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Innovating Theatre with Tiffany Vega

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Tiffany Vega:  The top challenge that the theatre industry is facing is that it doesn't want to change the way that we are producing work, who we're producing, what kind of works that we're producing. First and foremost, it needs to be inclusive of all identities, but also people don't see live things anymore. We are so used to just clicking on the TV and choosing whatever we want to watch whenever we want to watch it.

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 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a six hectare farm and food sovereignty project, an LGBTQ+ healing and arts space and I've helped numerous creative leaders, other founders, unleash their excellence into the world through my programs, workshops, and coaching services.

In this podcast, I'm showcasing the high vibration solution for you as a visionary leader to implement into your own practice and thrive. Stay tuned next 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'm so honored and grateful to support you on your journey. Stay tuned and enjoy.

What are the top mistakes you should avoid as a theatre worker in the industry? In this episode with Tiffany Vega, we go into perseverance through challenging situations, really opening up the options you have when things become challenging. Tiffany shares about the benefits of being authentically you and ways you can actually overcome some of the limiting beliefs that might come up for you when you feel resistant to really speaking your truth. We talk about the number one challenge the theatre industry is facing and how to fix it, and a joy of other offerings and resources. Go ahead and dive into this episode, receive this abundance of information that Tiffany Vega, one of the co-founders of Evolution Management Consultants, shares.

Tiffany Vega is a seasoned arts producer, trained equity, diversity and inclusion facilitator, anti-racist producer with experience running arts organizations and with an Ivy League degree, as one of the only Latinas to ever graduate from this degree. Evolution Management Consultants or EMC is a new consulting firm that is working to support the evolution of the theatre industry, really investing in increasing the health, the inclusivity, the expansive and forward-thinking of organizations. They offer strategic planning, consulting services, search services, a new podcast and coaching services for professionals who are looking to get support on re-entering the workforce, preparing for a job interview, really feeling supported in the life of work, in the arts.

They value authenticity, teamwork, and care in everything they work on. It's just such a great new organization that I'm so excited you get to learn about. Stay tuned for more and enjoy.

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. Go ahead and hit subscribe and keep this good energy flowing.

Welcome to the podcast, Tiffany. Thank you so much for being here.

Tiffany: I'm so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Yura: Yes. Okay. My first question I'm asking folks this season is: if you were a superhero, what would your origin story be? What was that pivotal moment that led you to forge your own path and build your own table?

Tiffany: It's interesting. I was born seven weeks prematurely. My first one hundred days of life were spent in an incubator in a NICU at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side of New York City. This is the mid-eighties. My parents were told that I was going to be a very small child, that I was going to possibly have some developmental disabilities. Now remember y'all, this is the eighties, they said I was going to possibly be slow, is what the words they used. I am none of those things. I have been basically proving people wrong about myself since I was born. I think that that's a part of my superpower. My superpower is endurance, I will say that. I have endured a lot and I'm oftentimes able to persevere because I have an incredible amount of endurance and patience. That is what has allowed me to be the person that I am today.

Yura: That's incredible. Thanks so much for sharing that literal origin story. Wow. Can you share more about how you went from birth into where you are now with Evolution Management Consultants?

Tiffany: Okay. I'll try to make it as short as possible. I was, as I said, born and raised in New York City. I'm from East Harlem, New York, which is also known as Spanish Harlem. My parents were also born in New York. Both sides of my family came to New York City from Puerto Rico in 1948. My family has a very long history in New York City itself. We have lived in Spanish Harlem since 1948, my family. Like most Puerto Ricans who are in theatre, I was very much inspired by Rita Moreno, seeing West Side Story, and then I was blown away by a person named John Leguizamo. Even though we were in New York, we didn't go see theatre because we couldn't afford it, but we could afford cable TV. I would watch John Leguizamo's shows on HBO. They recorded his live shows on HBO and would broadcast them.

It was the first time I ever saw theatre and I said, "Oh, you can just write about your own life? It doesn't have to be like West Side Story. You can actually just talk about your life?" I guess I'm a child of Rita Moreno and John Leguizamo. I actually was a musical theatre actress for a long time. I started when I was eight. I did musical theatre, chorus band. I was that kid throughout all of my formative years. I went to University of Maryland College Park for college. I originally went to be a business major, but I needed to pass four classes in order to get into the business school, and that was: economics, statistics, accounting, and calculus. I cannot pass calculus to save my life. It was one of those things where I was doing three hours of tutoring every night, two hours of homework, and I would get like thirty-fours on exams.

It was bad. I just gave up on my dream of going to business school, I had what I called a quarter life crisis my sophomore year of college because it was my first semester of my sophomore year. At this point, I'd been in school for three semesters and I was undeclared. I was just sobbing. My sorority sisters were like, "All you do is talk about theatre all the time. Why don't you just do theatre?" That's what I did.

I started as a theatre major my second semester, sophomore year. That summer I got an internship at a company that no longer exists, unfortunately, and it was called the African Continuum Theater Company in Washington, DC. It was the only professional black theatre company in DC at that time. I was interning for the managing director and I said, "Oh, wait a minute. There's people who do business in theatre?" I had never thought of that. I was like, "Okay, so maybe I can mesh these two together."

I was a performance major, I was an acting major at Maryland, but at the time, their program designers had to learn how to perform and performers had to learn how to design so I was forced to learn how to build sets, how to sew, how to run light boards, how to hang lights. Literally everything and anything that you need to know in order to put up a show, I learned it. I graduated with a great foundation for doing theatre. My first job out of college was, I was a receptionist for the New York City office that was shared by Mike Nichols and Bill Haber. Mike Nichols was an EGOT and he was a very famous comedian and performer and film director.

He revolutionized film when he directed The Graduate. He discovered Dustin Hoffman. The Graduate was the first time that popular music was featured as a musical score in a film with him commissioning Simon and Garfunkel to create the music for it. Before that, it had been like show tunes. He revolutionized film, as we know it today. He also discovered Whoopi Goldberg and lots of different folks, and he was a really amazing, talented person. Bill Haber was one of the co-founders of CAA, Creative Artist Agencies, which is one of the top three agencies for artists in this country.

They had a joint office because Bill Haber was producing any of the shows that Mike Nichols was directing on Broadway. I was the receptionist: I answered phones, I updated the contact sheet, I ordered groceries and ordered catering. It was truly like TheDevil Wears Prada sometimes. I had some Devil Wears Prada moments. Through that, Bill Haber was producing a birthday party for Gerry Schoenfeld. Those who don't know who Gerry Schoenfeld was, he was the president of the Schubert Organization. The Schubert Organization owns most of Times Square, they own most of the theatre buildings in Times Square. They also have the Schubert Foundation, which funds most theatre companies and theatre programs across the United States. They are a huge conglomerate, essentially. Gerry Schoenfeld was really interesting because he was the person that Disney-fied Broadway, Disney-fied Times Square. Literally, what I mean is he brought Disney to Times Square.

When I was growing up. Times Square was prostitutes, drug dealers, porn shops. It was very uncomfortable, as a young child, walking through Times Square because I saw a lot of things I shouldn't have seen. He literally had Disney come and do the Lion King at the New Amsterdam on 42nd Street, and it changed Times Square forever because they were forced to clean it up. He was the person that made Times Square what it is today. He was having a birthday party. Because Bill Haber was producing the birthday party, I happened to be sitting at the table with all the Schubert VPs. One of them asked me, "What do you want to do?" At the time, I was like, "I want to produce the stories of Latine people on Broadway." He said, "That's really interesting." Then he said, "You know that the Schubert's created an MFA program in theatre management and producing at Columbia University." They created this program in the eighties to create the next generation of Broadway producers. I said, "I didn't know about that." He goes, "Yeah, you should apply."

So I did, with a letter of recommendation from Mike Nichols. Here's this Puerto Rican girl from East Harlem, New York, applying to Columbia, which by the way, I'm the first person in my family to ever go to college. Me going to grad school was like... I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't even know that Columbia was an Ivy League because I never looked up the Ivy Leagues, what they were, because I never thought I'd get into one. I always say I accidentally got into one because after I got in, somebody said, "Oh, you're Ivy League bound." I said, "Excuse me." They said, "Yeah, it's Ivy League. You didn't know it was an Ivy League?" I said, "No, I just knew it was a good school."

I don't code switch is what I'm saying. You get what you get when I walk into a room. 

Very naive, when it comes to higher education, because I'm the first. I had to learn everything on my own. I went through that program and during that time I interned for the Hip Hop Theater Festival, which is where I met Clyde Valentine and Kamilah Forbes. Fun fact, Clyde Valentine and I are actually third cousins. We share great-grandparents. We found that out way after we met each other. I always say I'm also a child of Clyde Valentine and Kamilah Forbes because I learned a lot from them about how to be a leader, how to be a manager, how to produce, because they are just fantastic, authentic people. They taught me to be authentically myself when I walk into a room, which was a really great lesson to learn, as a young person.

I don't code switch is what I'm saying. You get what you get when I walk into a room, because they don't code switch. That really helped me a lot in the way that I approach art and the way that I allow people to treat me. You know what I'm saying? I also have felt it's helped younger people that I've worked with see that they don't have to change themselves, that they can be their authentic selves and still walk into rooms and command respect.

I worked there for six years. I started off as an intern, and when I left I was the general manager. I worked my way up. I produced a lot of things. I produced the Hip Hop Theater Festival, both in New York and Washington DC. I produced and presented a lot of shows, a lot of amazing things. In that time, I worked with people like Dominique Morisseau, Radha Blank, Jocelyn Bioh, Katori Hall, Mums, God rest his soul. It was a lot of people. It was fun work, and we were located literally down the street from where I was raised, half a block away. It was really nice to be in my hood. Now, they're known as High Arts and they're doing amazing work in East Harlem still.

Then I wound up relocating to New Orleans, Louisiana, which is where I am right now. What I faced here in New Orleans was very different. I faced a lot of racism when I moved here, a lot of anti-blackness when I moved here. I say that anti-blackness because I identify racially as black, white, Native American, indigenous as being a Puerto Rican, understanding that I present as, here they say, Creole in New Orleans. I do understand that I have white privilege, but I am very passionate about mitigating anti-blackness out of every part of our world, and especially in a city like New Orleans, which is 70 percent black.

I found I couldn't find a lot of work because I was calling out anti-blackness, often, so I just decided to do my own thing. I taught at local universities. I actually started La Vega Management when I was in New York after I graduated from Columbia because I found that my classmates that were in the directing, acting and playwriting programs, they graduated with no knowledge of the business side of theatre. I started my consulting firm literally reading employment contracts for them and translating the legalese to them and telling them what they should ask for. I created personal budgets for them so that they could figure out how to survive financially in New York City as a starving artist. I also just created production budgets for them or wrote their contracts for them. I did a whole bunch of stuff for my classmates, because I'm very passionate about sharing my knowledge that I received.

I'm only the third Latina to ever graduate from the theatre management and producing MFA program at Columbia. I'm very passionate about sharing my knowledge and teaching artists how to protect themselves legally. I'm not a lawyer, but I do understand copyright law and intellectual property law, and I do know how to read contracts. I can decipher them, really helping them figure out how to produce their own work and also protect themselves. Teaching is a passion of mine. La Vega Management, I did some producing, some company management through that, DEI work.

I'm also a DEI facilitator, so I do a lot of that. In particular, I'm working on a musical called Millennials are Killing Musicals. It's a very funny musical. I'm the DEI consultant on that, which means that I read the script to flag it if I see anything that is maybe not cool. I also provide anti-racism and DEI training to the cast, the creative team, any staff so that we have an inclusive, safe-as-we-can, rehearsal room and performances.

Then Evolution Management Consultants came out of working with Leandro Zaneti and Al Heartley. I started working with them two years ago at ALJP. I was a consultant with them and I realized they're really good at leading searches because I have interviewed for hundreds of jobs and I've been through some really traumatic interview processes so I was really good at it, but also I'm connected. I know a lot of people. I know a lot of people because we were all starving together in New York back in the early 2000s to 2010s. I know a lot of people. I realized I was very good at this.

I really connected with Al Heartley and Leandro Zaneti because they are also people of color that went to an Ivy League to get an MFA in theatre management and producing, which is a rare thing to find. There's so little of us in these programs, so to find two other people who had similar experiences and I could be a nerd was really awesome. We work very well together. There's no ego with us. We challenge each other, we push each other and we make each other laugh a lot. We have very similar senses of humor. We just decided to start a company together in my living room. We started a company called Evolution Management, Consultants EMC, and our tagline is "Moving nonprofits forward." We really are trying to be innovative in the way that we work with our clients. We provide executive service, so we will find leaders or senior leadership for organizations. We do strategic planning. We also recently launched career coaching for artists or new leaders, and we also launched a podcast where we talk about nerdy things and we're going to be soon launching Interim Management Services as well.

It's just really great. We really focus on authenticity, candidate care, and teamwork. You don't have to code switch with us. Our practice is based on anti-racism, and we really do care about the candidates. People who have been through our processes have said it was empowering, it was very generous, it was a beautiful process. That's from people who've gotten the jobs and people who didn't get the jobs. I think the best compliment I ever got so far is, "That was the best rejection letter I have ever received." People really do actually enjoy going through an interview process with us, and that means a lot because, as I mentioned, I've been through some really dramatic, racist interview processes.

I told you it was going to be a long answer. That's how I wound up where I am.

Yura: Wow. I'm grateful for every piece of the answer. I feel like we've got so much wisdom out of your journey, out of everything you shared and the challenges you've faced, especially at that start of the business career wanting to start in business, but not being able to somehow get this grade. Whatever it was you were doing, it wasn't working, but it seems like it was because you were meant to then end up in that opportunity to be at Columbia through this other job that you had with the recommendation letter from Mr. Nichols. It's just a great example of really allowing for when the universe sends you rejections, as best as the rejection letter could be, to go with that flow and to really keep yourself open to your passion.

I actually want to ask more about that authenticity story and also the value that you hold at EMC, because I think that it's definitely something that a lot of us maybe have gone through, or struggle with, or understand in feeling like we're not going to be able to maybe get the funding, get the payments that we need if we are authentically us, that we're going to be not able to get the job. Or maybe it's just something that can feel really difficult to do in a space where you're just almost socially wanting to fit in or a number of other limiting beliefs around why we might not want to be authentic. Can you share more about how we might overcome these beliefs?

Tiffany: Yeah. I think that understanding this, that it has not been easy for me to be authentically myself. I have not received jobs, I have been blackballed, opportunities have been turned away from me because I am authentically myself. Authentically myself means sometimes I'm going to ask you some really uncomfortable questions about yourself that need to be asked, like, why are there no black people on your board when you live in a city that is 70 percent black? Those are the kind of questions I'm going to ask, and you're not going to like that I answer this question. You don't like the fact that I'm going to make you uncomfortable. Oftentimes because they see this blanquita, they see me and they think that I'm going to be the safe one. They realize, "Oh, snap. She's not here to make us feel comfortable," and I'm not.

I have oftentimes told myself, "Shut up. Don't say what's on your mind," I have found that when I lose opportunities because I was authentically myself, that place is not for me anyways. When I am authentically myself, I attract people who are like-minded, people who are going to give me opportunities.

The way that I live my life is I always have a plan. I'm a planner, so I always have a plan of what's going to happen, but I know that there's going to be so many different ways that I can reach that goal and that I have to be open to everything, and I also have to have initiative. I have to be bold. For example, I have been trying to teach in an arts administration program locally, at a university here in New Orleans, for two years. I've been emailing them, calling them, nobody's responded to me. Yesterday, I was watching the eclipse on the campus of that school, and I saw the person who runs the arts administration program there. I ran to him and I was like, "Hi." I just introduced myself, exchanged information. Now, I have this person.

When the universe literally gives you something, you have to recognize it immediately and pounce on it. That might be the New Yorker in me where I'm a go-getter. I have no problem being bold and asking for things, which is something that's very hard for women of color, in general, to ask for things. I think that understanding that there's always a different kind of way to get somewhere. If you are authentically yourself, the right opportunities for you are going to come your way. It may take longer than you want it to, but that's okay because I would much rather have those good opportunities than be in a toxic work culture.

By not being your authentic self, you're just going to keep getting these things that you don't actually want. So there's this beautiful opportunity that the universe gives you, in all of those moments where it's like you're trying to say, "Don't be you, don't be you," but that's the moment where you actually have the opportunity to be yourself and then call in all of what you do actually want.

Yura: Yeah. That's so real. This metaphor of the magnet has come to me, this need to repel so that you can attract. The stronger you repel, the stronger you attract. If you don't repel, then that means that you are just going to be attracting all those things that you don't want. By not being your authentic self, you're just going to keep getting these things that you don't actually want. So there's this beautiful opportunity that the universe gives you, in all of those moments where it's like you're trying to say, "Don't be you, don't be you," but that's the moment where you actually have the opportunity to be yourself and then call in all of what you do actually want. People will remember. Like you said, maybe they won't necessarily feel grateful for a difficult feedback moment for them to receive, but in the future, not only for them as a person, but also for whatever organization they're at, and for maybe the other people around them or people who've heard about it, or even just energetically, there's something that kind of happens there in terms of the universe paying you back.

Also, for future generations, there might actually be a lot of things that we're doing and saying now that ends up being a really big game changer for what's happening in the future, the seeds that we're planting for these trees that are coming generations to come. Thank you so much for sharing that.

I also want to uplift this offering of being able to go through this kind of manifestation journey. I always talk about manifestation as these three steps. The first is creating a vision, being able to dream big and say, this is what I want, or something better. Knowing that we can actually have even more than we could have ever imagined for coming through and being open to bringing that in. The second step is to believe that it's possible. This is where, I think actually, the plan can come in because when you create a plan, you actually start to see, "Oh, this is how that can happen. This is how I can end up with a million dollar grant coming through because this is the ways that we might get there."

Then the third step is actually accepting, which is what you're talking about, when the opportunity shows itself, accepting sometimes the challenge of what it means to say yes, whether that's talking to the person that shows up right in front of you in-person, or going to the events where you know that you're going to have the opportunity to talk to people that are in what you're looking to bring forth. Or simply sometimes for me it's been saying yes to actually moving to a different place because it's actually everything I've been asking for, but it's a big deal to say, "Actually, I'm going to move somewhere and change my life, basically." That is part of this whole cycle of saying yes to what you've been manifesting, that sometimes it's not always so easy and rainbows because it can be really challenging to actually say I'm going to become a different person.

Tiffany: Yeah. It takes a lot of bravery, I believe. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of belief in oneself in order to do that. I understand that. I also find that if something is really difficult for me to do, it's not for me. For instance, grad school was so easy for me. It was the easiest thing I've ever done, to be honest. It was because I was very much ready for it. The work was very hard, but I found so much joy in it because I was ready for it. Yeah. I have found that if I'm trying to launch something or do something, if I find it like it's pulling teeth trying to do it and I can't figure it out, then it's not the right time for me to do that. It's not the right thing or the right time for me to do that. That just comes with wisdom over time.

Yeah. I find that you need to do a lot of work on yourself, internally, in order to have that belief in yourself that you can do it, and also faith. Whatever kind of faith that you are thinking, if it's God, if it's a different spiritual calling or faith just in yourself. You need to have faith in yourself, belief in yourselves. For me, I always know that I'm going to be okay. I know that. No matter what, I'm going to be okay. Every challenge I ever face, I say, okay, what can I learn from this? Whenever I have something happen, even traumatic things, I say, what can I learn from this event so that I can change my behavior or my perspective moving forward?

Whenever something happens that rocks me to my core, I give myself twenty-four hours to have a pity party. I give a full twenty-four hours where I'm crying and nobody can talk sense into me. Then I wake up the next morning, I'm like, "Okay, now what do I do? Now how do I work around this? How do I fix this? What do I need to do in order to survive this?" I use it for any situation. I think that it's having grace for yourself, but understanding like, okay, now you need to fix this, because you can only control you. So now I need to control what I need to do in order to make something happen. That's my advice to anybody who may be thinking, "I don't know how to do this." That's how you do it.

Yura: That's amazing. Yeah. That's advice for when you're starting off what you can do and a self-care advice understanding, purging it all out, emotionally, allowing for yourself to feel what it is that you're feeling, wherever it is in your body, wherever it is in your heart, in your soul, and just really letting that out, embodying it so that you can move forward from it. For me, I definitely have found myself, in the past, turning towards drugs and alcohol, towards other kinds of addiction energy of trying to escape the challenging parts of my life and what I didn't want to be a part of basically. For me, really a big turning point was actually saying bye to everything, leaving the country and finding myself in my other countries, in Ecuador and Colombia.

Ultimately, I would say a huge transition happened for me last year when I decided to start LiberArte, when I decided to build my own table that is a full nonprofit 501(c)(3), because this felt like, okay, I'm actually taking into this next level of leadership and I really want to make sure that I am at the best, I could be, for not only myself, but this mission, this vision that I'm going for the world, basically the impact that I can have and can bring forth for artists and people doing art and surrounding themselves around art and the power of the arts to really make an impact on the world.

I actually started taking my meditation practice to the next level, and I even got certified as a meditation teacher. I got Reiki certified too. This energy work healing. Looking back, I think this was a huge aspect of transformation because both of these practices helped me understand how to be with myself, like you said, really being with yourself and accepting the abundance that can come through. This showed up for me quite literally, quite physically in the form of actually a $50,000 grant. I'm talking to our program officer for the grant who was telling me how, a lot of people, when they start writing this grant application, it's called the Braiding Seeds Fellowship, and it's for developing farmers on the east coast of the US, of Turtle Island. There's this process of saying, "Am I worthy of this? Am I able to accept this type of support, this type of abundance?"

I think, for me, this spiritual work, this affirmation work, this working through the shadow, working through the icky parts of it, allowed me to be at a place where I could easily say, yes, that I am doing this, I am ready for this, I can accept this. It's kind of something that, at this point, I can't really remember what it's like to not be where I am now. That's a beautiful part of being able to journal and track and understand. Even listening to myself and the podcast before I can hear the difference in who I am. All this to say—absolutely. I think the investment that we can take on ourselves, as the number one resource for everything that we're trying to accomplish, is huge, and it makes all the difference for everything that we get to do with these tables that we're building, with these organizations that we are running.

Are you ready for an upgrade to your mindset, to your capacity to hold information, hold emotions, hold yourself in challenging times? Well, as a certified freedom meditation teacher, I have an amazing surprise for you, which is access to free meditations, by yours truly, to support you in bridging the gap between your current self and the future self that you are calling forth into this reality. Meditation has been the number one daily practice that has changed my ability to really accept the abundance that is flowing my way and overcome the shadow side challenges of life, giving me the opportunity to expand beyond what I even thought was possible. I want to share this practice with you. That's why I've teamed up with Insight Timer as a meditation teacher. You can go ahead and click the link in our show notes to access my free meditations on the Insight Timer app. You also have access to thousands of other meditations and receive updates whenever I post a new meditation. I can't wait to connect with you on the platform.

Tiffany: I think it's also really important to surround yourself with people that are on the same page as you, folks who are truly there to support you, people who want to see you win. My father taught me you do good things for people not expecting a reward. That's something that I really do take to heart, and that's why I am a producer because I oftentimes, either I give up opportunities for myself and give them to someone else, quite literally, or I speak names into rooms. I do all kinds of things in order to uplift other people, because I want people to win. I want some people who I find very inspiring, people who are very talented, and I want them to win.

Actually becoming a mother really changed me a lot because I realized, I was like, "Do I want this person in my child's life?" If the answer is no, then they're not in my life anymore. I'm very choosy about who I allow in my life. I think that has also been very helpful because when I say I don't have negative energy around me, I don't mean that people are just constantly... They're not yes people. These are people who challenge me because they want me to win, so they call me out on my bullshit, and they also really care. I think that's also really important to make sure that you have that strong support network around you, because you feel it when it's like, I don't feel like being around this person. If that happens often enough, then that person doesn't need to be in your life anymore.

I had to learn that the hard way because I'm a Taurus, which means I'm very loyal, to a fault. Becoming a mother made it very easy, because it's very easy for me to make decisions about my son than it is about me. I'm a fierce mama bear when it comes to my son, not necessarily for myself sometimes. I think that's also a key in building yourself up, in finding success throughout the longevity of your life and your career is making sure that you surround yourself with people who want you to win.

Yura: I love that. Especially I think as we start to level up basically, we start to actually see more of the people that aren't really there to lift us up or maybe just have stuff that they're working through and it ends up being a bit more of not a very equitable exchange of a relationship where you have to give so much and then it's really draining you. Yeah. We start to see, okay, maybe I think I want to invest my time into other relationships, other spaces, other places that can really refill our own cup. Translating this to the larger theatre industry realm, what do you think the top challenge that the theatre industry is facing and how can we overcome it?

Tiffany: The top challenge that the theatre industry is facing is that it doesn't want to change, it doesn't want to innovate. That's a blanket statement, I understand that, but I would say the vast majority of organizations don't want to change the way that we are producing work, who we're producing, what kind of works that we're producing. What I mean by that is that, first and foremost, it needs to be inclusive of all identities, but also quite literally people don't see live things anymore, really. We are so used to just clicking on the TV and choosing whatever we want to watch, whenever we want to watch it, or watching it on our phones or our iPads or laptops, whatever. It's an instant gratification.

For instance, there is a theatre company that does livestream, and my friend, Jocelyn Bioh, had her first ever Broadway show called Jaja's African Hair Braiding. I was so sad because I was in New York when it opened, but I couldn't see it. I really wanted to support her. They actually went ahead and presented it live, and so I was able to watch it as it was happening from my bed on my laptop here in New Orleans, and it was in New York. That meant a lot to me because I was able to support my friend all the way from here. I was like, "Oh, that's amazing." There's so many shows that I want to see that I have not been able to see because they're not live. The thing about live entertainment is that it is unlimited tickets that you can sell for that.

The problem with theatre too is we have these venues that have, let's say, 199 seats, so it is a limited amount of tickets that you can actually sell for a production. That's a limited amount of money that you can make. If you were actually live-streaming your shows... I think that's the problem is that folks are very like, "What is theatre?" We hear that all the time. I think people are very confined to what is the definition of it. A lot of people were doing Zoom theatre, so the pandemic forced us to rethink how we do theatre, how do we utilize technology? I'm very curious to see how we use AI in theatre.

I really do think that we need to innovate. Time is changing rapidly. Technology is changing rapidly. I look at my, my godchild has been using tablets since they were one and a half years old, and now they're sixteen. My son, he's five, and he knows how to use a tablet and iPad very clearly. Here's a great example. I like to use this example. My godchild, when they were four years old, I took them to go see Peter and a Star Catcher on Broadway, and they asked me to pause the show so that they could use the potty. I told them, I said, "We can't pause this because it's happening right now and it's live." They said, "Those are real people?" They were so used to watching TV and the tablet and all of that.

That's that generation and now they're sixteen years old. That's the generation that is here now. I think that we really need to rethink how we are producing theatre, in what platforms, in what ways, and with who, all of it. If we keep on doing it as it has been for a thousand years, I'm going back to Greek Theatre, we are not going to survive. I think the other thing is that, with all due respect, audiences are literally dying. Oftentimes, a lot of attention is put towards older audience members. Of course I'm saying, yes, bring them to the theatre as well, but you really should start focusing on younger generations and cultivating those relationships because audiences are literally dying. We need to bring in the next generation of theatergoers, and that means that the theatre is going to look different for them than it is for older generations.

That's a long answer, but that's what I think are the biggest challenges facing theatre today.

Yura: I definitely think that we have solutions. I trust that these next generations also have the solutions. I think also HowlRound is a great place that is sharing a lot of solutions here, like this podcast, of course, and also other podcasts and other articles. I'm sure you're going to be talking about these challenges on your podcast too.

Tiffany: Yep. We already have.

Yura: Amazing. We'll definitely link in the show notes. My last question for you is, reflecting on your journey, what has been the most rewarding aspect of really carving your own path and building your own table?

Tiffany: I think the most rewarding aspect is being able to, when I want to change something, when I want to do something, I just do it. That has been really helpful with EMC that we've been able to launch services like coaching, for instance. That was something that I saw from doing interviews, conducting interviews of people and hearing what they're saying and realizing that there's a lot of people out there who need help. I feel like we're gate keeping these tips on how to apply for jobs and how to write your resumes and how to write your cover letters and how to interview and all of this. I'm not a gatekeeper, whatsoever. I share my knowledge. What I love about it is that if I see a problem or something that is missing, I just create it. That's really powerful that I can do that.

As a mother, it is awesome to have autonomy over my time. If I need to take a day off, I look in the mirror and say, "Do you want a day off?" It's really nice that I can craft my own schedule and I've been working remotely since 2018 and be there for my child and for myself the way that I want to be.

I think the other thing is that, I'll be very honest, I have said things as an employee that I wasn't listened to, but if I say it as a consultant, all of a sudden it makes sense. I think that it's also being able to have influence in different places. As a consultant, what's nice is that I get to work with different organizations across the US and oftentimes organizations when you just work for one organization, you are siloed in that organization and you can't see outside of it, especially nonprofits, because it's so much work, but I'm able to see all kinds of organizations and how they work. I'm able to share that knowledge, what I can share. I'm able to share that knowledge of actually this company did it this way that might work for you.

Or, for instance, co-leadership models. That's something that we work on a lot and having conversations of these are organizations that we work with that have co-leadership models, why don't you talk to them to see if that's something that is right for your organization? It's being able to connect, recognizing that people are just siloed in their own ways, but that there's so many different ways that we can connect to create better art, create better workplaces. That's what's great about doing the kind of work that I do and being a consultant because I can connect those dots and make the overall arts nonprofit field better just from sharing that knowledge. I think one of the tenants of white supremacy culture is gate keeping and hoarding knowledge, and I'm not about that. I want to share as much knowledge that I can, I'll say that, because there are NDAs, but share my knowledge as much as I can.

Yura: Thank you so much for saying that, for sharing everything you've shared today. I want to definitely uplift the value of coaching and consulting and everything that you're offering at EMC. I think, especially as it relates to this problem of lack of innovation, of need for innovation, I think the services you're offering in consulting and coaching in executive search management is part of that change. I would definitely recommend anyone who is needing the support to go ahead and book a discovery call, a consultant call, because, at least for me, I know that coaching has been a game changer, both as a coach myself and also someone who gets coaching because like we said, this is a time of innovation and when we are changing, there is resistance and there is fear and there is the unknown. This is actually why coaching is one of the largest growing industries of our time because we are all experiencing, in my opinion, literal DNA upgrades as to how we're shifting in the way that we need to be on this planet to survive.

When it comes to theatre, when it comes to these changes, having a coach on your side, having someone to help you process these changes that are happening on a weekly basis, on a daily basis, even, it really gives you a leveling up experience that would probably take you much longer than if you were to work with a coach and actually go through it in this one month, three months, six months, or a year journey, that, at least for me, it's like I'm so grateful I did. I wish I could have started earlier type of thing.

Tiffany: I do have one bit of information for young folks out there because I have been able to do all of this stuff. I'm thirty-eight, I'll be thirty-nine in a little bit less than a month. I say that because I am very observant. I think I was a performer, I was taught to watch how people interact with each other and I was taught to just watch how people behave, and that, itself, is coaching as well because I see what to do and what not to do. I think that, oftentimes, we need to get up away from our phone and just watch how people move. That has been some of the best coaching I have ever had.

Also, I've had mentors who weren't even my mentors. It wasn't like a traditional mentor relationship, but I would ask them questions and I would really listen to what they had to say to me. I teach college students and sometimes they're like, "Oh, you're old. You don't know what you're talking about." I get it, because I was that too, but really listen to folks who move in a different way than what you normally see, because you're going to learn a lot just from watching the way they work.

Yura: How can we get in contact with you?

Tiffany: You can go to emcforward.com and that is our website. From there you can find a list of our clients. You can fill out a form to contact us. You can see our services there, and you can also see all of the open positions that we are currently hiring for. We also have a general candidate database so that if you are not currently looking for work or the jobs that we are looking for are not attractive to you, you can submit to the candidate database so that when we do have jobs that we think that you may be qualified for, we will reach out to you. You can find our podcast. It's called Moving Forward with EMC. You can find that on any podcast platform that you use. Follow us at Evolution Management Consultants online on Facebook and Instagram. That's how you can find us.

Yura: Thank you so much for all of this wisdom, all of the offerings you're sharing. It's been such a pleasure, such a joy to be with you today.

Tiffany: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Yura: This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this show and other HowlRound shows 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 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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