Shannon Light Hadley: Reawaken and Create

Shannon Light Hadley. Photo Credit:  Greg Bowen

Shannon Light Hadley. Photo Credit: Greg Bowen

Shannon Light Hadley is a killer robot from outer space. While the rest of the world is sleeping, Shannon is plugged-in or heading out. She works as a full time designer and marketing guru at What Works Studio, publisher of What Weekly magazine. Beyond all earthly logic, she has traded in her clock-out button for a crown in the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (aka the BROS) where she reigns as the Marketing Director from five to nine.

Shannon's tenacity and objective-focused approach to life has carried her a long way. We sat down with her to talk about what makes the Shanbot tick. 

HBP: How did you become interested in graphic design?

Shannon: I knew I was going to be a graphic designer since I was nine. My dad was a graphic designer and my mom and dad worked for the same company. So when it was bring your kid to work day I got to play with all these art supplies... I knew from those experiences I wanted to make art for my job. So I set out to do that.

HBP: Have you always been on that trajectory?

Shannon: Everything was very calculated. I went to college and I selected my college because of its art programs. I had to graduate in four years, because I couldn’t afford five years. I had to work as hard as possible and get all the things I needed.

Everything slammed on the brakes after college, because they never really teach you how to find a job... or anything really helpful like that. It took me until two years after college to find something that was even remotely graphic design related. I worked at Hot Topic for two years as an Assistant Store Manager. I was doing some graphic design on the side… but mostly was just depressed.

Shannon Light Hadley. Photo Credit: Greg Bowen

[Afterwards,] I got a temp job alphabetizing personnel files. It was the highest paying job I had ever had at that point. They were constantly shocked that what should have taken me two weeks took me a day. I ended up doing graphic design for them. Very serendipitously, when that temp job ended, I applied for a job that ended up being my first graphic design job. I was there for five years. That started my actual career. 

I had this moment when I was hesitant to apply for these “real jobs,” you know, ones that were like... "I know I could do that, but I don’t know if I have the credentials, or the work experience." Previous to that point, I would not apply to them. Then something happened, and I said “fuck it," and I applied for them, and I got the jobs. Going for it was what kickstarted my professional graphic design career.

HBP: Five years at Fandango, that’s a long time. Was that your previous employer?

Shannon: No. Within Fandango, there was a major merger. It was the first time I had been let go from a job. I got fired on Friday, I had a phone interview on Saturday, I had a physical interview on Sunday, and I had a new job on Monday. I was actually unemployed for 36 hours.

HBP: So by this time, you’re an asset as a graphic designer.

Shannon: Yes, but [work could be] very unfulfilling. 2010 was when I saw my first Baltimore Rock Opera Society show, the original Gründlehämmer. I first got involved in [the BROS' next production], The Double Feature. That was my first side project. So all of a sudden I was happy with my life.

I had been trying to do “the thing" forever: I’ll just get the job that sucks, because then I’ll be happy because I can pay to do whatever I want on the side. And that's not true. Not true at all. There is no such thing as "the job that you do just for money" that doesn't make you upset with your life. You just can’t do it. Maybe that's only when you’ve woken up, when you start realizing that you can create stuff outside of work.

‘There is no such thing as “the job that you do just for money,” that doesn’t make you upset with your life. You just can’t do it.’

I’ve never been that person, with that life goal. I had a lot of friends who got out of college and started a family. They just kind of did the dance, and that never really interested me. I feel a disconnect from that life plan. I am 31, and I do not have kids, and I do not want to have kids. It’s not because I’m having a party lifestyle, or something like that. It’s just… I have absolutely no desire to have a child. If I did, I haven’t learned enough cool stuff to impart upon another human being. I want to do more stuff, and learn. There’s no such thing as a grown up. That’s a huge lie. We’re all figuring it out.

Poster for the Baltimore Annex Theater's Marat Sade. Created by: Shannon Light Hadley.

That’s what I realized over the course of the past two years in particular. I had been saying to myself, as a graphic designer: “I have a skill set, I can go get a job.” I was not doing anything cool with my life, and it sucked. I wasn’t really making stuff on the side. I guess I needed BROS as a kickstart. So much has come from that. I have worked with other theatre companies – I still help the Annex Theater sometimes – independent design, freelance design. I needed something… to spark. It was that realization, when you start working on something with other people who share the same feeling you do. [Referring to BROS] We’re all young professionals, not all of us have kids, some of us are having kids now. It’s a family. It’s a crazy collection of like-minded individuals. I think that speaks to Baltimore as well.

I realized after seeing these people do their thing, being inspired by them... I couldn’t do the thing that I thought I was supposed to be. I couldn’t do that anymore. And that's when I became extremely unhappy at my jobs. It wasn’t just the money I was making, or the commute. It all needs to click. I started realizing that you need to be happy at the job you’re at. Either you find that job, which this, [working for What Works Studio], is insane – that this is working. This is the best thing that's ever happened to me in my professional career. You either find a job like this, or you make it.

HBP: You got involved with BROS because you saw Gründlehämmer?

Shannon: Mugsy [BROS member] and I worked together at Fandango. His roommate took me to see Gründlehämmer in February 2010. We sat up in the balcony, and we couldn’t hear shit. It was really long, but it was the first time I had ever seen anything like that. I had never been in the 2640 Space before. This was gorgeous, that was awesome – did I just hear a beer can? You can do that? You can watch theatre… and drink beer?

Everybody on the balcony was passing around Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and I had never had an IPA before, at this point. I was not... doing anything. I was trying to play it cool with Mugsy’s roommate. I was getting that feeling of being super young and inexperienced. So much cool shit was happening in Baltimore at that time. It was so weird, and so out there, that you’re just completely awash with experiences.

Shannon's poster for The Mobtown Players' Othello

The guy I was sitting next to was... not giving a shit... the entire duration of the show. And I was trying to do that too, but… something happened to my brain. The reason I am involved in BROS is because of the scene where Benedon cuts the Gründle open and pulled out the Gründlehämmer – and it was the coolest thing. It was blinding strobes and mirrors, and he pulled this sword out of that crazy goddamn monster. And that was the moment I stood up, sorry dude, and I screamed “fuck yes, woo!” Everybody did it – except for him. I remember thinking: I need to be a part of this. That was the start of it. I designed one program for BROS and got invited to all the afterparties. I met all of these people that would later become my best friends. The inclusive nature of BROS that we keep talking about? That was the start of it for me.

I showed up at Artscape – I showed up in a helmet. Everyone was like "COOL" and I was immediately part of the group. I basically just… never went away.

HBP: Waking up to create. That must have been a powerful moment. 

Shannon: For me it was more of a reawakening. I feel more like myself now than I ever have in my life.

There is something to be said about the level of creative freedom you have in college. Then you get out of college, and you start doing the job thing. The rigidity sets in. I like to think, very selfishly, that I was always this creative person. Instead of the BROS being the spark – I just let myself go dormant. Because that’s what it felt like.

I’d rather sit in an uncomfortable chair and create beautiful things.

I was starting to feel like I wasn’t a creative person anymore. I was just punching in, doing what I was told, leaving, and then watching TV. Now I don’t have a TV. I didn’t want to get trapped in that pit of inactivity. I’d rather sit in an uncomfortable chair and create beautiful things.

HBP: What is your life like at its worst?

Shannon: It’s the worst thing in the world. It’s horrible. It’s not the reason you do what you do. All jokes aside... it is really hard. It’s really hard to do that and perform for your job. I didn’t have as many responsibilities [when I started doing BROS]. That was at the start of the merger. Work was going downhill.

I would do BROS shit at work all the time. My desk was right by the door so when someone came in… TAB. Working, business, business, business, business. I realize now, as a project manager that [that work ethic] sucked. At the time, punk rock, art, whatever. That got impossible to do. It wasn’t until I was at the architecture firm I realized that I was being constantly watched. Every move I made all day had to be accounted for. I got a talking to for using the bathroom. I really had to start working ahead.

Now I like my job too much to slack at it. What Works Studio was the first job interview where I got to talk about BROS experience. At most places, it’s like: “wait, what? glitter on your eyebrows?” kind of people. In my interview with Brooke and Justin, they said… “we love what you do.” Thats the first time that it had ever been said to me. She did ask “so how is it during a BROS show?” at my interview. And it is hard. All I can do is make up for it.

Shannon's poster for the Baltimore Annex Theater's "Two Suns Over Thebes"

HBP: So would you say that you’re no longer living a double life?

Shannon: Yeah. It’s the first time. It’s little silly things too, like being able to use my full name on Facebook. Being able to show off that I work at What Works Studio on Facebook. I am no longer afraid to tell people, in a professional setting, that I am also the Marketing Director for the Baltimore Rock Opera Society. When I meet people now at [professional get togethers] they say: "I love the BROS!"

Every place I’ve ever worked has said: we don’t care. We don’t care what you do. It’s nice that you have a hobby, but who you are, in that seat, at work... that’s who you are to us. We don’t give a shit about what you do when you’re not here.

PCI loved BROS, they even made me a massive “Break a Leg” banner for my first stage performance. So they’re completely exempt from this, but, every place I’ve ever worked has said: we don’t care. We don’t care what you do. It’s nice that you have a hobby, but who you are, in that seat, at work... that’s who you are to us. We don’t give a shit about what you do when you’re not here.

I didn’t realize how much that mattered to me before.

I struggled before with how to put my BROS experience on my resume. People tend not to take you seriously. I think that they go hand-in-hand very well. People would not respond favorably to the way my resume looked. So I took it off, and that sucked. It felt shitty. I put it down in volunteer experience. It felt bad to not be able to take any credit for things that I do constantly. [There was] an Onion article, and it really hit home. It was titled “Find The Things That You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.” That hit home really hard.

HBP: So no more double life, no more nights and weekends? Is it easier or harder now?

Shannon: My role in BROS is evolving. The workload is changing. Is it more manageable now? Yes. Is it more intimidating now? Yes. I have a lot of responsibilities here [at What Works Studio] too. This is the first time, in a long time, that my bosses have treated me with respect – as an individual that I feel like I’m deserving of. I have creative freedom – I have a voice. That’s precious. I have to balance that. I have to achieve that Work/Work/Life/Life balance. Other people have a different version of that. If I hadn’t gotten this job, I probably would have completely changed my life around. I was probably going to be so miserable at the architecture firm, that I would have just [quit and] had an annual income of $20,000/year and just… figured it out. I would have done anything to just… not be at that job.

HBP: You mentioned beer, you mentioned glory. You seem like you’re still working two full time jobs. Why do you do it?

Murdercastle graphics courtesy of Shannon Light Hadley. 

Shannon: Why?

HBP: Why.

Shannon: Sometimes I don’t know that. Sometimes I want to quit… EVERYTHING. Why do I do this?

HBP: It seems like before, that the side projects were the thing on top – the thing channeling your creativity. So now, if you’re channeling your creativity professionally, why still the side projects? What keeps you going?

Shannon: I know that I do what I do right now because I love my friends. And that’s it. I love my BROS family. I know thats not a good enough reason to work with BROS, so I need to make some changes.

HBP: Any advice for someone who is looking to pursue a more fulfilling lifestyle?

Shannon: Don’t play World of Warcraft. Seriously – don’t even open the program.

Don’t get distracted. Really. Even if you’re so fucking bummed that nothing is going your way, you have to overcome that. It’s not laziness. Depression isn’t a form of laziness. When you slip into that headspace, when you don’t feel like getting off the couch. “I’m not going to do the things I have to do” – you’re going to hate yourself for that later. You have to have discipline. It’s not as rigid as you think, it’s not limiting. Get into routines, push yourself.

I’m going to paint for an hour. I’m going to draw in my sketchbook for an hour. I’m going to go for a walk. I’m going to take a photo of something cool, every day. Enforcing rules upon yourself, and continuing to take steps forward. Even if you’re moving at a glacier’s pace – because that’s what it feels like sometimes. When no one is calling you back – it’s like you’re running into a wall. Like one of those dreams where you’re running through water, sluggish and terrible. You have to keep going. Everything stops for you – you have you keep pushing forward. Perseverance pays off.


Work & Play is Human Being Productionsmonthly column that documents career professionals who choose rewarding creative lives.