I recently got the opportunity to talk to Stef Woodburn about her life, feminism, and what it means to be a geek or nerd today. For those unaware, Stef is an actress, dancer, singer, and host on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch channel. She’s someone who I find very entertaining and inspiring. I hope by the end of this interview you, awesome readers, will see why.
What made you decide to pursue acting as a career?
I’ve always loved performing; it’s what brings me joy. Deciding to pursue a career in entertainment took a big leap of faith in exploring what I want to do. I love communicating stories and perspectives. Acting is a way to have a voice, to communicate a being, a story, a perspective, a vision, a way of life. It’s also a way to be a strong person, in a fantastical world, and connect with the audience on some kernel of humanity.
You graduated summa cum laude in International Politics/Economics from NYU. What skills, if any, have you used in your career that you learned in pursuit of your degree?
I majored in International Politics & Economics because I received a presidential honors scholarship to the College of Arts & Science, which is separate from Tisch School of the Arts. I decided to take the scholarship, which gave us opportunities to travel and study, and take Tisch acting classes in their open arts curriculum. I use several skills from my International Politics/Economics degree in my career. It wasn’t necessarily the content, but the application of business and the critical thinking skills needed in that major that have been helpful. The study of various economies, politics, and lifestyles enable me to approach the lives of the characters and the roles from an empathetic perspective. Also, it’s beneficial for all creative entrepreneurs to empower themselves with understanding business in order to take ownership of their careers.
I also minored in Psychology and French; psychology certainly pertains to understanding characters. While I was in France, I took a French theater acting class and performed in Paris. I’m a massive fan of education. As long as you’re passionate about what you study and find ways to apply it to jobs, there’s always value in learning.
Do people ever act surprised to discover you’re a Mensa member?
Not yet. Those who know me aren’t surprised at all, those who don’t know me likely wouldn’t risk offending me with surprise. The day someone acts surprised that I’m in Mensa, I’ll just whip out my membership card. Ha! See?! Undeniable plastic proof.
What advice would you like to share with young women, if given the chance?
Begin with something you’re passionate about. Follow your dreams and go for it. Take risks, rise above your challenges, and learn from each situation.
When life gets hard, keep going. Author Samuel Johnson said, “Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.” If you take five swings at a tree every day, eventually you’ll chop it down. Keep your mind open, and be a life-long learner.
Also, it’s personally taken me a long time to learn this and I’m still learning everyday; but failing is the best way to success. Failing means you are taking risks and learning from them. Put yourself out there and leap. You’ll surprise yourself by how often you land on your feet.
You co-host G&S’s Cosplay and Minecraft on Twitch. Do you play Minecraft or any other games outside of the channel?
Yes, I play on a tablet at home. I don’t have a lot of home equipment, but I enjoy games. I also enjoy playing at arcades, specifically Galaga and Pacman.
How do you feel G&S helps you pursue your personal goals?
My personal goal is to inspire compassion and understanding through media featuring women leadership and multiculturalism, championing each person’s strength, value, and worth. G&S is very much aligned with this, creating a positive community that promotes diversity, women leaders, and being passionate about what you love. We foster embracing your unique attributes, whatever quirks or interests you have, and coming together as a community to support each other in our endeavors.
Also, anytime that I make others laugh or entertain them is a good day. I feel of value and of service when I’m able to make other people feel good. I’m always grateful to those who make me laugh, so I aim to pass it on.
Some people have questioned your “geek cred” while others have argued you’re more of a nerd. Would you consider yourself a nerd, a geek, or something else?
I’ll quote actor, writer, and TableTop guru Mr. Wil Wheaton: “Being a nerd is not about what you love, but about how you love it,” from his article “Why It’s Awesome To Be A Nerd.” In discerning the difference between geeks and nerds, there’s an interesting graph which charts out the difference characterizing geek and nerd, stating geeks are more about stuff and nerds are more about ideas.
Regardless of semantics, a geek is someone who is knowledgeable and passionate for a specific subject. I’m passionate about traditional geek and nerd stuff, such as Sailor Moon, Buffy, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Dune, books, math, science, and the future. I’m also highly passionate about French macaroons, bookstores, beaches, health, fashion, and dancing. I don’t think a geek has to love specific things to establish geek cred.
Geeks and nerds are states of mind/behaviors, and shouldn’t be stereotyped with specific subjects or physical attributes. I like being surrounded by smart, creative, passionate people. I love learning from them; they can love games, medicine, physics, cooking, pop culture, or what have you. I don’t care if they’re geeks or nerds; they’re just awesome people who have passion in their lives. Let us not rate each other on geek cred against some intangible scorecard. Instead, let us embrace each of our individual geeky loves, and foster inclusion and diversity for all of them. We are all passionate about different things, and I’m happy to be a part of this great tapestry of Geekdom that we are weaving together.
You’ve stated that you wish to promote women in STEM, politics, and business. Can you talk a bit about why this is important?
Women have incredible talents. Yet we make approximately $0.78 to a man’s $1.00 [Editor’s Note: women of color make even less than this]. We have yet to see a American president who is a woman. Women make up 19% of the Congress, and only 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
The lack of women in leadership roles is an important issue, because having a woman’s perspective be influential in politics, in tech, and in business would make for a more diverse, balanced world. Women make up more than half of college grads. According to a Pew Research Center survey on women and leadership, most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized leaders. I believe having more women in top leadership positions in business, government, and science would do a lot to improve the quality of vision for our world’s future.
In media, that girls are growing up seeing women through the eyes of men instead of the eyes of women breaks my heart. 1.9% of the directors of Hollywood’s 100 top-grossing films were women in 2013, and the Academy is 77% male. A truly balanced world would have girls growing up to see role models that reflect how women see themselves. This is a great article discussing this issue.
Also, if you’re as passionate about this as I am and interested in other great, motivating articles regarding gender, I recommend visiting Seejane.org and signing up for their newsletter for weekly updates and studies. The Geena Davis Institute compiles and sends out great articles; they’re a research-based organization working with media and entertainment companies to improve how girls and women are reflected in media.
Are there any programs you would encourage our readers to investigate if they would like to pursue STEM, politics, or business as a career?
Readers can veer towards these interests by signing up for math, technology, science, and business classes, clubs, and internships. Students can start by taking advantage of the STEM programs in schools. If you know someone in a field you’re interested in, ask them for a cup of coffee or a quick call to learn about what they do. If you don’t know someone, you can research online to find people/events of similar interests in your community. There are a lot of opportunities and information out there, and knowledgeable people in the field may be happy to share their experiences.
And, just for fun, if you could be any superhero or have any superpower, who would you be/what power would you want?
Fly. As a child, I would count down the hours starting a week before (168 hours! 115 hours!) until a plane would take off. I love the excitement of a plane taking off, as well as physical sensations like dancing or swimming or riding on the back of a motorcycle. I can only imagine the joy of combining those two into one.
I want to give Stef a big thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. It genuinely means a lot to me, and I’m so happy to help get her perspective out there. You can follow Stef on Instagram and Twitter, and catch her Tuesdays at 4pm Pacific on G&S’s Twitch channel.