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Investing in Arts Education

“It Was the Thrill of My Life”: Madeline Brewer’s Journey in the Arts

madeline brewer-arts-arts programs-orange is the new black
madeline brewer-arts-arts programs-orange is the new black
Madeline Brewer, Photo by Kristen Jan Wong

Madeline Brewer is a rising star, but she hasn’t forgotten how important arts programs were to her career.

Growing up, New Jersey native Madeline Brewer was something of a daddy’s girl. “I just wanted to do anything my dad did,” she says, whether it was playing basketball or literally anything else. Basketball didn’t work out (“it’s a sport at which I am desperately uncoordinated”) but acting was a different story.

“I was in my first play when I was seven,” she says. “I had seen my dad do theater, and I fell madly in love with being on stage immediately.”

Brewer threw herself into her new career with passion, spending every summer over the next decade working in community theater in her hometown of Pitman before taking the leap to pursue acting professionally. “I went to theater school at 18 in New York,” she says, “and 15 months later I did my first paid gig as an actress on the road in Torrington, Connecticut.”

The thrill of it

That first gig confirmed Brewer’s life path.

“It was the thrill of my life. Three months after that, I was sneaking in auditions while working at Victoria’s Secret during the day and a pub at night.”

Then, she found her big break: She booked the role of Tricia Miller, a thief who kept a list of everything she stole so she could someday pay everyone back, on the defining Netflix show Orange Is the New Black. “I fell in love with working on screen and have been following that path for the last decade.”

Since then, Brewer has worked nonstop, turning up in films like Hustlers and the critically acclaimed Cam, as well as television projects like The Handmaid’s Tale and Shining Girls on Apple TV+. At a glance, Brewer’s career seems charmed, but she had to work hard for her success.

“I did 10 years of community theater,” she says. “I also did 10 years of voice lessons and singing in a choir.”

That education in the arts was crucial. “I learned so much about community, about friendship, about honoring commitment, and about confidence and hard work,” she says. “I was challenged as a young artist and as a young person in ways that have shaped so much of who I am.”

Investing in the arts

That experience has made Brewer a fierce advocate for investing in arts programs — in part because of the discipline they teach to young artists.

“I have a powerful work ethic that I attribute both to the passion I have for what I do as well as the respect for the work instilled in me by my teachers, coaches, and directors,” she says.

Brewer contends that young people interested in the arts need specific support and programs to support them.

“There are some things that standardized tests will never be able to teach,” she says. “Especially for children and adolescents whose languages of learning and understanding are larger than what most curriculums provide.”

Brewer is adamant about the power and necessity of arts in our lives — and programs to support them.

“The gifts I have been given from a life in the arts, starting at a relatively early age, are the most important and valuable in my life,” Brewer says.

As a rising star, Brewer knows younger artists look to her for guidance. Her advice to aspiring young artists is simple: “Stay so curious about the world and the people around you. Invest in knowing your own heart and bringing the beauty of it to others. Work hard, work hard, work hard, take a little nap — then work harder.”

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