Julie Rottenberg '88, a television writer and producer, returned to GFS to celebrate the Poley Festival and to talk to students about her career path, working in television, and her early influences and inspirations. Julie began her writing career at DC Comics, and went on to write and produce for hit shows including Sex and the City, Smash, Odd Mom Out, and Divorce.
Julie spoke about how her career came to be what it is today, thanks to hard work and determination, friendships and support, embracing opportunities and experiences, and some luck. Her time at GFS had a big impact on her career. As a drama student, Julie helped develop and launch the Poley Festival 30 years ago, which helped her discover a passion for screenwriting and taught her the importance of collaboration. Her classes with Anne Gerbner and Lisa Burns allowed her to act, direct, write, and produce, getting her feet wet in everything needed to project manage an entire show, while in a safe and supportive environment. Lastly, Julie recalls a defining career moment at GFS, when Anne Gerbner sent one of her student plays to a competition; Julie won, and received her first title of "award-winning playwright." This recognition gave Julie the confidence to push forward in her dream career.
Julie's writing is inspired by telling stories from her own life. She explained that, "I draw on life, my insane wonderful family, things that bother me and things that make me laugh." Julie also finds that collaboration sparks her creativity. In fact, Julie's long-time writing partner Elisa Zuritsky '88 also went to GFS. "Friendship and partnership gets me through the hard parts of the job," Julie added.
Many students were personally moved and motivated by words from this alumna. Brenden Dahl '20, a current drama student who is showcasing a scene from his original play during Poley Fest, said, "I was struck by how much I identified with her journey—we both came to playwriting in very similar ways, by writing in a GFS class, even with the same teacher, and then winning a playwriting competition. Hearing her talk about the highs and lows of her professional journey really inspired me. I realized that if I continued to work at it, this is something I could really achieve."
Brenden's new play, called Voiceless, explores the way that stories of homeless individuals are often exploited, something he feels very passionately about changing. Brenden interviewed individuals at the Broad Street Ministry, a social service organization in Philadelphia, and is portraying real-life struggles and triumphs in his play. He said, "Hearing Julie talk about the Sex and the City writers' beliefs that great art comes from real experiences affirmed some of my own artistic endeavors to create verbatim theater inspired by the stories of homeless people in Philadelphia."
After Julie's presentation, she met with some students and faculty to answer additional questions. When asked how she found her way to GFS in ninth grade, her mother, Barbara Rottenberg, a piano teacher in Philadelphia, remembered two sweet stories. First, Julie visited a few potential schools, some much closer to her Center City home, but loved GFS the most and said it was "worth getting up early for." Second, she recalled visiting another high school option, but the stage "wasn't big enough for me."
We're glad the stage at GFS was big enough for Julie's talent and personality, and we're grateful she continues to inspire our students and be a part of our community.