Alumna Makeup in the Spotlight
Clifton Heights native Erica Johnson was one of the first students in the Communications program at the (then) School of Communications and Theater. When she started at Temple at 23 years old, she never dreamt her story would unfold to a future as a makeup artist and co-founder of a West Coast makeup academy.
After she graduated high school, Erica started working as a bartender, giving little thought to going to college. At the age of 21, she started classes at Delaware County Community College, where she spent two years before transferring to Temple and going on to graduate in 2005.
Despite the fact that she took a break between high school and college, she never felt the worries of non-traditional students. She admits that she missed out on the campus activities since she was a commuter. She felt, “a little out of the loop. Where everyone was hanging out on campus, I was driving to school every day. It was a completely different experience for me.”
Although she was born and raised in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, she felt her calling was somewhere else. After some time, Erica started to drift to the other side of the nation. “Living outside of Philadelphia, I realized that there’s a mindset here to graduate, get married, and have kids, go to grad school, have a career, and work 9-5. There’s so much pressure to do the ‘right thing’ that once I left, my life really kind of took off,” she says with a hint of hope and anticipation in her voice. She detailed the beginning paths of her career for me, starting with a job she was given in Los Angeles, California. She worked red carpet events, the last shred of her childhood dream of becoming an actress.
Much of her time spent at Temple was dedicated to being in front of the camera and studying what it takes to get there. “I took a couple of theater classes, and thought ‘this is definitely what I want to do’, but for some reason, I was drawn more to the television classes and the science behind it. I just wanted to quit school and be an actress, and my mom’s like, ‘I will kill you!’” she laughs.
Her career in makeup never followed a linear path. While she was perusing the acting scene in LA, she knew it was a good spot for her to be in. Due to conflicting circumstances, however, she moved back home to Pennsylvania, where she began to see herself coming into makeup artistry. “I had some friends that asked me to do their makeup for a TV pilot they were shooting, and I said ‘it’s kind of different when I’m doing makeup when we go out and now you’re asking me to do makeup on set?’ It’s a completely different style that I don’t know how to work with; you have to work with lighting and cameras. I had no idea what I was doing at the time but I was loving every second of it. At the end of the day, I was like, ‘wow, I love this, this is what I want to do’.”
It was then that she decided to pursue makeup school to add to what she already knew. While she was busy trying to put a career together, other things in her life made it difficult to proceed. Erica was faced to relocate back to the East Coast. Just when she thought circumstances could not be worse, she received a phone call from a friend who lived in Las Vegas. On a whim, she flew out to spend a weekend with her friend, only to find her heart was in Vegas.
After relocating yet again, Erica started doing what she knew best: bartending. She knew she could not douse her passion for makeup, so she found an advertisement to work as a makeup artist at a local photography studio. Four months later after working with the couple who owned the studio. They asked her to partner with them in founding a makeup academy, and thus Optionz Makeup Academy was born. “I remember the first class I taught was three hours long, and I had no idea what I was doing but I just powered through everything in my kit, and teaching whatever I thought was relevant.”
Today, her story reads a little differently than she thought. “I thought I was going to marry someone who’s an actor, I’m not going to have to work anymore, like I thought that was my story,” she admits. Though she’s far from those days, she owes a lot of her success to the place it all started: Temple.
“I felt a little lost going there (Temple) because I was a little older than everyone else around me. I really struggled from the beginning. [Dr. Gratson] was so motivating from day one to get me to think outside the box and get me to find out what my major could do, and that I didn’t have to be book-smart to make something happen. The program itself drew me because I felt like I did have the flexibility and freedom to take all these different classes that were a part of me.”
Erica and her thriving makeup academy, Optionz Makeup Academy, is living proof that with enough willpower, a good foundation (pun intended), and a strong desire to follow a passion, anything and everything is within reach. It is a rare thing to find what it is a person loves and to make a living from it, but this alumna is a clear example that it can be done. “When I see a client tear up because they didn’t know they could look so beautiful – that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”
By Kandace Kohr
Major of Distinction Scholar Real-World Ready
By Kandace Kohr, 2014
Senior Communication Studies major Megan Carter will be one of two students in the program graduating from its Major of Distinction Program in the spring of 2014. In a quick Q&A session, we hear more from her about her journey to becoming language proficient in French and her growing love for screenwriting.
Kandace: Why did you decide on the Communication Studies Program?
Megan: I came into SMC undeclared as a freshman, declared myself an advertising major my second semester at Temple, and then the new Communication Studies program was created. It sounded perfect for what I wanted–flexibility and a diverse choice of classes. I finally felt like a major tailored to me came to fruition right when I needed it.
K: What aspects of the major of distinction attracted you? How did you pick it?
M: I realized as soon as I declared CMST, I wanted even more freedom outside of the tracks. And the requirements were right up my alley. Continuing French was a worthwhile challenge, and I had this amazing chance to try everything I wanted and more. It coincided perfectly with the classes I took for my Writing Certificate through the English department. I not only was able to practice literary writing, but also writing for media. I could take theater classes to learn to write for the stage (Playwriting) and perform spontaneously (Improv) and even practice writing for film with my senior thesis. Which is exactly what I did.
K: What will you do with your Major of Distinction.
M: I have a pretty decent portfolio graduating out of Temple. The world is my oyster as far as I can tell. I will no doubt continue to write as well as stay involved in theater. My big dream is to write comedy for TV. If I can be half as successful and brilliant as Mindy Kaling, I’ll be set.
K: Can you explain what you’ll be doing after graduation?
M: Right now I’m working as a Content Writing Intern at KicksUSA. I write shoe release blogs and get to learn about sneaker culture with a cool group of people. On the side, I’ll be submitting scripts as long as stamps still work. I’ll also probably be hitting up some open mics around Philly soon to practice stand-up. I want to keep doing Improv whenever I get the chance. So basically, everything.
K: As I understand it, you’re involved in the LGBT activities/groups around campus. Can you tell me a little more about that?
M: My junior year I was lucky enough to become president of Temple’s Queer Student Union. I was very proud of the group of people who served on the e-board. I was inspired to meet and chat with so many beautiful, dedicated student advocates. I left knowing we set a new standard for LGBTQ awareness and presence at Temple, from hosting the very first drag show on campus to spreading the story of Edie Windsor who returned this year to be honored as an Alumni Fellow!
K: Do you comingle your involvement with LGBT groups with your major, or Major of Distinction in particular?
M: I have all kinds of LGBTQ-identified friends in just about everything I’m involved with. The queers are everywhere! I am always working to create more bisexual and genderqueer characters in my writing in the hopes of encouraging more representation on stage and on screen.