Screen inside Saban Media Center
Academy members enjoy food, drinks and conversation on the plaza
A food station
(Left to right) Michele Noble, Jonathan Merrill and Roquel La Fayette
(Left to right) Sean Butler, Michele Noble and Tamieka Briscoe
The evening's menu
Note to the pandemic: Zoom is fine, but nothing beats in-person human connection.
That was the recurring sentiment when the plaza at the Television Academy's headquarters in the NoHo Arts District was once again filled with the sights and sounds of people enjoying themselves, after a two-year break due to Covid-19. Some members had been on campus earlier in the year for peer group or FYC events, but for most, the All-Academy Almost Summer Mixer, held June 16, could just as easily have been called the Welcome Back Mixer.
There were excited greetings of recognition and reunion, hugs and fist bumps, clinking glasses and convivial conversation, as members caught up with colleagues and were introduced to new contacts. There were still safety protocols — proof of vaccination or negative Covid test required — but the emphasis was on fun, food and festivity.
At one table, a trio of new acquaintances was carrying on a lively chat. "Jonathan and I ordered the same specialty drink [the specialty cocktail: a vodka elderflower tonic cooler] ...," began director-writer-producer Michele Noble, " ... and we ended up at the same table," continued composer-music director Jonathan Merrill. "So, we just started talking."
"I'm very grateful to be back," Noble said, "and to see everyone and the energy that everyone has. It's very warm and welcoming." Agreed the third member at the table, actress Roquel La Fayette, "I am so thankful to be back and amongst our peers. Hollywood is opening back up."
"That's what I've always loved about the TV Academy," Merrill said. "In the old days, we'd get together and vote in the same room; we'd get to talk to each other. So, I love getting together with everybody here."
Not long after the three dispersed, Noble found herself in another trio, with producer-manager Sean Butler and producer Tamieka Briscoe. "It's so good to be around people being able to express what they do for a living, not having to be on Zoom, but really connecting," Butler said. "It's good to see people smiling and making jokes — and having great drinks helps!"
New Academy member Briscoe had joined after a recruitment mixer earlier this year. "I didn't know what to expect," she said. "It's been amazing meeting everyone."
Also new was student member Liz Ogaz Ruiz, a scriptwriter and composer who joined after attending the Academy Foundation's virtual College Television Summit in March. "Everyone I've met has made me feel welcome," she said. "I wanted to meet the community of creatives, possibly network and definitely hear their stories and the lessons learned from their experiences. I'm coming away feeling inspired."
Choreographer Lindsey Blaufarb had not known anyone when she arrived, but quickly became friendly with actresses Diana Lansleen and Christina DeRosa. "I'm really enjoying getting to talk to people in other mediums, connect and talk about things that we've done, our futures and how we can work together," she said. While she had no expectations, Blaufarb added that the conversations were "a step in the right direction. It's nice that it feels really organic, not forced in any way."
Exuding some fun energy as they made their way to a food station were Rich Brusa, a reality competition challenge producer, and Jason Kashiwagi, a talent manager. "What I love about these events is meeting people outside of my peer group, and to hear what other people do," Kashiwagi said. "And it's a fun way to mingle and get to know people who normally you wouldn't get to know."
"It's important to try to make contacts outside of the office, especially nowadays when our offices are pretty much gone and we're all working from home until we go to set," added first-time attendee Brusa. "At this stage [of my career], I'm supposed to get an agent. So maybe that guy who took my card will call me."
Actress Ren Hanami was enjoying reuniting with fellow performers: "You can chitchat on Facebook or something, but it's not the same. This is a little energy boost." And, she said, "I love that I can go up to see someone I know, but they're with three other people I don't know, and I get to meet them. And so now I have those new people. It's a warm hello — they bring you into the fold with all the others."
Several Academy governors were also on hand. "We've been working the room!" writers peer group governor Nicole Demerse said with a laugh, referring as well to Cristine Chambers, a member of the peer group's executive committee. "I think it's really important to get everyone together. It's been a lonely two years. We're all so siloed, it's so nice, especially when we can get together with all the different peer groups. We've met people from documentaries, from editing. It's fantastic."
Indeed, documentary programming governor Daniel H. Birman was there with Megan Chao, his production company vice president and member of their peer group's executive committee. Like everyone else, they were enjoying seeing people after, as Chao said, "being stuck at home during the pandemic. It's a great way to end the Emmys FYC season and kick off the nominees." (Nominations-round voting began the same day.)
And, Birman reflected, "A mixer like this allows us to foster creativity. This is an organization filled with creatives from across a variety of platforms. And we're all working it together, to make television. However we define television by today's standards, this is a great moment for us to come together."