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Crafting a Global Table for Caribbean Voices with Magaly Colimon-Christopher

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Magaly Colimon-Christopher: We had to create a platform for all the members of the Caribbean diaspora, all the people of the Caribbean. I thought that was too much for me. I'm like, no, I can't handle that much. I'm one person. But I realized I have to because all of our brothers and sisters are feeling unheard, are feeling that their art form is not validated. They need a space to be who they are, even if it's culturally different. We've had many to say, "Yeah, in my culture, they don't really value my voice, but when I go somewhere else, they value it." Let us be the somewhere else. I have to say that is my message to theatre. Recognize the need of people in other places beyond your stage, your brick and mortar, who need you to be accessible.

Yura Sapi: You are listening to Building Our Own Tables, a podcast produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. I'm your host, Yura Sapi, and I'm the founder of various organizations and projects, including a 501C3 nonprofit, a six-hectare farm and food sovereignty project, an LGBTQ+ healing and art space. And I've helped numerous creatives, leaders, and other founders unleash their excellence into the world through my programs, workshops, and coaching services.

In this podcast, I'm showcasing the high vibration solutions for you as a visionary leader to implement into your own practice and thrive. Stay tuned this season to hear from other founders who have built their own tables for their communities and for the world in this evolutionary time on earth. You are here for a reason and I am so honored and grateful to support you on your journey. So stay tuned and enjoy.

Challenges arise as a founder, as a visionary, as someone who is bringing forth something that did not exist before. We're going to experience them as people who are building our own tables. So in today's episode, I am so honored and grateful to get to introduce you to Magaly Colimon-Christopher, the founder of Conch Shell Productions. Conch Shell Productions is an organization dedicated to enlightening US American audiences about the diverse emerging Caribbean diaspora and the Caribbean voices in theatre and film. All about creating space for artists to share their stories, to develop, to produce, to present new plays and films in the theatre and film industry. Magaly has been able to create a movement for Caribbean diasporic people around the world. And in this episode, we hear from some of her solutions, some of her truth, some of her recommendations for you as a leader of your own project, your own organization, your own table that you're building.

Dive into really get some clarity on what it means to face challenges as a leader, what it means to fail, what it means to be able to take care of yourself and be there for others. What it means to be creating something that becomes so much bigger than you originally thought. And really just allow yourself to feel into the vibration of what we're offering here as leaders, as founders. The energy of the space that we're holding and welcoming you, inviting you to hold this space as well, to hold this torch, to experience what it means to be someone who builds their own table, and in fact, really about building something that becomes so much bigger than you. So enjoy this episode and get inspired by Conch Shell Productions, by Magaly Colimon-Christopher.

Before we get into this episode, go ahead and hit subscribe on this podcast. This is the best way to stay updated on new episodes, and it helps build a thriving planet where all beings experience joy and harmony with each other and mother earth. So go ahead and hit subscribe and keep this good energy flowing. Welcome Magaly to the podcast. It's so good to have you here.

Magaly: Thank you. Thank you. I'm really happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Yura: I want to start off by asking your superhero origin story. What is the pivotal moment that led you to forge your own path and build your own table?

Magaly: The funny thing is I've been producing for a while, but it was primarily producing my own work. And building a table where I would invite other people to come to sit. Building Conch Shell Productions: That was spearheaded by a community of artists that were in a play that I produced that was presented in a theatre festival. Their reaction to playing Haitian and Haitian-made American characters was, we need more of this. We need more opportunities to tell our story. You need to create that space. I'm really grateful I was in the spiritual and mental and emotional space to say yes. I have a lot of thanks to give to Planet Connections Theatre Festivities for creating that opportunity for me to wake up and have the courage to say yes to founding an organization that is now about to become a nonprofit organization. We've gone from being a for-profit LLC that has a fiscal sponsor to being on the verge of being a nonprofit, which takes my breath away.

Yura: Yes. I'd love to hear more about that journey. I also recently just got my 501C3 last year for my organization LiberArte. I'd love to hear about this shift that you are going through from LLC to nonprofit. Can you tell us more about that?

Magaly: The thought of a nonprofit is that this organization, this baby that you've birthed is no longer yours. It belongs to the community. I had to meditate a lot because I put a lot of my life... Everything I do for Conch Shell Productions, I basically do it from my heart and I don't get paid. And so to be told that you've built this and once you say yes to being a nonprofit, which is in the betterment of the organization, it is no longer yours and you can be replaced. So I had to say to myself, how important am I in this whole thing? And indeed, I'm just a conduit. I'm just carrying the tray and I had to be ready to hand the tray when the time comes to the next person to be the conduit for the voices of the Caribbean diaspora and the Caribbean.

It was actually a six-month journey of meditating and saying, can I release this baby? Can I say “you can walk on your own and be guided by someone else”? I really understood how parents feel. I'm not a parent, but I understood how parents feel when their kid turns eighteen and they say, “I am an adult,” and they go off to college and some other people become their main influence. There are various stages of handing the child over. First it's kindergarten and then it's college, and then it's someone's spouse. You're handing your child over to someone and entrusting all that you put into this being and being an organization. It is being, for me. It is a being that impacts others that can change others' perspectives of Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora voices and also change a Caribbean or Caribbean diaspora person's viewpoint on their role in the arts that they do have a place. Awakening them to that. Yeah. I would say it's a mixture of liberating for the organization and awakening myself to the fact that I am nothing but a conduit. That's it. I'm not the maker. Right. What about you? How was your experience with this transition to being a nonprofit?

Yura: For me I had been working independently. I had a DBA. Everything going through me. And always still very focused on this aspect of donations. Even grants that came through. For me, the nonprofit route felt really important because part of it too was to not have donations going into my personal name and account. But I also am with you on this aspect of really following this calling to be using my skills as a visionary for this larger vision where I'm a part of it. We're working on bringing a music group from Colombia in Nuquí and Chocó, where I am, for a tour later this year to the US. And so much of the work is very spirit-centered, spiritual in that I feel like I'm just doing the steps that the universe is placing in terms of, there's these grant opportunities that are exactly for the dates that we're thinking already. There's another grant in Colombia with the Ministry of Culture for Flights. There's people that I'm meeting and I'll have to do is say that I'm working on this project and people start to say, "Oh, I know someone. Maybe you can get connected."

It feels as though really lending myself to this higher purpose of something that's flowing in the best ways on the good days and the good moments of it all. In terms of being able to release the idea that it's not mine, I definitely experienced that having a board of directors and that whole structure. I think it's also part of what I really needed to not be doing this alone. As someone who's a visionary, it's a very interesting life being able to see and experience and sometimes even live in a future world that doesn't exist yet. It's really helpful to have a team of people around me that maybe are a little bit more connected to the realities or the earthly understanding. That has been really helpful to have people who can kind of help make more sense of the systems at play and support us in getting to this vision.

I also see that role as visionary as founder, as the one who building this table at the start to be really making something that didn't happen that didn't exist before. And then once it's ready, we can pass it on to someone who's really good at continuing on the project versus me being that type of person to go in and continue on another project. That's not my strength. So it's really important to stick to where I thrive and what I can really offer. So that's been my process on really considering what is my role in letting go of the things that don't need to be my responsibility.

Yeah. Just letting go and the importance of using your team. And the board is so essential and my board is so amazing and incredibly talented. Every step of the way I have to remember, I have a board, I can ask them. I have a board. I can ask them to handle this for me and handle that for me. It's quite refreshing. And their commitment to the vision and the mission of Conch Shell Productions, it's a gift. It's a gift. I appreciate it immensely. It's a difference between being a donor and being an active participant. It's such a massive gap and it's a beautiful alignment of human purposes when you have a strong board. Congratulations to you.

Yura: Thank you. And likewise. Both be growing throughout these years. I always find this podcast medium is such an amazing capturing of oral history. It's a beautiful way to really mark moments. That's the whole point of this podcast too, is to showcase all of the work that we already have been doing. So I'm really excited, this honoring of the past.

Because you're listening to this podcast, I'm going to assume that you care about the future of our planet and all beings who live here. You are a visionary leader who sees possibilities for our future that are beyond what others around you may be thinking and taking as the status quo. You have the ability to see another option and see a different way to do things than before. You're bridging ancestral practices with the modern and you know there's a reason you're here on this planet, in this body with this voice in this moment. So I want to invite you to join our free Network of Visionaries. An online platform and community forum cultivated by me, Yura Sapi, to support other visionaries who are building their own tables. Join us and gain access to weekly self-care tips guided by the astrological occurrences that reflect in our socio-political day-to-day, as well as resources to grant opportunities, business tools curated for you to thrive as a new earth leader. Get access to my special meditations, teaching videos, and giveaways for one-on-one coaching sessions, courses, and more. So what are you waiting for? Join us on the Network of Visionaries and let's manifest our thriving planet.

As we look to the future, I am curious about what you are considering as the theatre industry is evolving, as the earth is evolving in my experience and opinion I think there's a lot of things that are changing about us as humans and how we relate to the earth, kind of remembering the ancestral and also bridging the modern. So as this theatre industry is evolving, what do you believe it’s asking of us as leaders?

Theatre has existed since the beginning of humanity. How do we serve the current humanity that is focused on devices if not crossing over, creating a bridge between the live space and the device space?

Magaly: Well, I've always had a penchant to bringing the voice of the ancestors to the stage because they're telling us stories. The thing about theatre... As you know, Conch Shell Productions, we also focus on the voice of filmmakers, not just theatremakers because I really feel that separating those two mediums doesn't serve us as a people. One, because our voices, capturing our voices like in this podcast allows future people to know our viewpoints and it may guide future people and awaken future people. So capturing these stories as a film is empowering and it doesn't denigrate the value of that live experience in theatre, but it does allow for us to share these stories on a wider scope. And as the world does indeed become smaller because of the access to media on your computer, on your cell phone, on your tablet, being able to awaken more people to the viewpoints of a community, of a culture, is essential. That eliminates the stilted viewpoint that your ideas, your opinions are all that matters.

I often go on YouTube and watch interviews or watch content on YouTube and discover the world. And I can't imagine how many other people across the country across the planet are discovering me, discovering you, discovering various cultures that they may never meet and realizing, wait a minute, my viewpoint was so narrow. The theme for our company this year is “awakening,” and I find it really interesting that you asked me that question because we're focused on content that awakens. What does that mean? It sparks an awareness. It inspires clarity. Work that allows people to ask questions that they never considered before. Theatre has existed since the beginning of humanity. How do we serve the current humanity that is focused on devices if not crossing over, creating a bridge between the live space and the device space? At Conch Shell Productions, we do a lot of our work online. We present readings online. We share artist chats online with the understanding that not everyone can come to New York City and sit in the audience with us, but everyone needs to hear us. Everyone needs to be touched.

So I would say my vision for the future of theatre is the understanding that what you have to share is so valuable. You have to expand your definition of theatre so that the world can be moved by what you have to share. And what is really thrilling, although it occurred during a sad time, what is thrilling about what occurred in 2020 is theatres had to find a way to reach people. Streaming online became the norm because we were all awakened that the universe is telling us, change your mode, reach beyond your space. I really encourage theatre to continue on that journey. Don't walk away from it because everything is “back to normal.” I have to say that Conch Shell Productions really, really discovered the power of online content during the pandemic. We produced my play at the festival in 2018. 2019 we did Hear Her Call, Carribbean American Theater Festival at York College in the Milton Bassin Performing Arts Center, and we did it again in 2020. And in 2019 we did live readings. So everything was in person. The availability to our content online was limited to an artist chat, an excerpts of an artist chat.

But when Zoom showed up and I was stuck in my home in April 2020 and I was exposed to Zoom, I was like, wait a minute, we can continue working. I wasn't alone in that assertion. But it did change my perspective of our role. It's not just servicing New York, it's servicing all people of the Caribbean diaspora because our mission initially was Caribbean Americans. Creating a platform for Caribbean Americans. But then I realized as we did these presentations, as I met people via Zoom who lived in every part of the world throughout the Caribbean, I discovered there was a need that was beyond the United States that we had to meet. We had to create a platform for all the members of the Caribbean diaspora, all the people of the Caribbean.

I thought that was too much for me. I'm like, no, I can't handle that much. I'm one person. But I realized I have to because all of our brothers and sisters are feeling unheard, are feeling that their art form is not validated. They need a space to be who they are, even if it's culturally different. We've had many to say, "Yeah, in my culture they don't really value my voice, but when I go somewhere else, they value it." So let us be the somewhere else. And I have to say that is my message to theatre. Recognize the need of people in other places beyond your stage, your brick and mortar who need you to be accessible.

Yura: I'm really hearing the importance of leaders that are emerging, that are developing, that are continuing on in this time to really embrace being flexible with what's coming, with what has already shifted when it comes to technology, as an example, as the shifts that are offering us the opportunities to further connect and also this offering of answering the call. You as a leader might be called to expand what you first thought was possible. So if you first thought you were serving a specific group or you were doing a specific thing, and then the universe gives you an even bigger opportunity, an even bigger role that you didn't even think was possible at the time, to take the necessary steps to expand your personal capacity to say yes to it. If it is in line with what your original vision and values are, that is still relevant because there is that aspect of needing to say yes to the opportunities that come through it.

It might mean you need to say no to other things to be able to hold that capacity. But yeah, I'm hearing that there is this moment, this shift when either someone in particular or your inner intuition is calling to you to say, take this space, fill this role, serve your community, and go forth. And I'm curious for that moment for you, when you expanded the idea of who you're really serving, was there an internal conversation that you processed to be able to take on this responsibility?

Magaly: I was terrified. I was like, where am I going to find the money? Where am I going to find the resource? Whenever that happens, I just do whatever it is that my terrified voice says I can't. Because fear really doesn't serve anything other than affirming the concept of limitation. So how are you going to be an artist and have a limited mindset? Yeah. You get terrified when things don't work out, but you say, okay, so it didn't work out what next? So the “yes, and” exploration that we do as we improvise as actors... Because I'm an actor. “Yes, and” was a big part of me staying on task. When things fell apart, “yes, and.” When things went sideways, “yes, and.” Of course I would have moments of melting down. You have to allow yourself to melt down. I think even Storm and the X-Men, she had a meltdown. We just didn't see her. She was off camera having a meltdown. I love Storm. She's one of my favorite characters on the paper. “Yes, and” has allowed me to get through, as well as prayer and checking in. Is this ego making me say I have to or is this what has to be done because you're telling me to?

So always asking God, asking my ancestors: what has to be done? What has to be done? A purpose-driven life. What do I do to help others? Because I've been helped so often in my life by such wonderful people who just help me because. And that is why I'm here today. So how do we continue this art form if we don't just help? How do we have future leaders and future artists if we don't just help those who are looking for guidance? And so that's what I feel Conch Shell Productions is doing. It's helping the Caribbean diaspora and the Caribbean artists have a space to be celebrated, recognized, illuminated, and also the audience to have an awareness, a developed awareness of, oh, these voices move me. I want more of these voices. Keep on going back to that.

Yura: It's such a ripple effect because when we get to overcome our fear and our fear... This acronym I learned, false evidence appearing real. So really uncovering this false evidence that we are manifesting into being real by deciding that that's what's the situation, and therefore not taking action, therefore being stopped by our fear. When we overcome that, there's so much more that comes for ourselves and for our communities and for the world because when you think about when we share our gifts, when we share our solutions, we cause a ripple effect. Even one person being able to be impacted by that information might change the way that they are interacting with everyone else they talked to that day, maybe everyone else they talked to in their entire life. And so you could see how that ends up flowing. And ultimately, if everyone shared their solutions to all of the world's problems, we wouldn't have problems. We would have solutions.

Magaly: Exactly. Exactly.

Yura: I would love to hear if you could share one solution for the world's problems that you wish everyone knew about, what would it be?

Magaly: Being still. Just when you're about to lose it, breathing deeply and being still. Not to say that I'm an expert at it, of course I always stumble and trip and mess it up. But the moments when I do do that, there's such clarity and everything becomes very simple and there are no foes. Everything is balanced and equitable and possible. But if you just keep on holding your breath and pushing through the fight or flight just takes over. Be still and breathe. Be still. My aunt always tells me, be still. And so I practice be still. When I am able to breathe, I can hear a be still message. So breathe and be still.

Yura: That's it. Yeah. Yeah. The opportunity that comes from the pause when we're in the storm, remembering that where the eye of the storm... We're not the storm happening. That every storm passes. And we always have the present moment. I feel like that's what I'm hearing too, with that stillness. Opportunity to come back to where we are. And breath, of course. I mean breath is the number one thing that we need to live. So imagine when we don't have the sufficient oxygen, the sufficient nutrients that we get from the air, we can't function the same. Just like with water and food, but breath is the first thing.

Magaly: If you want to test it, just hold your breath and notice how everything in your body starts panicking. Every system in your body says there's a problem, there's a problem. Even if there is no problem, I just decide to hold my breath. But everything starts preparing for a problem because it's protecting the living organism. It becomes everything as opposed to simply being in the now.

Yura: What is your go-to self-care practice as a founder, navigating the complexities of building your own table?

Magaly: I make time for quietness. I make time for meditation. I love yoga. Qigong. Writing for the sake of writing. Anything that is not goal centric I make time for that. Making a whole day for it is the best thing I could do every week. And when it's not allowed, I have to then break it up into hours in the course of various days. Making time to just breathe and feel yourself breathe and feel yourself sitting in a chair. Even sitting on a subway, you can make time to just feel yourself in space. It's just take a moment to scan yourself. I'm a Feldenkrais awareness through movement practitioner and studying that method opened my mind to the beauty of doing that. So yeah. I make time to do lot.

Yura: Yeah. My best emails are after a full day of farming.

Magaly: Nice.

Yura: And then my worst are when it's been two days of just being in the computer, just being in this matrix. Because yeah, it's about how we show up as leaders especially. It's not even as much the actions that we're doing as much as how they're received by everyone we're encountering with that we get to uplift, that we get to support. So that is one of the keys. I'd say definitely yes, about being a leader and founder is really taking care of how we are able to show up and what we're able to offer. Because so many people, so many beings, so many systems really count on us. And so this was also definitely a big part of my journey is to really say, well, I'm going to invest in my ability to hold space for others.

Magaly: It takes a lot of energy to hold space for others, and I've had many instances when I didn't hold space for myself that I didn't have enough bandwidth for others. I'm a Capricorn with Aries rising, so I'm a bit fiery if I don't get my rest. I regret that. I regret that I didn't take the time to take care of myself so that I could take care of others. And so I am not speaking from intellectualism. I'm speaking from utter complete experience on how detrimental it could be and the whole process when you don't take time to take care of yourself and therefore are not able to be open and attentive to others. Because if you're pushing through your life, then you're going to push through people too. And if you're dealing with artists especially that throws them off course. It's an ongoing journey. It's an ongoing exploration how to do that. I'm going to do that until the day I leave this corporal being. This existence.

So many of these proverbs or about only in falling, do you know what it means to stand? Only in failing do you know what it means to succeed? The biggest thing that I've learned a leader that it's okay to fail. That you're not always going to be superwoman or superman or super being. That you're going to fail and you will learn and you'll get right back up and get back on the track because this is what you love.

Yura: I found the failures are often these moments where we really get to have a significant shift, a transformation, the opportunity to gain even more trust for the people around us because of the way that we get to handle this type of failure. Sometimes there's also a lot that we gain from failures. We don't even have to even really see it as failure because there's actually so much that comes from learning and for the next time. And then also with our team, with the people that we're around really becoming human. Like you said, we aren't necessarily alien superhero, we are human beings. And so there's an aspect of coming back down to earth and getting to share the vulnerability and the reality of what that means with the people that we work with.

Magaly: Yeah. We're all little children in grown up clothes. And so every often that little child will have a tantrum and you'll just know that they just can't find the language for what is going on inside of them, but there's something going on inside of them and you just let them have the room and then they'll come back to themselves. I don't ever want to be a grown up actually, because as an artist, as a performing artist, that openness to endless possibility that you have as a child is essential. You can't be rigid in this form of what it means to be human, in my opinion. There's got to be a level of softness and fluidity. Some level or not. But for me, I try to seek a pathway to openness and fluidity.

Yura: Yeah. That's how we keep the door open for the really incredible ideas and the vision and the inspiration that comes through so I hear that. I have one more question that I'd love to ask. Reflecting on your journey, what has been the most rewarding aspect of carving your own path and creating your own space? Building your own table?

Magaly: Wow, quite freeing. I, often when I was younger, felt like I didn't have a space. I didn't have a place where my authentic truth either mattered or could be fully realized. So I created a space for others to do that, but in so doing, I've created a space for myself. Because we don't just produce my work at Conch Shell Productions, we develop other people's work. But as I encourage others to own their authentic voice and not try to meet what the industry thinks their voice should be... As I encourage them to celebrate the characters that they're bringing to the table that are unique, I end up encouraging myself. So it's not really my table.

And going back to becoming a nonprofit, recognizing that it was never my table. It was never my tree that I chopped down because the tree belonged to the planet. And the nails came from the planet. So if you're talking about building a table, every aspect of building the table were sourced from another. And I was deeply influenced by the awakened viewpoints of writers and theatre practitioners that preceded me, that affirmed that what I thought was possible was part of the African diasporic viewpoint. Great thinkers like Paul Carter Harrison and Ntozake Shange and all these thinkers that said, "We have a way of telling story that's different, that's unique to us from the ancestors. Why are we pretending it's not real?" So it's not my table, it's our table. I thought I was building my table, but I discovered I was actually building our table. That was rewarding. I have this vision of uniting all the nations of the Caribbean at the table together and not separated by language, not separated by island boundaries. We're united by the ocean, so maybe the table will be like the ocean. Having that reverberate because we're everywhere. Caribbeans transplant to every continent on the planet.

I went to Iceland and met a Haitian woman. There was a Haitian coffee shop in Iceland. It was called the Haitian Coffee Shop. I was like, what? I looked at the tourist brochure. I was like, I got to go here. I've got to go there because I'm Haitian-American. And she was Haitian. She married an Icelandic man and she moved to Iceland and she had a coffee shop. I'm like, we are everywhere. So the people of the Caribbean are everywhere. If we can at least come together at this creative table, what could it possibly do to our spirit, mind? And individual cultures and forgetting about ethnic or racial or language differences. Just saying, yes, we are artists who share not only the Caribbean ocean, but the fact that we have either Taino or Carib backgrounds. We have indigenous native cultures that were of the Caribbean that infiltrated our genetics. We have African backgrounds. We are all melting pots of many cultures. That's what we have in common and how does that resonate in our art form? So yeah, that would be the one thing that I took away that it was never my table.

Yura: Thank you so much, Magaly for joining us on the Building Our Own Tables Podcast.

Magaly: Thank you for inviting me. I hope everyone checks out our events this year and witnessed the beautiful voices of Caribbean diaspora filmmakers at our film festival in October. And our online readings are available no matter where you are. We present Blue Light Series and we present our work and our artist chats and you just hear what is this voice that we are saying is unique. I'd really appreciate that.

Yura: That. Yes. Go ahead and follow, like, subscribe to Conch Shell Productions. Thank you again so much.

Magaly: Thank You.

Yura: This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this show and other HowlRound podcasts wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to search with the keyword HowlRound and subscribe to receive new episodes. If you love this podcast, post a rating and write a review on those platforms. You can also find a transcript for this episode along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content on howlround.com. Have an idea for an exciting podcast essay or TV event the theatre community needs to hear? Visit howlround.com and submit your idea to this digital commons.

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Thoughts from the curator

I hear talk about wanting for racially diverse populations to “get a seat at the table” or “bringing chairs to the table for POC,” meaning that we want our people to have a position at existing organizations and institutions with decision making power. For me, a few years ago, I decided to not focus on infiltrating existing organizations, but rather start my own. I know I’m not alone. With the blessing that we all have a role in the revolution, this podcast checks in and learns from BIPOC founders of various organizations in and related to the theatre industry changing the game, making new things happen within, and expanding beyond white and euro-centric experiences. We will learn from these incredible visionaries who have created their own tables of arts institutions, movements, collectives, initiatives, and more. We learn about their processes, pathways to success, and challenges they've overcome. This is an outside-the-classroom leadership learning from folks who are doing the things.

Building Our Own Tables


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