After interviewing so many talented stage performers, Broadway Wiz is shining a spotlight on creators and innovators. They may not have their name in a playbill, but all of these people have found ways to share their love for Broadway through their artistry.
This week we are featuring Chelsea Swanson, the artist behind Custom Broadway
Custom Broadway is a resource for hand painted Broadway and theatre themed gifts. You can customize a box to hold your ticket stubs, a canvas to get signed at the stage door or even your own pair of theatre themed shoes! If you’ve got a passion, Chelsea has got the paint.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
First and foremost I am a theatre fan. If you ask anyone who knows me what I am passionate about, I have no doubt that their answer will be, “Broadway!” And the second answer will probably be Spanish. My degree is in Spanish Education and I teach Spanish to 4th-8th graders in Ohio. I took Spanish in High School and fell in love with the language and the culture. I have used my Spanish to travel to Costa Rica, I have studied abroad in Ecuador as well as worked off of a Cruise ship based out of Puerto Rico. And if my days weren’t full enough, I also currently work as a Store Supervisor at a Chick Fil A. All my “spare” time is spent painting and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Where did the idea for Custom Broadway come from and how did you get the business started?
I started painting because I wanted to have something other than a playbill to get signed at the stage door. My first painting was a Cinderella themed gift for my sister and then I was hooked. I just couldn’t stop finding new things to paint on and one of my close family members suggested that I start to sell things! It was the best advice I could have gotten at the time because I have had so many amazing opportunities and have gotten to meet some amazing people ever since I first sat down with a paint brush.
What is your design process like and how do you select which products to make?
I don’t have much of an inventory to sell like most shops. I love making things custom and unique for each person. I think that a piece of art means more to someone if there’s a story behind it. So, typically, I will get a request from someone to create a piece of art on a pair of shoes, a wooden box or on a canvas. I love creating a new design, so as soon as I get a request, my creative juices are churning.
I have one customer who placed a pretty large order for 10 canvases each depicting a show that the drama department had done for the past ten years as a gift for the director. And now, as the drama department continues on, I’ll get a request for the newest show to add to their collection. It’s pretty amazing.
Do you have a favorite design that you’ve created?
My favorite design that I’ve done probably has to be the shoes I painted for my sister. Now, they’re not Broadway themed, but they’re Moana themed and they’re the most detailed shoes I’ve ever done. All four sides of the high top converse are decorated with scenes and characters from the movie, and each tongue is decked out in colorful designs as well. I spent so much time on them because I wanted them to be perfect and they turned out better than I could have imagined.
First Broadway show you ever saw or show that made a deep impact on you?
The first professional show I ever saw was Wicked on my Senior trip to Chicago. Now, having expanded my theatre horizons, Wicked is still one of my favorites and it’s the one that I’ve seen the most. I love the story, but what made it a favorite for me was the interactions I had with the touring cast at the stage door. They made each interaction special by taking the time to talk for even a minute or two. I was always the shy kid in Middle and High School and even though I was a part of the drama department, I never was the lead. I was usually in the chorus, in the back or just in the audience. Being able to interact with these professional actors made me feel special and made me want to be a part of the Broadway community in whatever way I could be.
What advice would you give those in the theatre community who may want to start their own Broadway themed business?
Just do it. If you have something that you love to do, do it. Find an old friend or make some new ones and do it together. Make a community and build each other up. I know that I would not be where I am today, and I won’t get to be where I will be 5 years from now without the encouragement and support of those around me. Find your people, find your passion, and create.
What has been the most rewarding part of your business so far?
The people. I love to paint because it relaxes me and I could do it for hours and not be tired of it, but that can get pretty lonely. I love sharing my art with people and meeting new people who have the same passions that I do. Sharing our love of art or our love of theatre is so fun and making those connections in places like BroadwayCon or the Broadway Flea Market, or even at a stage door is so exciting.
Do you have plans to expand Custom Broadway, or are there any new projects on the horizon?
I would love to be able to live closer to the city so that I can be more of a presence among the Broadway community. So, I would love to make the move someday soon! I am constantly on the lookout for job openings and people looking for a roommate!