While Kristen Ambrosi ’93 was practicing ballet and tearing out pages of magazines to inspire her pencil drawings, Derek Ambrosi ’93 was likely on the edge of his seat watching Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen. Both were doing what they loved, but it was also a foreshadowing of successful careers: Kristen, a commissioned abstract artist and yoga instructor; Derek, an Emmy award-winning film editor and director.
“I loved shading and drawing in black and white, that’s how I started,” Kristen recalls of her early interests. “Visual art was an area where I could find my own voice. It was comfortable to me.”
Once Kristen got to Governor’s, she says “it became clear that this was going to be my way of expressing myself. I went from liking to draw to knowing for certain that I was going to pursue art and dance in college.”
In addition to classes with art teacher IlaSahai Prouty, a modern dance class helped transform Kristen’s creative perspective. “My whole life I had done ballet, which is very technical and prescribed. But when I walked into Fontaine Dubus’ modern dance class, where any movement goes, it was life changing for me.”
Finding her voice through her body, she says, trickled over to her art. “With abstract painting, any mark goes. It just feels more personal and expressive.”
Derek arrived at Govs a “movie fanatic” with a video camera in hand. “Movies transported me away from reality, which I really loved. When I was about 10 years old, my dad brought home a video camera and it made possible what I had considered magical and unattainable things.”
He would scout locations, shoot and edit videos, then watch them with a few friends. But at Govs, he felt validated in his work. “I remember that one of my videos was chosen to be shown to about 300 people at Parent’s Weekend; it was so cool. But it was more than just having an outlet, it was having the support to be able to express myself. I knew it was my path.”
The Back Story
Derek and Kristen began dating during senior year at Govs before heading to college. “I remember the first time I saw her,” Derek says, looking over at Kristen. “We were in the parking lot at Perkins and I just remember being like, “Who’s that?””
“We were both in plays and fine arts concerts and were friends before we started dating,” Kristen recalls of their time at Govs. “Being apart pursuing our own endeavors in college made being apart for chapters through the last 20 years feel familiar.”
Derek studied film and television at NYU while Kristen attended Bowdoin to study art and dance. Derek learned both technical skills — which at the time included cutting actual film before things went digital — and the art of collaboration and visual storytelling “without crushing people’s ideas.”
During junior year of college, Kristen spent a semester at NYU, where she was challenged to focus less on technique and more on the intention of her art. She then studied abroad in Samoa. According to Kristen, the varied experiences informed her senior show at Bowdoin, and continue to influence her working style. After college, she worked in publishing then a design firm before opening her own studio.
“My goal is to weave art, music, and movement together through abstract art, yoga, and Kirtan meditative chant,” she says. Among her long list of exhibitions, the proudest moment was being accepted to an art show at the Schelfhaudt Gallery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “I created a set of four vertical paintings, each representing a doorway into one of the four New England seasons. If you stood in front of a particular piece, I wanted you to feel absorbed in the experience of that season.”
Derek’s career started at Avid (one of the first companies to digitize video content). He then worked at Broadway Video and Orbit before going freelance. To date, he has won eight Emmy awards for outstanding editing and producing in sports television for his work with CBS, NBC, and MLB Network. Feature work includes Premium Rush, Mortdecai, and most recently You Should Have Left, starring Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried. In 2020, he published the children’s book, If I Made a Movie.
Permission to Play
The couple, who married in 2000, is inspired by the creative process. Derek’s favorite parts are brainstorming and refining ideas. “Before I cut, I spend a lot of time thinking. I tend to watch everything and just start puzzling it together in my head before I start physically doing it on the computer.”
Kristen’s favorite is the beginning. “My heart is beating right now just thinking about a blank canvas. There is nothing precious yet, every single thing is possible, and I can make any marks I want. It’s permission to play, like a meditation and dance every time. If I get stuck, I rotate the canvas or chant while I paint.”
Emotion and visual interest, she adds, have always been paramount. “It feels a little bit like I’m delivering a healing gift. One client whose family had experienced a lot of loss envisioned something colorful and life affirming. When it was installed in her dining room, she cried.”
Derek’s work is also connected to an emotional response. “If it’s a sports tease I want that goosebump moment. If it’s a comedy, laughter. If it’s a horror film, I want people to scream.” (The latter happened at the preview of You Should Have Left.)
He reflects on “great days” and moments rather than one marker of success, mentioning a day with Steven Spielberg debating movie poster art, and a chat with “Han Solo.”
“I had met Harrison Ford before, but this time he was dressed in full costume,” says Derek, who was working next door to the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “When I saw the blaster in his holster, I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s Han Solo.’ I think I faded away for a split second.”
Though Kristen and Derek’s professional work doesn’t often overlap, their biggest collaborative project is their family: three children ages 19, 17, and 9. All forms of artistic expression are widely encouraged, though all three kids are “more musically inclined,” Kristen says.
She adds, “I have a little phrase that I use when I talk to my children: Aspire. Inspire. Transpire. Find the thing that fills you up and brings you joy and purpose. Find people who are already doing what you’re aspiring to do. And then do the work — continue to learn and refine your craft — and really believe in your product. Find what makes your heart sing.”