09 September 2016

Red’s Biweekly Letter: Removing Emotions From Business

Three similar events happened this week, which showed my growth and changes as an Artistic Director.I wanted to discuss the journey.

When I decided to begin a dance company in Detroit I wasn’t prepared. I wanted to use my voice as an African-American Woman. I saw an absent of Black work and visibility in the Metro-Detroit Art scene. We were there, working just as hard, but there was no recognition. I wanted to create work, using Black bodies, telling Black stories, just being BLACK. BLACK. BLACK. BLACK. However, I never paid attention to how much responsibility this would entail. I am now responsible for my dancers, my work and the development of the company. I have to make harsh decision, which will either protect one or harm the other.

For a long time, I protected the ‘dancer’. I believed that since I couldn’t pay them what they deserved, I should allow certain things to occurs or ignored certain behaviors. This absent of authority created a power struggle within the company. Some people believed their opinion was valued higher than others. Other people decided it was favoritism. This stressed me out and dilated the work. The company suffered due to the constant tug of war being fight in the rehearsal space. The work and the company weren’t able to grow.  I discovered very quickly being friends with your dancers is not the best thing. There needs to be some distance. After all, they are still your employees.

Later, I protected my work. It was and still is my baby. It’s where my joy beings and ends. Afterward, I discovered how much of a selfish decision this was. I was so involved with storytelling and getting the dancers to understand the work, I forgot to promote the work. I ignored the marketing side of things. The dancers performed the work beautifully. The work was/is still one of my best creation, but no one got to see it. I went from a sold out show to barely filling up seats. Due to my narrow-mindedness we barely broke even and the dancers almost didn’t get paid. That made no one happy.

Finally, I protect the company. This was hard for me, because I felt like I was selling out. I didn’t think this was fair to the dancers or the work. When you think about it, protecting the company is everything. If the company is striving, the dancers are getting paid. If the company is promoting the work, my dances are being seen. If the company is networking and making connection, it makes everyone involved more visible. If anyone is attacking the company, they must be removed. The company is the house, our shelter. If the roof falls down, we are no longer covered. You must protect your home.

About The Author

Erika "Big Red" Stowall is a choreographer and performer from Detroit, MI. Currently she serves as Artistic Director of Big Red Danke productions, and teaches at various locations in the Metro-Detroit area. Her current dance companies are Big Red Wall and Red Pumps.