decide to be brave, it’s that easy.’ Deciding to be brave and pretending to be brave, there’s such a thin line because at Wayfinder you’re in character and ostensibly pretending, but you’re also making that decision.” The ability to recognize that in yourself and turn it on is an incredibly useful thing to have command over, in an unending number of situations. To learn that as a teenager is huge because you face down so many new situations every day which are much easier if you have the confidence and knowledge to “decide to be brave.”
Max had some very heartwarming things to say about Wayfinder. “It always felt like it really did feel like a community or a tribe just in that people had different statuses, but I could become you or be friends with you. You know, I had relationships with staff and SITs, that’s not every other camp. I remember being acutely aware from a young age that you guys did not make good money and that it was more than a job. It was so cool, working with people who were my heroes.” Having been in that group of heroes (I’m not assuming here, he told me) I can say that I’m honored to have had the chance to be a part of helping Max grow up and have treasured the chance to be his friend. Thanks so much for being a part of our community, Max, come home any time you like.
There was a summer when my grandma was dying, and I hadn’t seen my parents in a long time, I was signed up for consecutive weeks of camp. So I would just keep going to camp, and I don’t think I was really processing what was going on. Shelby was my wife in a game. [The Game] had something to do with angels and selling your soul, I found out that demons had Shelby, had my wife, and then a bunch of bad guys showed up. I ended up being chased [by one of my the bad guys] to the top field, and there was something just so crazy and spiritual. It was just two of us. It’s always weird, I think, at Wayfinder when you find yourself in the woods, and it’s just one person you kind of know having those interactions which are some of the craziest ones. So we’re just both running, and he kills me, and I was lying in the field, and he walks away, and I just started hysterically crying. In my head I was thinking about Shelby as my wife, I was so in it, but it was a real kind of cathartic release, and it was the first time I was able to really cry about losing my grandma, and that’s pretty wild to have a place that gives teenage boys the avenue to express their emotion by being upset that a demon has taken their wife. You know what I mean? It was just such a circuitous route to what I needed but it really was therapeutic.
Written by Judson Easton Packard from an interview with Max from Summer 2016.
Where Are They Now: Molly Ostertag
Molly was a joy to interview. She moved from upstate New York to LA just over a year ago, where she is a full time cartoonist and an animator for Disney. She draws a bi-weekly web comic called Strong Female Protagonist with another Wayfinder alum (Brennan Lee Mulligan), has a book deal with Scholastic (look for ‘The Witch Boy’ Oct. 31st 2017), and graduated from SVA as valedictorian. At camp Molly worked in many departments, most notably Sets & Props, wrote a number of awesome Adventure Games and was an all around rock-star.
WFE: “How old were you when you first attended?”
M: “I was 14, but I had heard about it before then. It sounded like the most amazing thing. A place where you got to act out fantasy stories. I pictured it taking place in a castle. I thought it was too cool to be real.”
WFE: “What did you enjoy most as a camper; what are some early experiences?”
M: “I was drawn in by the Adventure Games. I went into it a super shy and locked away kid, but by the end of the weekend I was hugging everybody and was so thrilled to have that [part of me] unlocked. What I grew to love was the community and making friends with the people I was roleplaying with. The Games became an expression of this loving community, rather than the reason I was there.”
WFE: “What was a challenge for you at camp, but no longer is?”
M: “It was challenging at times being around so many people. I’m very happy to have had boundaries pushed [at camp] in terms of what I’m conformable with because it made me a more adaptable person, and am able to talk to many types of different people. I would be more shy without camp.”
WFE: When you were working as a staff member, what were your favorite parts?
M: “Making the worlds. Each Adventure Game was an inspiring and artistic challenge. I learned a lot of lessons I still use today. I really liked taking spaces that the campers were in all week and transforming them to an unfamiliar spaces. They [the campers] know they were going into the dining hall but once they entered it wouldn’t be the dining hall anymore. When I was a kid my favorite part was to feel like I had left earth, so it was very fun to do that of other people”
WFE: What are some lessons from Wayfinder you use in everyday life; or other ways Wafinder is still with you?
M: “The book I sold to Scholastic is like a love letter to camp. It’s about teens running around in the woods casting magic and discovering themselves. My artistic choices are informed by camp and Status Workshops really help in my professional life. I learned how to be a more confident person. Learning how to present oneself [is important.] You learn how to don a character who is more confident than you are.”
WFE: Have you ever tried other summer camps?
M: “I went to a classic girls camp, it was fun the first year [less so the next]. But at Wayfinder people go far out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Wayfinder has this tradition of respect that made it a really safe space. Also there is nowhere else I could play the warrior queen. Wayfinder is different than most LARPs. Everyone is focusing on telling a story together with emphasis on immersion. I was surprised how deep [the Game experience] went for me. It was easy to buy into being in the fantasy world. I really felt the feelings [of my character], I felt like someone else.”
WFE: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
M: “The whole camp was like a trust fall. When I started I was a soft, emotion, shy teen who wanted to be stronger and didn’t know how. It was important to have a space that was supportive but push me out of comfort zone; but where I knew I would be caught if fell.”
Check out: http://www.mollyostertag.com/
Written by Trine Boode-Petersen from an interview with Molly in summer 2016.
Life Lessons with Brennan Lee Mulligan
This week’s Where Are They Now features another Wayfinder alum who finds themselves immersed in a creative life in the world. We sat down with Brennan Lee Mulligan to discuss the ins and outs of his life, and the ways in which Wayfinder had helped him get where he is. Brennan is making his living in not one, but two creative fields, both of which he gives a portion of the credit for his successes over to the Wayfinder Experience. “I’m doing sort of exactly the things that Wayfinder trained me to do: writing stories about made up fantastical stuff and then doing improv, and playing make believe.” To get more specific his day to day employment comes from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade where he teaches and performs improv and sketch comedy. Then a more long-term personal project of his, he has teamed with Molly Ostertag (a fellow Wayfinder community member) to write Strong Female Protagonist, a webcomic which has one print compendium published to date.
While the connection between improvisational theatre and camp are clear (because we teach improv workshops as a way to prep for game, and all of the interactions that come through the adventure game are improvised) the approach at camp is notably different. Improv as a performance style in the world is largely something that is done as a style of comedy, something Brennan excels at. Camp is a little different. “Where I come from is not doing improv for laughs, but rather the idea of roleplaying for its own sake, which is so healthy. Most of what I do on stage is just LARPing anyway, and it’s really gratifying that basis of years and years spent playing make believe for that being the end in and of itself.” While he may enjoy roleplaying just for roleplaying sake (and there’s no doubt you’d be hardpressed to find someone who throws themselves more into the fantasy of the adventure game than Brennan) it’s no surprise to see that he has gone on to shine in a world of comedy and performance, having always had a talent for the two.
He spent a lot of his time as a staff member engaged in teaching and performing improv, but he also was one of our main story writers for a long time, something that he credits very directly as helping him in his writing of SFP. “Just the experience of writing all those games, just getting really good at making up fake worlds, and really taking them seriously is an incredibly valuable skill.” If you haven’t read SFP you really should take some time and do so. Brennan and Molly are a truly talented team, and their worldbuilding experience really shines through. “I don’t know places that really do worldbuilding as thoroughly as Wayfinder does worldbuilding.” Firstly, thanks (blushing over here). But more seriously, we spend a lot of time each week going through the processes of worldbuilding. There is our storywriter who has spent the time and created a world for all of us to play in, but as we go through the steps of character development pieces of that world are going to change or spring into existence. The adventure game is collaborative, and as participants put together their character they are really building small portions of that world. By the time you get old enough to write and run a game of your own, you’ve already lived in countless worlds.
That experience specifically is the one that Brennan still holds onto as the most important piece of camp for him. “It opens this gateway where you can totally suspend your disbelief, and then you get into that world, and I think it’s really crucial that there’s not an audience. It’s not performance, it’s everybody getting lost in their own character, and you’re looking around and everyone’s in it together. It’s this huge experience that everyone can come, and take part in to tell this incredible story, and just for a few hours really put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” We talk a lot about how Adventure Gaming is an exploration of self, about how it allows you to find pieces of yourself you may not have known existed. While that’s true, Brennan also brings up a hugely important portion of the experience. In searching those pieces of yourself you get the chance to find similarities and understanding with people whose experiences and lives may be completely foreign to you. You are given a space to look at what makes a person or a culture or a world the way it is, and with that experience there’s no way not to gain a little bit of understanding.
Brennan is someone we were lucky to have at camp as long as we did. He contributed in ways we still benefit from. Him and his brother started Bootleg Adventures, which is still operating, now under the name Living Legends. They were the first branch of Wayfinder to break 100 participants at a single event. He also brought a lot of understanding of what we do at camp. Every staff member has an understanding of the ways that camp helped them to grow. Brennan has that, but also as a very articulate person and a practiced performer and public speaker, he brings an ability to sum things up that you don’t often find in the world. “There’s a lesson there, the lesson you take from that when you start to get older. You not guaranteed opportunities, so when opportunity presents itself in Game and in life you must strike with all you’ve got. It’s much better to find yourself all used up at the end having made a significant difference, rather than to get to the end of the Game and find you never helped.” Thank you, Mr. Mulligan, for your contributions to the community over the years. I can personally say you’ve been an important friend and role model for me in the years I’ve known you. Excited to see what comes next for you.
“If only for a few hours the veil between our world and a completely fantastical world is opened up. I feel the best aspects of humanity come from a completely heightened sense of empathy, exploration, and understanding. We’re at our best when we’re doing those things, and I don’t think anything make you more empathetic than when you get to fall into a created world and truly be somebody else for four hours. I mean the most incredible moments of my life have been at Wayfinder when I was someone else and forgot myself for a moment, and when that happens I think it makes you a better person. And I mean that in every sense. It makes you a better more understanding person on a moral level, and it also makes you faster, and stronger, and smarter, and more interesting. It’s good morally, and it’s also just good holistically for you as a person.”
Fallen for You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP6Yy61OvLU
Written from an interview with Brennan by Judson Easton Packard