UPDATE June 8, 2015: Women Lead Victories in 2015 Tony Awards
“An American in Paris,” of which Tulsans Anne O’Shea and Brian Quattrini were among the producers, earned Tonys for its choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, scenic design, lighting and orchestrations.–Tulsa World
UPDATE Mar. 4, 2013: Anne’s play ANN about Ann Richards is in previews in New York and scheduled to open Mar. 7.
By Stacey Gualandi/December 20, 2012
All Anne O’Shea ever wanted to do was act. So how did this theater lover—turned entrepreneur become the Golden Globe-winning Executive Producer of The Kids Are All Right? Anne says by encouraging and providing opportunities for women in the arts. But, she adds, it wasn’t so simple.
I think one of my mottos has always been “don’t take no for an answer.” Anne O’Shea
In 1996, Anne started a film and theatrical production company called Minerva Productions in Wilmington, NC. It began as a non-profit to help get more women writing plays and working in the theater, both on stage and behind the curtain. In the process, her projects have helped to highlight women’s issues all over the world.
I recently caught up with Anne between film festivals, rehearsals and preparations for her biggest accomplishment yet–producing a Broadway production about Governor Ann Richards. Anne shared her thoughts on supporting women in the arts, working on Broadway and how she still loves to act!
EYE: What made you decide to start your own company… and to change the conversation about women and the arts?
ANNE: For the longest time, everywhere that I lived, it was always a good ole’ boy’s network. The boys did the tech stuff; they ran the theater companies; and they directed. One time, I said what’s up with the theater season this year? Every theater company had projects–all with boys!
There were several of us women of a certain age together over drinks, and I said it would serve the theater companies right if we put on our own show, and they looked at me and said, “Okay, why don’t you do that?” That was in 1996, and here we are today.
EYE: What were you thinking?
ANNE: I guess it was a little I’ll show you! Haha! Nobody likes to be overlooked, and at the time, a number of women were moving to Wilmington, NC and wanted to work but because no one had worked with them, they weren’t getting hired.
These were award-winning directors and actors so I got a lot of support, but had I actually known what I was doing and what I was getting myself into, I wouldn’t have done it! Hahaha…this was a learn-as-you-go experience for me.
EYE: What was happening in your life at that time?
ANNE: I had just left Key West, FL, because of Hurricane Andrew; I was married with two children. We moved to Wilmington where there was a lot of film production. Everybody who was there who was an actor did film work, so an entire new world opened up to me.
“I guess I was a natural born producer because I hired the best and they made me look good.”
EYE: Acting was always your passion…but had you ever thought of producing?
ANNE: No. In fact, I’m the only actor who doesn’t want to direct! Ha. I go to the theater voraciously. I would pick the best lighting people, directors and sound people.
I picked projects I wanted to do, and then I hired the best people and paid them more than what they were making elsewhere, and they came to work for me. I guess I was a natural born producer because I hired the best and they made me look good.
“It’s a life-changing thing when someone opens a door for you instead of slamming it in your face.”
EYE: What made Minerva unique?
ANNE: There was nothing at the time that was specific to women and so many women were struggling, so we started a mentoring program for young girls with an interest in theater who didn’t have an opportunity for a good education in the arts.
It’s a life-changing thing when someone opens a door for you instead of slamming it in your face. I think that was what we were trying to accomplish. We had enough doors slammed in our faces, dammit, so let’s try opening a few. That’s become our motto.
EYE: Describe the turning point when you realized you were changing lives with your company?
ANNE: The first time I was very aware of it was when one of my girls from New York told me how much just mentoring meant to her and changed her life. Or when you read a Broadway performer’s bio and they mention your company. So that’s very cool.
And the other big big moment is when I held my Golden Globe for The Kids Are All Right in my hand and said, “This is heavy!” Haha! Profound, I know.
EYE: Why jump from theater productions to the big screen?
ANNE: About six months before starting The Kids Are All Right, I made up in my head that I was going to try to take Minerva to film. It’s one thing to reach 500 people in one night, but what if you could reach five million?
What would it be like if we could take this message of awareness of children and women’s issues globally and locally to the screen and then really educate people? Then out of the blue, my sister-in-law came to me with a great script, and that script was The Kids…
“We’re trying to encourage people to be more open-minded.”
EYE: The film really brought under-explored issues of same-sex families, teenagers, etc. to the forefront. Did you anticipate it would win a Golden Globe and four Oscar nominations?
ANNE: Based upon how difficult it was to get it made and how many no’s there were, I thought we’ll see about that! We just went ahead and did it anyway, and the world kind of surprised me.
Some of them [who said no] are kicking themselves! We’re trying to encourage people to be more open-minded. I think that the people who said no are now thinking about things from a new perspective. I think that in itself is a win/win.
EYE: You partnered with your husband, Brian Quattrini. Was that a no-brainer?
ANNE: My husband Brian was a concierge at a 5-star hotel in New York when we first met. He was my boss! We have a very yin-yang type of relationship. I was traveling a lot at one point, and he didn’t like being apart so much, so I asked him to become my partner.
I thought he knows how people are and can deal with anybody. He is the consummate problem-solver and is good with people. We’ve been together seven years and now we’re getting ready to open our first Broadway show “ANN” March 7th at Lincoln Center.
EYE: How did this happen?
ANNE: Actress Holland Taylor researched Ann Richards, wrote the script and will also star in it. I had heard about it through some producer friends of mine and they knew my big dream all along has been to produce on Broadway.
They put me in touch with the lead producer, Harriet Levy, whom I had met at a producer conference back in 1997 after I started my company. I went up to her and said, “I want to be you. Someday I will be you.” Now, I’m going to be an above-title producer with her on Broadway!!
EYE: Why did you pick Ann Richards as the subject of a Broadway play?
ANNE: Ironically I lived in Houston when she was the governor. What I loved about her was that she didn’t pull punches and took no bull from the boys. Again, in that atmosphere of the good ole’ boy situation, this woman was my hero because she did and said all the things that I wished I had been brave enough to do and say.
And in a great way she has given me the courage to do and say a lot of the stuff I’ve said. One of my favorite Ann quotes about a politician is “he was clearly born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Haha! Her daughter was the head of Planned Parenthood, another one of my causes.
The whole thing just seemed to resonate with my life and with what Minerva stands for. And if this is going to be my first Broadway show, why shouldn’t it be about her?!
“It’s a lot harder than it looks when you’re doing it all yourself –it’s just Brian and me.”
EYE: Right now is a good time for Minerva. You had several films win awards at festivals this year and more projects are in the works. Your latest, Any Day Now, starring Alan Cumming, just received the Audience Award at the Napa Film Festival, among many others. Can you call the shots now?
ANNE: We’re getting there but we still have a lot to learn. We’ve got people that we have partnered with who are incredibly generous with their knowledge. We’re now producing our first feature documentary in [the Andes Mountains] of Peru called The Little Firemen. It follows young boys as they work along a dangers stretch of road to save stranded truckers.
It’s a lot harder than it looks when you’re doing it all yourself – it’s just Brian and me. It’s a great learning experience, and I really do hope we end up with a great product because the story itself is phenomenal.
EYE: Looking back, did you ever think that you’d be where you are today?
ANNE: I think one of my mottos has always been “don’t take no for an answer.” The second someone tells me no, I’m going to prove you so wrong. If more girls didn’t take no for an answer and said if you’re not going to be supportive then I will be supportive of myself, I think they would be successful. Just jump. What is the worse that could happen? If you fall on your face, you just get up again.
EYE: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
ANNE: The coolest thing is when people start to listen to you and start respecting you. But you have to prove the fact that you have valid remarks to make, and be open to discussions of people’s remarks. I’m a control freak.
So I think that is my greatest lesson is I have to let go of some of the control in order to learn from another person’s perspective. And if that is what we are trying to do with our films, I need to try to integrate that into my own life.
EYE: You continue to act. How was it playing the Duchess of Krackenthorpe in Daughter of the Regiment at the Tulsa Opera House?
ANNE: My first acting role was there when I was seven. I was in the children’s chorus. So I have been a supporter for years. When they brought me the role, I said immediately I can do it!! It was so much fun.
EYE: Why is it still a struggle for women in this business?
ANNE: I’m choosing my words carefully, but when you get a group of men together, there is that one-upmanship tendency that men have and then the testosterone fills the air. When you get a group of women together, and they’re working on a cohesive project with an idea, they don’t have that competition.
One time I was the only woman with three men, and never again will I do that. After awhile, you become the non-person in the room. The male psyche makes them so competitive with each other that they don’t even consider you any more. But younger men are less likely to be competitive than older men.
“There are wonderful women like Alfre Woodard and Eva Longoria and others who are really trying to use their fame to make a difference…”
EYE: Have things changed for women since you began?
ANNE: There are still the same issues but there is more awareness of the casting issues that happened in the past. I am proud to say that in Wilmington, they are hiring many more women as technicians and directors, and they are not as closed-minded as they once were about people coming to town.
EYE: Are you feeling optimistic about the future of women in the film business?
ANNE: Yes, there are wonderful women like Alfre Woodard and Eva Longoria and others who are really trying to use their fame to make a difference, and to give young girls opportunities that they might not have ever had.
EYE: I’m sure you are proud of what you’ve achieved. Do you ever give yourself a pat on the back?
ANNE: Oh, I let Brian do that. Hahahaha…
EYE: Thanks so much, Anne. I hope I get to see the Ann Richards play. It sounds terrific!
TWITTER FOR ANNE: @minervaprod