Saya Hillman has turned a knack for connecting people into a full-time career. In 2004 she started events company Mac & Cheese Productions after getting fired from her last 9-to-5 job.
It started with dinner parties and coffee get-togethers with friends and grew into gatherings large and small called “Life of Yes!” where participants pay to meet and mingle. Hillman hosts weekend retreats, mixers, workshops, and other events to get people, typically 20- to 50-somethings, to connect.
In 2011 she launched The Fear Experiment, which brings strangers together at The Park West to perform art forms including improv dance and comedy. The idea is to push people out of their comfort zones and foster a sense of community, according to Hillman.
“I wanted to get paid to dance a hip-hop routine on stage,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m a horrible dancer, and I knew nobody would pay money to see me dance by myself and dance badly. So I applied the concept of the minglers, bringing people together who don’t know each other, and I e-mailed 50 of my friends who I thought had the right spirit and personality to do it with me.”
An Evanston native, Hillman lives in Chicago with her husband. She has a bachelor’s degrees in English and sociology from Boston College.