Written by Kevin Heffernan
Credit for headshot: Mike Martinez
RCR photo: Mike Martinez
For the fully stylized version of this article with additional illustrations, pick up a free physical copy of No Boundaries issue 5 anywhere in Buffalo or Rochester or review it here on issuu.
2008 was an excellent year to graduate college, that is if you prefer to start your career amidst global economic downturn and uncertainty. For many who stepped out into the world around that time, improvisation was the name of the game. Leah Stacy is no exception. Equipped with a background in theater, a cosmetology license, a BA in English, and a completed internship at the Democrat & Chronicle, Stacy was ready to be a journalist, but no one was hiring. After two years of working odd jobs, she was finally hired at the D&C as a web editor. Four months later, the department was cut and she was laid off. It was time to go back to school – The Newhouse School at SU.
“Journalism school was a hard, rewarding year. I learned AP style, video basics, startup strategy, and most importantly – I found my people at Newhouse. It was amazing to know there were others like me, who wanted to do a little bit of everything and be challenged and work really long, non-traditional hours because they loved their work.”
After graduating, Stacy produced a three-week journalism project on the road with her best friends, returned to Syracuse to manage PR for Syracuse Stage, until going back home to Rochester to become the Editor in Chief of (585) Magazine, and start organizing and promoting events.
“That’s when all of my current work really kicked off. Journalism taught me how to network, research, meet deadlines, write good copy, take photos, shoot video, run social media, manage personalities, stay organized, and plan ahead. Planning a magazine issue is actually very similar to planning and curating an event – but bonus, events allow this extrovert to hang out with people!”
“While I was at the magazine, I grew my network – fast – in Rochester and the Finger Lakes. I met two important people during that time: Danielle Raymo, who founded and runs Rochester Brainery, and Chuck Cerankosky, who founded and directs Rochester Cocktail Revival. Danielle and I will host our fifth (and biggest) social media conference (Upstate Social Sessions) in October! Chuck and I started Boomtown Table as a way to cover the food and drink scene, and it quickly became a content creation resource for the scene as well. In 2017, I joined RCR as associate producer and we’re now in year six (also the biggest yet). I have one important thing in common with both Danielle and Chuck: a crazy strong vision for Rochester.”
“It really goes back to the unending drive I have for boosting Rochester and doing things that I actually believe in and enjoy. Also, working with people I like! Those are important factors for me in any project or job. But truly, I want to see Rochester in the national spotlight. I want people to be happy and proud to live here. The events and content we produce… It’s a ton of work. I can’t just watch Netflix most nights, and I sometimes sacrifice time with family and friends for these projects. But I didn’t sign up for a 9-to-5 job. I’m not counting down ‘til retirement.”
Stacy left (585) in 2015, and has since added teaching undergrad classes at Nazareth and graduate classes at Syracuse to regularly producing written content for entities like USA Today, POST Magazine, and CITY Newspaper, videos, events, and theater shows. Taking on so many projects that require so many moving parts can burn some people out. She persists, and her work has contributed to a revived, collaborative scene in Rochester.
“There’s this great Ted Talk from 2015 titled ‘Why some of us don’t have one true calling,’ and the speaker, Emilie Wapnick, coins the term ‘multipotentialite.’ It’s someone who wants to try a lot of things, and is maybe even good at a lot of things. That’s how I refer to myself now. I’ve had so many different roles because I wanted to try a lot of things. Rochester’s creative scene is chock full of folks like that. When there’s so much going on, chances are you don’t have time to compete because you’re working with people on one or more things in some capacity. And boomers are part of it, too – though not as much as the millennials. We were, as you know, born into this cultural mindset. Bottom line? We value community over competition.”
Stacy closes her thoughts out where it all began, long before college – on the stage. All of her other success aside, her strongest aspirations remain inside theater.
“Oh yes. Theatre gave me so much confidence and a sense of adventure. It was an invaluable force in my childhood. Passing it on to college students and student audiences now, as a director, is so rewarding. A lot of times my co-director, Shawnda Urie, and I will be sitting in the back of an auditorium crying during a show because we’re so happy to bring theatre to the next generation. My biggest goal is to write more shows. I’ve written a few and read or workshopped them publicly, but I want to have something published or performed as a full run. I’d also like to get back on stage!”