Shari Caplan, class of 2011, is a writer, actor, and dynamic event producer. Working as development officer of special events at AIDS Action, she plays many roles to ensure the mission of the non-profit is the driving force to events. She has accumulated several awards, publication credits, and a scholarship to The Home School in Hudson, New York. After graduating from SSU, Shari went on to get her MFA in Poetry from Lesley University in 2014.
What does your job involve?
At AIDS Action, I am responsible for the planning and execution of multiple fundraising events throughout the year to keep our essential programs for those living with HIV/AIDS or at high risk for infection of HIV thriving, including the AIDS Walk and Taste of the South End. This requires big picture visioning as well as careful attention to detail. In my day-to-day at the office, I research and recruit talent for our stage programs, create copy for outward-facing materials, build connections with businesses and individuals, and more, striving to innovate in terms of our environmental impact, to create meaningful connections through our events, and to make sure the mission of AIDS Action drives our approaches to events.
How have you applied your experiences at SSU to your career?
I discovered my penchant for event planning during my time at SSU, when J.D. Scrimgeour invited me to take part in the planning of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival during its first year in Salem. One thing I loved about the English department was its focus on building community through readings, panels, and opportunities for students to get involved. I also learned how to balance work as an English major with my passion for theater, continuing to take acting classes at SSU despite changing my major, and performing with companies in Boston. As a creative, it is important to learn how to do the work you love, the work you need to do, and the work that helps others.
What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
I love the ephemeral, interactive nature of events. I can plan and prepare as much as I want to, but ultimately, the attendees make the event their own, and that's beautiful to me. I do this because I want to create spaces for people to discover, interact, and help make a difference. I also find it exciting to meet new people and to find ways we can collaborate to help the organization and to fulfill a need of theirs - for community, for business connections, for exposure, etc.
What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in your career?
The most important qualities are flexibility, positivity, and pro-activity. It's vital for event planners to not only to create detailed timelines of tasks, but to be able to stay on top of these without prompting. Working ahead of schedule saves a lot of headaches, but what is equally important is to maintain equanimity when these plans inevitably alter or even fall apart completely. I have had a caterer drop out the day before an event, for example, and had to find a way to move forward. Now, I plan for the unforeseen by giving myself time to find replacements if needed, and by maintaining awareness that everything could change. Leading others, many of whom are volunteers, requires an ability to forge ahead in the face of disasters or snafus, so that they will also feel inspired to keep going and stay involved. It's a great lesson for life!
How do you adapt and stay current on developments in your field?
Going to other events is a great way to see what people are doing and is something I love to do anyway! If you go to an event with me, you're going to hear about how the line was managed, what I think of the decor, how the speaking program was, etc. Personally, I am a fan of trying new things and am always eager to improve our events. It's important to balance new ideas and technologies I may want to institute with the needs of our events and audiences.
Have you had other jobs you'd like to tell us about?
I was a college professor for a few years at Bunker Hill Community College, and while teaching is not for me, it gave me a huge appreciation for the toil and dedication of the truly great professors I have had, so please show your professors how much you appreciate them! In addition to my professional life, I have maintained my practices as a poet and an actor. This is the first year that every show I have performed in has been paid, which feels really great!
What were your favorite classes at SSU?
I loved "Origin of the British Novel" with Scott Nowka because it was a tiny class and we were able to delve deeply into a particular area of literature. I recommend any class with him! I also loved all my poetry courses with J.D. Scrimgeour and taking "Shakespeare." I was transformed by acting classes with Kate Amory. I still practice mindfulness and do some of the exercises she introduced me to, and they have not only helped me as an actor but as a human being. I will never forget having Jamie Wilson for American History. His expertise on the African diaspora made the class so much more specific and valuable than any other history class I've taken. I would take a history lesson from him again in a second.
What was your favorite thing about SSU?
Meeting a community of writers and friends, both professors and students, who have stayed with me was a gift. English professors made me feel welcome at the Salem Writers Group, which gave me an opportunity to feel valued as a writer despite the difference in age and experience. This kind of openness and community spirit, guided by the incomparable J.D. Scrimgeour, remains the most important part of my experience there.
Why did you want to major in English?
I decided to switch from a major in Theatre to Creative Writing when I took a course with Kevin Carey. His warmth in workshops and the resources he shared made me feel that what my experience had been missing could be found in the English department. I was right.
Where can we find your works?
My chapbook, "Advice from a Siren" (Dancing Girl Press, 2016) can be previewed and ordered online at my website, where I also have links to some online publications. I'm currently working on a full-length collection. You can keep up with readings and theater performances on my site as well. Next spring, I will be performing in the BAKKHAI at Chelsea Theatre Works.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Don't listen to anyone who tells you that majoring in English is a waste of time. Your skills will be valuable in the workplace, but more importantly, you are studying the human spirit, and that will always serve you.