Kate O’Phalen is an actor, producer, and activist living in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, Dan and 13-month toddler, Scarlett. Among her accomplishments are producing a new play about Anne Boleyn, creating a short film about the choices we face as women, and making the Lady Plays Podcast, which gives female playwrights a platform to put on radio plays. In addition to creative awesomeness, she is the youngest National Council member at the Actors’ Equity Association, a freelance blogger and social media guru, and works every day to achieve social equality for women and people of color.
I was excited to interview Kate as part of the Tuesday Spotlight—she is a powerhouse of a woman! Talking to her showcases her intelligence and spunk, and it is easy to see how she has done as much as she has to make the world a better place. Through her work and her daily life, she pushes for a more egalitarian world, and keeps her head up when times get tough.
My toddler wakes up at the crack of dawn, my husband brings me a cup of coffee in bed, and I chug it until I manage to hoist myself out of bed and get the day rolling.
While her toddler literally gets her out of bed every day, Kate is motivated by things creative, political, and global. Besides killing it in the theatre scene as a producer and actor, she finds looks for ways to create beauty through crafty projects. Whether its painting, sewing, or learning a new creative skill (glass blowing!), she is finding new creative venues when she can. Glitter is also a favored medium.
Kate also loves sharing ideas with others and putting together ways to create positive change, building diverse and peaceful communities, and traveling the world to experience new things. To top it all off, “Teaching my daughter new skills that she needs to blossom and thrive and smash the patriarchy” motivates Kate to get out of bed and keep being fabulous.
I make flippant jokey comments about how I want to “burn it all down” a lot lately, but the truth is that the big dream is a world that looks a lot different than that one we currently move in.
I asked Kate what her big dreams were, and the list was long. In one sentence, she best describes this dream to be this: “A world where our stages and our board rooms and our research labs and our congress look just like the rest of America looks — feminine and colorful and in all different shapes and sizes!” Her main concerns are building a world where the color of one’s skin or their gender do not dictate the course of a life.
In her line of work, she felt that issues surrounding young women had been left on the backburner, and ran for the Actors’ Equity Association’s National Council (she is the youngest member!) to change things in her acting community. Where there are voices, there is change. Just before giving birth to Scarlett, Kate started a mommy meetup group in order to connect with other soon-to-be mothers. “It’s totally possible to create these spaces for yourself if you’re bummed that they don’t already exist.”
Kate uses her role as a parent to raise her child to be tolerant and accepting of all kinds of people. “We… visited Santa this year at Macy’s in Herald Square and made sure to intentionally request black Santa (ask for “Mr. Claus”!) because why the hell can’t Santa be black?” She ensures that the books she reads to Scarlett have diverse characters and families, using every opportunity as a teaching tool. While change is a slow process, every little daily action contributes to the future of our world.
“…Being pregnant… really crystalized some of my feelings about how we treat women and women’s bodies and the sovereignty therein.”
As women, we face many challenges and moments where our strength is tested—both in the physical and emotional senses. For Kate, this was Scarlett’s birth. “During my pregnancy, I read and read and read about feminism and motherhood and birthing and the feminine power wrapped up in all of it.” She decided on a drug-free birth with as little intervention as possible. Unsure she had the physical strength the labor at home, she decided to deliver Scarlett at a hospital.
This is when Kate began to understand the lengths to which women’s bodies are disrespected, even in childbirth. The OB pushed for unnecessary medical interventions and ignored Kate’s wishes for as natural a birth as possible. “It eventually concluded with Scarlett making her entrance via a C-section that I believe was completely medically unnecessary. And I have the ugly scar to prove it.” The loss of autonomy for an event that need only be welcoming a new face to the world was traumatic.
Her strength may have been tested, but Kate came out of it with a healthy baby and some lessons for the road ahead. “I learned a lot about how strong I am (29 hours of labor without pain medication!) and about how deeply we disrespect women and their bodies, even when they are at their most miraculous.” She says that one of her goals this year is to “turn my broken heart into Art”, as advised once by Carrie Fisher and Meryl Streep.
Feminism means you have the choice to “do you,” so go ahead and do what makes you happy and don’t waste another second feeling “less than” for it.
On advice to other women, Kate has it simply put: “Feminism means what YOU want it to mean.” There is no one way to be a feminist. The word itself begs the individual woman to carve out their own path, and really make it our own. Women can have careers, families, reproductive control, and all because of our predecessors. Women can step back or lean in, stay at home or go to work. Most importantly: “Also: don’t marry a dude who isn’t proud to call himself a feminist ;)”
To wrap up this interview, I asked Kate how many times she hurts herself trying to dance in the shower. The response is golden: “I save all of my best dancing for making my little one giggle in the living room, so no shower incidents to speak of, though I have literally injured myself trying to get a good chuckle out of her! And that’s not even counting my pride.”