Schaumburg native swaps Broadway dream for behind-the-scenes career
This week, if things go as planned, Schaumburg native Natalie Bounassar starts her new gig as a production secretary on Lee Daniels' upcoming Fox TV drama series "Empire."
The Hoffman Estates High School grad had been an associate talent booker at ABC 7's "Windy City Live." Before that, she worked as a postproduction assistant at Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions, then served internships at both CBS and ABC.
She also writes a blog called "Entry Level Escapades," an advice column for young people just entering the workforce.
Oh, did we mention she's 23?
"I feel that I've experienced so many things at 23," Bounassar said with a touch of understatement. "I've traveled, I've worked at different companies, I've already seen so much."
"It's given me an even greater zeal for life!"
Bounassar didn't start out to be a production assistant. She had bigger dreams.
"Ever since I was 12, I dreamed of taking Broadway by storm," she said.
She became involved in Schaumburg on Stage, a community-based musical theater production company. She also spent four years at Hoffman Estates High School in theater and music programs.
"I had a real passion for performing ever since I was little," she admitted.
When the University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music accepted her as a student, she thought her dream would come true.
Life tossed her a proverbial curveball: She failed her first college board exams, something that forced her to re-examine her goals.
"I thought that maybe I'm not supposed to do this (performing)," she said. "Maybe there's a reason for this (failure). Maybe I didn't want to go to school for four years to become a waitress."
This is where a college holiday concert called "Carols for a Cause" turned out to be a life-changing catalyst for Bounassar. She produced the benefit event, raising $600 for a local homeless shelter.
"I realized that maybe I was better suited for a career behind the scenes in entertainment," she said. So, she took the bold initiative to abandon Cincinnati, transfer to Chicago's Columbia College and complete a degree in media management.
"I enjoy management and organization, combined with my love of the arts," she said. "It was a very good fit."
Most twentysomethings would have a difficult time surrendering their dreams to the opportunities that come their way. Bounassar appears to possess a maturity beyond her years. She has an explanation for that.
"I think it's both a blessing and a curse that I'm an only child," she said. "When you're an only child, you grow up with mostly adults around. You kind of skip over a few kid stages, and I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing. It just happens. I think that's a casualty of being an only child."
A key influence was her father, who moved to the United States from Lebanon.
"His life was not easy," she said. "When he came to America, he faced a lot of challenges. And he was always full of such drive and passion. I've always been in awe and inspired by that. My life is a lot easier than his."
Bounassar also credits a long line of mentors for helping her, especially in her younger years.
"I've always had people pushing me and encouraging me along the way," she said.
Bounassar advises students to take chances and be bold about accepting changes, even if they alter life goals. She even addressed this during a "Career Profiles" interview for TheEveryGirl.com website:
"Changing majors doesn't mean you failed," she wrote. "Not knowing exactly where you want to be in five years doesn't mean you're a lost cause. I really believe that every step we take is purposeful and serves to teach us something.
"Remember, you are not transferring because you made a mistake. You're transferring because you've learned the lessons you needed to learn and that will lead you to your next step. Embrace the change. You might have moments of doubt, but trust your instincts and always keep moving forward!"
See? Mature beyond her years. The secret?
"I have a family who supports me no matter what I want to do," she said. "They back me 100 percent. They've given me the ability to experience so many things."
-- Dann Gire
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are looking for Northwest suburbanites now working in show biz. If you know someone who would make an interesting story, contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
'Empire' in ChicagoSchaumburg native Natalie Bounassar will be starting a new job this week as production secretary for Lee Daniels' new hip-hop TV series "Empire," starring Terrence Howard as a man with both a recording studio and a terminal illness. The Fox show is scheduled for broadcast in 2015.
"This is new and exciting and it's shooting in Chicago," she said. "This is really different and I wanted to challenge myself."
What exactly does a "production secretary" do? "I'm still learning the job, picking up on the details," she said. "Basically, I make sure the crew lists go out and that the different 'organizational office work' gets completed."