Ep. #78 Teamwork Makes the Dream Work with the In The Heights Choreography Team

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #78 Teamwork Makes the Dream Work with the In The Heights Choreography Team
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When people watch the In The Heights movie and ask me “How did you guys DO THAT?”… I’ll spare myself the struggle to explain it, and simply send them the link to this episode.
I’m thrilled to be joined by the film’s choreographer Christopher Scott , my fellow associate choreographers Ebony Williams and Emilio Dosal, the associate Latin Choreographer: Eddie Torres Jr., and his assistant Princess Serrano AND our choreo team assistant (AKA the glue that kept us all together): Meghan Mcferran. This episode is more than a peek into our process… It is a seat at our table.  This is a time capsule of memories and lessons learned  that I will cherish forever.  I hope you enjoy this episode and if you haven’t yet, be sure to catch In The Heights in theaters and on HBO Max!

Quicklinks

New York Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/16/arts/dance/in-the-heights-dance.html


BTS Video Package: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNbvu5gIVfY

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.  

Dana: Hi friend, welcome to the podcast. I’m Dana and this is it. The time has come and the time is now the moment that at very least I have been waiting for. The rest of the, In the Heights choreography team will be joining me on the podcast today. And I am so, so, so excited to share this conversation with you. Um, I’m hoping that you’ve seen the film already In the Heights so that you have a bit of context for what we’re going to dig into. If you have not seen In the Heights. No worries. No judgment. And also, I don’t think there are any spoilers in this episode. So do keep listening, but please get to a theater or support on HBO Max, please, please, please go see this film period. I’ll leave it there. And I’ll, I’ll um, leave you on the edge of your seat to hear this conversation for just one more second, because before we get to the conversation, uh, we’re going to do wins. If you are new to the podcast, I do wins. I start with wins. This is something that I do. So I’m going to celebrate something that is going well in my world. Then I will yield the floor to you. You will take it away. Um, I think this is, this is something that is important. So I go, you go, um, let’s see. This week, yeah, I think this is it. This is, well, I know this is it. This week, I am celebrating the New York times article featuring the, In the Heights choreography team written by Gia Kourlas , um, Man oh man. I could talk about it forever, but, um, I’m about to let the choreo team speak for themselves so I will leave it at that, that article is so beautifully done. It is a beautiful peek into, uh, the family that is the, In the Heights choreo team. I think you’re going to really, really dig it. If you are interested in checking out the article, I will 100% be linking to it in the show notes of this episode. So check that out and enjoy. All right. That’s my, when New York times no big deal. Very, 

I’m stoked for you. Keep it up, keep winning. All right. Are you ready for this? I hope so. But before we dig in, I’m giving an audio disclaimer, here. As I’m sure you can imagine. It is not easy to get the seven of us in one place at one time, let alone a quiet place at one time. So we are welcoming you to our zoom room and we appreciate your understanding of the less than stellar audio quality. Uh, we aren’t the audio or music department after all. We are the dance department and we are so, so, so proud of that. So pull up a chair and enjoy getting to know the choreo team from In the Heights. 

This is Christopher Scott, Eddie Torres Jr. Ebony Williams, Emilio Dosal, Princess Serrano, and Meghan McFerran enjoy. 

Dana: What the heck In the Heights choreo team. Welcome to Words That Move me.  

**Cheers** 

Um, this is the first time I have ever podcast interviewed more than two people at once. So number one, thank you for that. But number two, y’all are on the heels of one of the biggest films of the year broadly. So I know we’re all in different places, doing many things. Thank you so much for being here right now. I’m thrilled to talk to you and I’m thrilled to share a little bit of what our experience of making this film was about. Um, I do have, I have two goals for this episode. Number one, it is my goal to create sort of a time capsule, a place for us to put our most precious memories of this time and these people and these places. And just kind of talk about what happened because it happened really fast. Um, and that does feel sort of like a lifetime ago.  So that’s a very selfish thing of me. I just, I want to have that for myself and I want to have that for us, but I also know that I have so many people listening, maybe some listening to the podcast for the first time that are simply dying to find out how we did that. So I do want to talk shop. I want to talk a little bit of the nuts and bolts of how you make a movie musical, how you Chris, assembled this team, how we all showed up, how we might do our work differently in the future. Now having added a whole lot of tools to our tool belt. So we’ll get into that. But first probably the hardest part of this whole thing is going to be this. I’m going to ask each of you to introduce yourself and simply tell us what, what you want us to know about you. It doesn’t need to be your credits. It could be. Um, but we’ll start with Chris and then, uh, I’ll just call them out from there. Chris, what do you want us to know about you? 

Chris Scott: Oh man. Um, I want you to know that I am, um, changed from this movie. I think, I think the most, and I know that we’re going to talk about all that stuff. And I was like, well, maybe I’ll say something more personal about like my personal life, but I’m like, no, really, you know, this movie really changed me and affected me. And, and, and I’m looking at, everybody’s face on this zoom moment. I know you guys will just hear our voices, but it’s like, you know, it’s just really cool. Like, like seeing everybody’s face that, you know, helped to change and shape me. Um, so, you know, I think that’s what I want people to know about me is I’ve been shaped. Every job you do, kind of shapes you. And I really feel proud to have been shaped by every job I’ve done and none more than this one. Um, and I’m just really grateful to be here to talk about it.  

Dana: Word, Yes.  Eddie you’re up. 

Eddie Torres Jr: Hi, my name is Eddie Torres Jr. But my real name is <inaudible>. Okay. So yeah. Um, I’m, I’m blessed. I am blessed to know each and every one of you it’s been, it’s been, uh, almost two years since we’ve been United, right? I mean, it’s just really, it was a blessing to have crossed paths with everyone on this team. And I tell Chris, and I tell all of you all the time, but for those who are listening, meeting them has just really changed my life. And we’ve become family since then. And everything has changed for me in the best possible way. My dream was to always represent, um, cultural arts, not just of course street dance, but cultural arts and just get that as respected as any other form of dance, because we really deserve that. And that’s what my passion was for In the Heights is really putting everything on the map, representing everything authentically and, um, yeah, just pouring my heart out to each and every dancer to all of you that are listening. And again, thank you that I’m Eddie Torres Jr. 

Dana: Yes. Eddie George Jr. Moving right along. To your right Eddie Torres Jr the lovely Princess Serrano. Princess, tell us what you’d like us to know about you. Hi  

Princess Serano: Hi everyone. My name is princess Serrano. Um, a lot of people think that my running is a nickname, but it’s actually my real name. And what I want everyone to know is that I truly believe everything happens for a reason. And I’m excited to see what happens with this movie. And I’m excited to see what happens with all the choreography team where life takes us and everyone that was in the movie and watching the movie so  

Dana: Lovely. I love this. Um, all right. Ebony, what would you like us to know about you? 

A thing that I think is important for people to know about me is that I feel like I’ve been in a space where as artists, um, we’re always giving so much of ourselves. We don’t always feel validated by the things that we have done, you know, or are doing, um, not in, uh, in the most genuine space. And I feel like for this, because it’s such a, uh, a big project that celebrates something more than just you it’s, it’s so important. It’s about a community about, um, a culture. It’s the importance is just bigger than just one person, um, or your history or your own past traumas. Um, I feel like I’ve grown so much from it and I feel like I’ve had to face so many of the things that have absolutely gotten in my way or made me afraid or made me doubt. And a lot of this gave me a huge sense of Paciencia y Fe, and I’m so happy and grateful for it and grateful for the room and the people that are a part of my life now based on and through this journey. So, um, I guess I want people to know about Ebony Williams, that Ebony Williams again, and still, and forever is growing, is changing and evolving and okay with that. And we’re grateful for every piece of that moment.  

Dana: Let’s go. Okay. Emilio Dosal, what would you like us to know about you?  

Emilio Dosal: Hello I’m Emilio Jesus Dosal um, you know, um, just, uh, I’m just a short little Hispanic boy from Houston, Texas, you know, I never, uh, I never found myself to have an identity and, uh, to be quite honest, when I, when I started this process with In the Heights, uh, I found myself seeing who I am and who I want to be. Um, and I feel really grateful to have been in a place like New York city to find myself, um, and now moving from New York city going everywhere, I go to find myself a little bit more, has been a wonderful experience. And, um, and, um, that’s what I would take as a me.  

Dana: Thank you for that. I’m so glad you’re here. This is great. All right. Last, but certainly not least miss Meghan McFerran what would you like us to know about you?  

Meghan McFerran: Hi everyone. My name is Meghan McFerran. I am a dancer and a celebrator of movement. The number one thing since I was so little is just to use movement as a celebration of life. And so through auditions, through classes, through dancing my whole life, that’s what I saw movement as a celebration of yourself that you’re here, that you can move your body, that you can inspire others by doing that. So through my experience and my passion of celebrating, I was able to meet mentors like Ebony Williams, who, um, brought me to this place where I was able to get this job with In the Heights and meet all of really special people who continued to use movement as a celebration of life. And that’s literally what we did every single day. And what I continue to now do as an entrepreneur every day is to use movement, to celebrate who we are as people celebrate our differences, celebrate dance.  

Dana: Yeah. That was a beautiful wrap up. Okay. So, bye. Thanks. Um, uh, we’ll continue. Only because I know there’s a lot of good stuff to come, but I’d like to ask one more question to the whole group. Um, and that is, again, it’s a selfish thing, and this might be challenging to pick one, but I’d love to just drop in the time capsule, your favorite moment during the rehearsal process or shoot, or the, the premiere process, which was like a week long of parties and events and things. Um, but what’s, what is your favorite highlight from the, In the Heights chapter of your life?  

Chris Scott: I could start. I mean, honestly, it’s not that hard for me in a weird way. It’s funny. It’s like there was so many great moments like that. The biggest highlight of the experience for me was shooting Carnaval del Barrio. Um, it was just surreal, man. It was like a crazy experience. Even the audition, the rehearsal for even rehearsing for, it was like really special, that that might even have topped actually shooting it just because it was such a beautiful thing. And, you know, I remember it being one of the scariest ones because it’s like a seven minute long number, like eight minutes long. It’s really long. And we didn’t have a lot of time for that. You know, John knew, he was like, okay, well, if we’re going to spend the time to do 96,000 at the pool, we’re going to have to give somewhere.  And we looked at the calendar and I remember it was like, John was like, I think it’s kind of all. And I think we just have to keep it, make it raw. Like I think it’s okay to be raw. It’s okay to be a little like, you know, run and gun. Like we’ll figure it out if we have to on the spot, even for certain parts. So there was something about that freedom and that expectation, knowing that it was going to be raw and be real that ultimately kind of transcended everything. It became like not a rehearsal, but it really became, uh, like this crazy, beautiful moment in life, the celebration of culture and ancestry, and like just like spiritual. And it was like, you know, you couldn’t have called it from the beginning, I think. But when we were in that room, you know, I’ll never forget the moment we did. One of the, the tape we did one of the first run-throughs that we did really stands out to me. Um, you know, because we had two pieces, we had the beginning piece and then we had the ending piece, but the whole like, uh, you know, moment with Gregory, you know, um, with Sonny, we didn’t even rehearse, but when we press play on that, that, uh, you know, that track, he just jumped up and started doing it. And it was one of those things where you realize like, oh, this number is going to be incredible because these actors, they know what this moment is. And they’ve been dying for this moment. They’ve been waiting for this moment. So we got to live in, experience it with them. It wasn’t a rehearsal. It was really like this crazy, surreal moment in life that I remember thinking like, wow, this is what happens when music can really like hit you in the soul and, and, and push a story forward and just push actors to just be in the moment. And, um, it was like watching a improv. I mean, it was, it was really, really special. I mean, Lin’s like crying, everybody’s crying and, and, um, yeah, that was that’s my standout,  

Dana: Mine is the same. And I’m going to guess everyone else’s is to show of hands,  kind of all everyone in the zoom room. Yes. The, the shoot day was untoppable, but Chris, yes. I agree. The rehearsal process for that number, getting to spend time with, with each group that gets represented, getting to hear the side conversations, um, watching people wear the flag, hold the flag, share the flag. It was a truly, uh, a remarkable top to bottom. And I think I’m glad that we landed on this moment because this kind of segues nicely into a nuts and bolts question. I think one of the challenges that almost everyone who’s aiming to make a movie musical will face is the challenge of achieving a feeling of spontaneity when you absolutely must be planned. Like you must know where the camera will go. You must, you know, people don’t just spontaneously do the same steps at the same time.  So how do you marry absolute authenticity and a feeling of spontaneity with preparedness like that? I think is one of the biggest challenges that we faced on this project and carnival in that, in the case of that number, the answer was in the music and in the people. Like the, the challenge of planning was more playful than challenging. And when you have a cast as talented as our cast, when you have music as supportive as the music that we had, I’m not going to say it was just like show up and it’s great because it was, we got very strategic. We could run that whole eight minute number top to bottom and we did, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t as challenging to bridge the gap of, and now we dance as some other numbers can be. Yeah.  

Chris Scott: Can I shout out, Eddie Torres Jr and Princess? I mean, really when you’re talking about that, it was like their talent. I mean, they’re incredible. Like it jumps off the screen, the entire film, like you feel privileged to be in the same room with them. Cause they’re all just so they could do the whole movie on live if they had to, you know what I mean, from top to bottom, because that’s just who they were. Um, but you know, Eddie, I remember a big, big thing with this number was like, it was casting those dancers and you know, how important they were to it. And, and every single day we were casting up until really the day of rehearsal. I think even we haven’t rehearsed a little bit and they were still getting where people could make Eddie find, we need more. Um, I’ll pair that too. It’s just like, you know, Eddie’s and Princess, their knowledge in the different Latin styles, knowing what this, uh, moment really needed because in the music there’s stuff embedded. But then also I think Eddie went above and beyond with the Latin styles. Like when we all saw, you know, the Colombian style, the Caleño style, you know, it was like crazy. So, you know, Eddie, um, you know, that was really like a key factor. So I don’t know where that came from. How you, how you did it sometimes I’m still like, how did you find everybody? I don’t know  

Eddie Torres Jr: Dana I’m sorry. I would love to just piggyback off of what both of you just said, going back to the actual, like making it work strategically, but free. I mean, it was easy when you’re under pressure to get things done quick, like we’re talking about, we didn’t have like a week or two weeks to call these people in. It was like Eddie call who, you know, now for tomorrow, they need to be here and they need to represent, and then it’d be down for the cause. And that’s who, everybody who showed up understood that from the get, and that, that, that energy walked through the door, like ready to go. That’s what really happened.  

Dana: Thank you for bringing up the idea of, of a time constraint being a helpful factor. I think all of us in the room right now wish we had had more time, I think, relative to other films of the same scale, like the same footprint, um, rehearsal time would have been more, but we got so much done so quickly. How, how did we do that? Yes. A lot of it is like the right people, having the right people in the room, massively important, Eddie, your community, Ebony, your community like this, the right people came together. Um, but man, if I could have given us one more month, I really would have. 

Eddie Torres Jr: It Would’ve just been fun. 

Dana: It Would be just more fun. Yeah. Maybe not even better,  Maybe not even better, but more fun.

Chris Scott: Um, and can I piggyback on that too? And just say, you know, for me personally, I knew very early on how little time we had with, but it’s weird. Cause I wasn’t like freaking out to be honest, like John might think there might’ve been like a lot of stress, but to be honest, getting you guys as a team was really everything. And I’m not saying that lightly. Like it was really like once I, when I knew I was like, okay, I got to have Ebony Williams, She’s going to be there for anything, contemporary ballet Afro like all those, all these styles, like we’re going to cool. We’re good. Emilio. I know. It’s like, you know, we’ve done this for how long now? Like, you know, when you have a team of people that you’ve worked with, like that, you know, Dana, you were a piece of the puzzle that walked into the room and it was like, oh, this is perfect. Like you clicked in like nothing, you know, from skeleton crew. And it was like, beautiful. We have a partner storyteller with us that’s versed in like, I don’t even know how many styles you can do. But every, every day I was like finding out a new one, you know? And then Eddie and Princess, like, I really do, you know, this, this whole kind of campaign afterwards, you know, I’ve always been like very passionate about making sure that you guys there’s light on you guys as well, because I know as like the head choreographer or whatever it’s, it’s, it’s been, uh, I’m going to have my shine at it. I’m speaking of shines, but you know, but I really do like, and it’s not lightly that I say  you guys as a team, you know, really deserve everything because that’s how you do it. There’s no other way. It would have been impossible. If there’s one thing I wished outside world could get a peek into. It was really the, what, uh, what our dance studios look like. Um, you know, I think the amount of prep that we had being able to in, in, in like a divided way, and then we all come back together and it was really something beautiful that, that nobody really gets to see, you know, and it’s not, I don’t know to me, it was like, it was stressful, but I’m looking at these faces right now and having you guys, um, you know, and Meghan, even just having this piece of the puzzle, because coordinating this, that’s another thing too, like people will never understand, you know, I really do feel responsible to educate people on what a team does in the choreography realm, because it’s not often talked about and it’s not often seen. Um, but you know, like Meghan was brought on to this team is like a, you know, like, like a PA, but it’s not, it’s not what she’s doing. She’s coordinating these massive numbers. I mean, there’s over 200. How many are we at? Like 280 dancers or somebody that you told me the other day you can go through in that, because it’s, I was that many, people’s that much to coordinate, you know, we’re a department, we’re a huge department. Um, you know, and that that’s really a big factor I’m going off now. You know,  

Dana: I’m glad that you mentioned that it’s something that I like try to talk myself through all the time, because I’m stuck between believing that time is this fixed thing that I cannot change or multiply or divide in any way. But when you stack talent, you actually do multiply time. Like that’s what having a team is all about. So it might feel like we don’t have enough time, but there are ways to multiply time. And it’s by dividing talent, it’s by stacking many things happening at the same time, um, in different places and, and, and towards different, uh, on different tasks towards the same goal. And that’s, yeah, that’s how, that’s how we did it.

Chris: What a bunch of talent we stacked, boy, cause there’s a team. Let me tell you something, the talent on the zoom right now.  

We stacked. Uh let’s um, I’m coming to you then Meghan, cause I would love to know your answer to this question you probably received if, okay. So if we hired 288 dancers, you received at least 10X times that emails, while you were working on this project, you were, uh, like helping us rent space. You were coordinating people’s schedules. You were looking to see if anybody had aunties and uncles or, or grandmas that were available to come shoot with us. Like you did a lot of, um, uh, structural work and helping all of the pieces fall into place. And what I would love to know is what you think the hardest thing for you was to do and how you did it.  

Meghan McFerran: The hardest thing for me to do was probably honestly keep communication with Chris on everything while he’s working so hard in the rehearsal room with all of these dancers and I’m on the phone with Warner Brothers, coordinating everything on our end agencies, production dancers. And when me and Chris found time, it was awesome because we were like, boom, boom, boom, get this done, get this done 15 minutes. But then when he’s doing his thing in the rehearsal room and I am doing my thing here, it’s hard to connect the pieces and be like, wait, but we need this to happen tomorrow. And I’m like, well, I’m going to need a few hours. Cause this I, the processes happening. And I am out here out at my computer and we just can’t make this happen right now. We can make it happen. Oh, trust me, our team’s going to make it happen. But it’s not at that very second. So that was hard day in and day out because it was like a daily thing. There’s a dancer that needs something. Production has a question about what props we’re using. And I’m like, great. And what I learned and what kept me going through is just to keep calm because it’s like, you know what, yes, we believe in this team from day one, we’re like, we’re going to make this happen. We are fine. But being able to stay calm when I’m getting texts at two in the morning when I’m getting emails post 12 hour rehearsals emails about this and that I’m happy to answer because we’re here and I know that this team is going to get it done. But I think that that initial connection of phone, emails, computer versus dance, rehearsals counts, choreo, and trying to fuse those two together was hard. But we did it.  

Dana: Yeah, we did. I think that was something not a lot of people consider. Like when you have an eight hour rehearsal day to get steps done, where do the magical hours where you have to be communicating with wardrobe team, communicating with music team at communicating with studios to find rental space, talking with casting over at Telsey. Yeah. Like where you have to make time and find time we are time multipliers. This is what we do. Um, okay. Emilio, I’m coming to you next because holy smokes, you are in damn near every scene of this movie. And you had your hand on the choreography of, I mean, I think we all really did hands-on all pieces. At some point there was nothing that none of us were involved in, right? That’s not how this movie got made, but you’re in almost every scene and you were in every single rehearsal with us for all of the other scenes. So I guess what I am wondering and what I am assuming, people who are listening are wondering are, what are the tips? What are your tricks for being on both sides of the camera? How did you wear both of those hats at once? 

Emilio Dosal: I mean, I don’t, I don’t know if there’s necessarily a trick. I can just tell you that on my end, I just didn’t put a lot of pressure into it. I feel that in many cases, even though I’m a little older now, I still have a very naive sense. And so I try not to look at things as like they’re so, um, you know, huge. And if I fail this and I failed everything right. And like, oh, I have to get this done. I have to get this, I gotta do this. I gotta do this. I don’t apply that sort of pressure. I just kind of like, it’s kind of what I say to everybody. And everybody knows the saying, it’s like, it’s too easy. Right? Because technically what I’m trying to tell myself is is that if this is as hard as it gets, that’s pretty good. And so being on camera was the easiest part of my day If I’m gonna be quite honest, because that’s where I get to perform. That’s where I get to do the thing that I, I absolutely love doing. That’s what I went to into dance for I’ve always been a showman. I’ve always been a performer. And then being behind camera and, and running back and forth, um, actually was exhilarating. Um, I enjoyed the process. I wanted to do it more. Um, and yes, there was, there was stress and, you know, there was a lot of times where I felt overwhelmed. Yes. But that would always come back to it being just too easy. You know, again, it’s, it’s, it’s what you make it. And so I’ve just found myself really in a good place when I would go back and forth to each one. Um, if I wasn’t behind the camera watching to help safeguard and make sure that it looks right. I knew that my job being in front of the camera was to make sure that spirits were up, that we were good to go. I kept every dancer enlightened, ready to like move forward and keep it pushing, you know, because it does get exhausting, you know, as you, as you’ve heard, we do, you know, eight to 10 hour days on concrete and grass and train stations and all the elements. And I just found myself being that person that, you know, what, I have this infinite amount of energy that I need to evolve to my peers so that they can feel enlightened and remember what they’re doing, you know, we’re, we’re on a film showcasing ourselves. I would, I would suggest to everybody who is going to participate in that sort of work, um, bring a little bit of naivety into it, you know, have fun, be, be that inner child that was naive throughout the whole thing. It’s not a bad thing to be naive in those circumstances is actually quite exhilarating. Um, and it gets the job done job done really well. And honestly so much more exciting to be honest. 

Dana: Too easy. Thank you for that as an important moment to like call on perspective. Right. Um, and that can a perspective shift like that could really take something from feeling impossible to actually feeling easy by shifting the way that you’re thinking about it, a more childlike, uh, approach. I appreciate that. Um, okay. So, uh, Chris, we have done a few, um, screenings for like dance community and there’ve been Q and A sessions at the end. You and John, You and John talking together is one of my favorite things to eavesdrop on you understand the way each other make. And I think you’ve grown to be making in really complimentary ways. I think this film is a huge testament to that. Um, but one of the questions, uh, one of the questions that has come up, I think in both of those screenings is how did you find this team? And you spoke specifically about the first conversation you have with Eddie and how it, it turned into an education. Like it didn’t, it didn’t, it wasn’t an audition or an interview. He sat and he, and more, he, more or less schooled you. I mean, stop me if I got the wrong interpretation of that.  

Chris: 100% 

Dana: Um, so what I would love to hear from you, Eddie is if you remember that conversation, if you remember for sitting with Chris, um, if you remember what you told him and if you would share it with us today,  

Eddie: I mean, it’s something that I actually kind of repeat every day just to remind myself and keep it in shape. So I’m glad this is my practice today, basically. Um, you know, when Chris, when Chris and I first met, it was in Brooklyn and we met at this office where he was discussing me possibly dancing in the film, you know, and we just got into a good conversation, you know, first time meeting each other. And somehow we just, you know, we sat down and we were just talking about what I do. And I was saying, Hey, you know, what I do is something called Mambo. And it basically is the truth behind what we call salsa. What we know is salsa. And he’s like, what do you mean? And that led into a whole beautiful conversation, um, which we had to get a pen and paper and draw this triangular slave trade, which dates back to the 15 hundreds. So basically we were just talking about how the Spanish conquistadors, they went to West Africa, took these people and sent them to all different parts of the world, right? So basically you have two sides of the coin, the slaves that were sent to the Caribbean, they allow their music on Sundays. They allow their cultural practices. So out of that was birthed many rhythms, you know, on the, on the, in music. So that’s why we have Bomba y Plena, which is all singing and just drumming, you know? And so, and on the other side of the coin, you have the slaves that were sent to the new world, which just like the US they took away all of the drums. They took away their names, their religion, everything. And by that, we lost Africanism in general. So out of that, they put these slaves to work in plantations. And out of that was born the classic blues. So we had a full-out conversation with drawing with every single detail and showing how all of this evolution created, what we know as salsa, which again was created, by Fania Record Label in the 1970s, basically just to, um, market the music better, you know, they wanted better business and they wanted more popularity of this music all over the world, which they succeeded they did, that they did that 100%. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a success. The only problem is we lost a lot of that. You know, that pure knowledge, the roots. Each rhythm has a dance and you have to respect that. And not only that, but when you put it all into one, you know, it’s just not what it is. Salsas not a rhythm, Salsas not a dance. But on the flip side, we have cha cha, cha, which is a rhythm and a dance, Mambos is a rhythm and a dance that’s song, you know?  So, and w why was this all important? Because this whole film needed a foundation to work off of. We needed roots in every single scene and the music itself, you know, you have the clave right from the beginning of the movie, you have the clave, which is an instrument that was born on the slave ships in the 1500s. So right away, there’s evidence of this beautiful history that we have, but it just never got the chance to be told in its raw form and its authentic form. Chris basically opened the door up to a whole culture that needed to have been seen and heard. I’m talking about specifically Mambo, you know, my family, they worked their whole lives for this moment. You know, my aunts or many of our ancestors have worked for this moment. And here it is, Chris gave me not only me, the opportunity and Princess, but he allowed us to cast you know, a lot of these people in Carnaval, which was so much fun, right? We had to call every Viejito, which is an old man and, or an old woman. We called every single old dancer that we knew. We call the youngest of the babies. And we called all cultures literally to come in to gather in one room. And that’s why it was so fun because I mean, now I’m going into carnival for a second. You didn’t have to really do much. And these people were just happy to be there. They were happy to celebrate their culture. We just, we just said, Hey, who’s Puerto Rican, boom, you have a group. Who’s Dominican. Boom, you have a group. And a lot of, a lot of them, I mean, we’re all related. We all have these, these bridges to each other’s culture. So anyway, just because it became a very natural, organic process and it was just so it was so natural, I would say. And not, not, not that we had to sit there and practice and technique and know this was just like a, Hey, I like that move. This is something we do at the house. Boom, let’s do it here. But again, it’s just, again, rewinding for a second. I know I went on a tangent, this, this film, and it means so much to so many communities, so many cultures who never, ever, ever felt represented. And I’ve gotten so many beautiful messages from people I don’t know people, I haven’t people, I do know who I haven’t heard from years to people that I speak to on a regular and just exchanges in the street. Honestly, just the other day somebody was like, oh my God. Yes, I thank you. And I was like, for what I think for, thank you for, you know, I feel I’m proud to be a Latino and proud, you know, I feel represented even my neighbor, I don’t even know her.  She said, congratulations. And I’m like, and she’s Puerto Rican. She’s like, that’s what we need. You know? So it was we again, and this is just Carnaval but we have so many scenes, so many cultures that are represented in this one film. And that for me was all I ever wanted. 

Ebony: Absolutely. But I think that’s what brought the authenticity. I think that was what it was because we had to rely on the spirit of the people because it does, that’s what makes up the community, you know, like if we had to literally take every piece in every inch of everything and say you be this, you know, like when it’s really in their soul, then it would make it, would’ve made it so dry and technical. It’s just, it’s in them. They were born with it. And so all we had to do was allow them to shine, you know? And that’s you, you say that all the time in the salsa, like, Hey, do the shines, what does, I mean, Eddie you can speak on that part, but like, you know, and I, I think that that’s what made it great is that we just had to really rely on the soul of the people. 

Eddie: Ebony I love you, you know, how I feel,  You know how I feel about you Ebony. I love you so much. And again, that’s, that’s even without Salseros, I would be in front of b-boys and other hip hop dancers and, and, and just telling them, Hey, listen, the undertone of everything, what we call Latin is African that’s. The, that’s what, that’s the full root of all of this. Basically I was telling everybody that I knew on set, listen, do you know that we’re, we’re connected? We’re not separate. Um, you know, the vision is just what that’s, it’s just by style, which I’m not a huge fan. I don’t like the idea of being divided by styles because at the end of the day, we all have the same root, anything that has a drum is African. Anything that has a beat is African. Period. Doesn’t matter, RNB, jazz, hip hop, whatever you Salsa, uh, Mambo. That’s what we all had to understand and bring to this film and through ourselves. So really we wanted this to be felt this wasn’t something that was always pretty, this was something that needed to be felt. And we fought for that. We went for blood  

Dana: I love this notion that learning not need to be a cerebral thing, but a physical thing, a felt thing. And I did really feel like I was learning every day, learning from you all the time, Eddie learning from each of you every day. Um, and maybe this is a good segue actually, uh, Princess, you, I think you are the youngest of the choreo team and you were still in school while we were working on this film, learning so much in, in two different modes, right? Like in the, in the four walls of an institution and also in the real world, if we want to call the movie world of real world on a movie set. Um, so I would love to hear what were your most unexpected areas of growth? 

Princess: I love that question. Oh man. That’s I feel like there were so many, first of all, I just want to start off by saying that, um, since I was in school, Monday through Friday, and at the time I was a freshmen, I was at school Monday to Friday and I had to ask my professors, can I miss class? Like I won’t be in class the whole semester. Can I just turn in work? And this was like, I cannot believe to this day that I was able to miss an entire semester and I had to email everyone and tell them, Hey, I’ve been given this opportunity. And this is a dream that I would, I would be crazy to pass it up. Like, can you please consider me giving out, I would go the extra mile to show up when I can, and I will reach out office hours. I will do whatever I can just give me this opportunity because it’s something that I can’t give up this is my passion. And all of them understood that. And they were able to allow me to go to rehearsals and miss class, which I, I can’t believe it, you know? And so I went into rehearsals. I went into, you know, with you guys to practice and on set. And I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I was there for a reason. And I learned from every single person in this movie. And I think the most important thing that I learned was to was to no matter how hard something is just, you’ll never grow or learn how to deal with that until you throw yourself in the water. And so you throw yourself in the, in the fire, you’re, you’re never gonna, you’re never gonna learn until you, you just have to do it.  

Dana: Thank you. Thank you for that. I really hope that all of my school goers listening are inspired by your story. And I hope that any professors or admins who might be listening can see the value of exceptions for exceptional people. And speaking of exceptional people, Ebony, you’ve been in damn near every pocket of the dance world, that there is from Broadway stages to concert stages, to music, video hall of fames. I’m referencing single ladies, but it’s not the only one, um, to on-camera in films and now behind camera in films. So what I am dying to know is what is your favorite place to be and where do you want to be next?  

Ebony: I love this question because I don’t have a favorite. I wish I could say that I have a favorite, but really all of those things make up Ebony Williams. Um, I’m not one thing, honestly, I don’t think anyone in the world is one thing. So, um, yeah, I, I love a piece of all of that. And I have hopes to be able to make possibilities for younger artists to be able to do the same thing, um, to feel like they are able to jump into creative portals. Cause that’s, my goal is to make creative portals that set free and allow them to not feel like they have to be put in a box ever. Um, so that means chorea, choreographing, directing, um, acting more. That’s something that I really, really want to do. I am also an actor and I feel like most dancers are because we have to be. Um, and that’s something that I’ve been stepping myself into quite a bit. I’ve been training and acting classes and just doing all the things that will set me forth so that I can do new things, new challenges, and, uh, you know, be a new Ebony every day. I think it’s important for us to try to reimagine ourselves. And that means that Ebony yesterday is not Ebony that’s today this Thursday here with you right now. And I hope tomorrow is a new piece of Ebony. So yeah, that’s where I’m at. 

Dana: Yes. I love that you loved that question. And I loved that answer. I know that a lot of people listening have subscribed to the idea that they need to pick one thing to be or one place to put their talent. And you’re such a, an exquisite example of that not being the case. You can put all of your talent in so many places, so congrats and thank you for that. That’s fabulous. Um, all right. Y’all I w I think we could talk for hours and maybe someday a part two will happen, but for now I want to do one more round Robin, the Twitter version, if you could, one thing that you did well, and one thing that you would do differently. If we got to do this all again, I’ll start. Um, one thing I did well, um, I, I did become a person who was better with names and it’s true. I don’t know as many as Meghan McFerran, but I did a pretty good job in the retention of names. I was surprised in my past has been a huge area of insecurity for me. And I knew that in making a movie that is about the people of a place, that it would be helpful to invest in the people of the place and to call them by their name. Um, one thing I would do differently, man, I Eddie, having you in a room for six months and walking away, feeling like I would probably still drown at a club, makes me feel bad. I wish I had practiced the social dance. We, we, we built a movie, we planned it, we structured it. We strategized, we organized, and I don’t think I walk away feeling like a better social dance partner. Um, and I think, I think, I think I got really good at listening to voices, but I would like if I did this again, I would like to get better at listening to my body to become a better partner.  Um, and to spend more time with the social elements of these dances versus the, the organizing and the, the building, like we had to build it. And then in building this movie there wasn’t, or maybe this is just what I was thinking, but there wasn’t a — this isn’t the Twitter version. Let’s be honest there. I didn’t, I didn’t build, I didn’t build a technical foundation for myself that I wish I had, but we built a damn good movie. So that, that is what I would do differently. I would steal you away for at least 20 minutes every day and, and dance with you. 

Eddie: Dana, actually remember we, we, although we were super busy, right? We had to divide and conquer like Chris said, We did have that beautiful moment of the waltz, and that was one of my earliest days. And I remember Emilio, um, but one of the first people, first people that pushed me into the, into the fire, into the flames, you know, between Emilio and Dana, you both really pushed me to like, you know, for me, my first movie, I want everyone to know that right now, it’s my first movie ever. This was something that I was looking at the whole choreo team. I was studying you all as I was choreographing and learning.  

Dana: I know, that’s why I have to ask. I have to ask that I want to make an example that we should all be doing that and celebrating ourselves all the time. And I love that reflection. Um, okay. Ebony, what did you do well, what did you, what did you do that you loved?  

Ebony: I do think that I listened well to the things that I need for my future. Um, I recognize a lot of the spaces in which I need work, and I think that was really important to me and for me. Um, things that I would do differently would be number one, be kinder to myself. I would say a similar to you similar to you. I would say that I, as someone who’s always been looked at as a versatile artist, because I have been in several pockets of the lands, um, I think I would try to investigate deeper some of those spaces, because I think that what I have done well is be a good chameleon in a space, but that’s because it’s out of survival, you know, I think living in the moment and finding spaces to enjoy it instead of just go and making it work and figuring it out, I think I would find more space of joy, um, in the moment, you know? So that, that also a part of the memory forever not taking any of those moments for granted  

Dana: Well said. Beautiful. Um, okay. Uh, Emilio, what do you think? What did, what did you do well? What would you do differently if we got a second pass?  

Emilio: Uh, I’ll keep my short, uh, what I did well is, uh, I just, I went hard every single day. You know what I’m saying? I left everything on the table. Um, um, I’m not that kind of person that’s going to come in and do, you know, the easy feed I’m going to go hard every single day. And I’m going to apply that because I want to be the example every single time. I want to be the smallest, the fastest, the most joyous and the most exciting every single time I step in the rehearsal space. And I did that. So I’m excited. I’m happy for that. Um, if I were to go back and redo it again, I would honestly go to more light feet events, but I I’ve only went to like two and I really wish I could go back and go to more events and immerse myself more into the culture of light feet and Harlem, and be a part of that because it is something that I truly love right now. And, um, you know, yeah, knowing that the Mecca is there, New York, I really wished I, I got to take advantage of that more.  

I hear you, my friend. I hear you. Thank you for that. How about you, Meghan?  

Meghan McFerran: Hmm. What did I did? Well, I know this one. Uh, I made sure that I gave every dancer a hug in the morning when they came in and I did it every single day. And I think it set everyone up for no matter what was going on. Like we were about to step into like a 12 hour dance day and people are freaking out. Like they might’ve just been called in at three in the morning by me and having no idea what they’re stepping into. Like, what are we doing today? I don’t know I’m here. And I was just like, hi, gave everyone like a good three second hug and was like, let’s go.  

Dana: Um, and something you would do differently.  

Meghan: The diversity of people that we worked with, and then me being on production side dancers, side cast side, I think I could have fit in one really important, special question that I could have asked each person that I worked with in order to learn more about literally everything, film, dance, cultures. I wished that I had written down just a single question every single day that we either rehearsed or once we’re on set and just was like, Hey, been meaning to ask you this. And I could have learned I think a lot.  

Chris Scott: Yeah. You can ask the questions right now because you still got to text people. You gotta, you got everybody contact info, you can reach out. The movie is over, but the relationships are there forever. So get those questions together and then shoot them off. 

Dana: It’s so true. Yeah. Yeah. Group, group texts, please. Um, okay. Princess, what do you think?  

Princess: Um, something I did well would be just going with the flow every day. It was something new and you just have literally just go with the flow. And so something I would do differently would be to voice my opinion more. Um, I feel like I was a quiet most of the times and I wouldn’t voice my opinion. And then someone would say something I was thinking, I’d be like, damn it. You know

Dana: It’s one of the it’s, it’s one of the things that they don’t teach in school in any dance class is the knowing when to talk and knowing when to shut up and dammit, I am still learning it every single day and sometimes its the hard way,  And y’all have been there and seen it. And, you know, but having your finger on the pulse of your voice and the temperature of the room is something that I think is a obviously very valuable, but B takes time to, uh, to really become sensitive to.   

Eddie Torres Jr: I love that you said that is, can I go? I want to go, yay. Okay. I know I answered, so, okay. So something I know I did. Right, right. So I know for sure when it came to representation, I know I did a hell of a job representing every single part of the Latin choreography that I could, I would literally, cause I I’ve been, I’ve been preparing for this moment. And then when I finally get the chance to do that, um, and you allowed me also like really just go full out with all the dancers and in certain parts of the, of the process, I’ve just, I couldn’t be more proud of course of them, but just like, I never thought I would even do this. I never thought I would be able to lead a whole community to, to a glorious representation of our dance, you know? And, and that for me is it was beyond what I ever dreamed of to be honest, you know, and then something I know something I would, I would change. I would, uh, I would always bring, if I could, I would have brung swimming shorts to every damn rehearsal, because there was, uh, there was some mean ass times, man, I, it was rough for me. I did not have no swimming shorts and I could not flunk out of rehearsal. And Chris said, we all need to be there at the pool. You gotta be there. So I’ve, I remember every single time I would go to the pool and I would look at everyone and everyone’s so prepared. Everyone was so prepared when we got there, they had some nice, cute shorts, swimming shorts, and you know, I would just roll my sweat pants up, just slip into the corner. And my, my, my sweatpants look like, yo, it looked crazy on the water and nobody  

Dana: Yo swim sweats.  Yo that’s, that’s a, that’s a corner of the market. Eddie. You could be the first Kanye did leather, leather sweats, you got swim sweats. You got, you have an angle on the market. And the commercials, you know, would be fabulous. The dancing would be great. You know, stop it.

Chris: I thought this podcast was sponsored by NYC mambo swim sweats Is that right?  

Dana: It is now we’re doing, I will be photoshopping flyers. Don’t you even use it? 

Eddie: Well, the worst part was how it got revealed. That was the worst part. Like I was, I was okay. Rocky, my sweat pants on the water. Um, until one day we were in the pool. I think I had gotten away with it at least twice. So I’m like, this is great. And we’re all dancing in the pool. And for some reason I battment, my right leg up and then I put it back down and Chris looks underwater. He’s like, wait, what? And I’m like, shut up. He’s like, wait, nah, hold up, everybody what’s. And I’m like, bro, stop please. And he starts dying, laughing. And I’m like, you’re just, I’m giving him that look. I’m like, please, please do not do not. And everybody I’m talking about, like everybody looked under water just to look at what I was wearing. And there you go. I had a thick ass pair of sweatpants on that were rolled up to my upper thighs, suffocating my legs. It was, it was so embarrassing.  

Chris: That’s so beautiful and so brilliant. And there was no way I was gonna let that go man.  One of the highlights I was between that and carnival, I was like, I couldn’t really decide what you want to say. Um, I won’t count them all, but that was a close second.  

Eddie: No, real quick, because this is also the ending of Carnaval was insane. Insane. We were all like, I think we were all bleeding, gut blood was gushing out of our knees from Rudy’s elbow and everybody was crying and laughing and celebrating and jumping. And, but that for me,  

Dana: And that was after everybody got wrapped. Like nobody went home. It was the hottest day. It was the smallest area. There was the, the holding area where was holding area that day,  

Eddie: 181st street.  

Dana: So we, yeah. And just nobody left at the end of a what? 12 hour day, how long was that day?  

Chris: It was the longest death that I was like 14 or 16. It was crazy. It was like, as long as they get a year with the sun, like the sun. Wow. It was crazy  

Dana: That that is why that moment  

Chris: When we were over time. And I remember the, you know, David and Nick say shout out to him to, you know, our producer, um, for letting us stay. Cause a lot of times they don’t want to do that because it’s like, well, we got a ton of money. Like, let’s go, you guys gotta go. 

Dana: Um, thank you for saying that, 

Chris: To stay on set to celebrate this huge moment. You know, it was worth every penny to him and I, and I’m just so grateful that he did that. He did let that happen as it was so necessary after a day like that. And you need those moments like otherwise, why are we doing this too much hard? And if you get shut down from those molds is so important to a film like this, when we so hard to make,  

It was essential. That moment was essential. I’m so glad you brought that up. Thank you, Chris. What did you do well? 

Chris:  I think I Did this well. Um, I think it took me a while to really understand how important it was. And I think once I understood it, I started to do it even better. So I think listening was like a really big deal as a choreographer for this film, because like, you know, I knew, I already knew like when Eddie came in, like we talked about it when he came in with him, I knew like anything cultural is like, no, you, listen, you listen to, who’s telling you from a culture. Like I knew that going into it, there would be other incidents where it’s like, I would have an idea that I’d want to try And one of the actors, for example, well, I don’t know. I don’t connect to that or whatever. And in my mind, I’d want to just like, I just want to do it. But then like I started realizing, you know, what? These actors are like super brilliant. They’re really smart. They’re really talented. Um, so I, I like kind of, there was like a moment I remember shifting and I started every number I went from just like having my ideas and the ideas that even I talked about with John, you know, we’d have ideas together. Um, and I would just like try stuff or John would give me room to play and whatever. And I remember like around like No Me Diga, for sure. I remember being like, it’s really important to listen to the actors and give them room to, to, to explain to you what they think even before you really get into the rehearsal. So I started doing that everywhere. I didn’t make like a big deal about it. I wasn’t like, okay, this is what I decided doing it. And like, Hey, what are you like when you think, and you know, there’s gonna be moments where, like I had my thoughts that would, um, I’d want to, I want to have the space to try and everything. And then, you know, you just find the balance or whatever, but, um, you learn really quickly as a choreographer. Like when you’re in it with these storytellers, you know, everybody, all the actors, everybody’s a storyteller when you’re making these films and should treat everybody like that. And when you hear what they say, they will give you gold. Like there were so many times, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re sitting next to Anthony Ramos in a bodega, and you’re, you’re going to try to give him things to do in a bodega. Sometimes the last thing is just let him tell you what happens in about like, how he feels in a bodega, because Anthony Ramos knows what it’s like to be in a bodega, you know, more than I’ll ever understand. So I think that was one thing I really started to do better. As the, as the time went on, it’s something that I’m proud of eventually like, like listening to Abuela Claudia, you know, Olga explained Paciencia y Fe, you know, I’ll never forget that rehearsal. It was like a big one. I tell all the time, I’m like, you changed my life that I know. And, you know, I would just never forget that day of like, I started to explain the number to the dancers and like within 30 seconds I was like, wait, I just stopped myself because now here’s Olga her first day. So I’m like, oh the, do you mind, would you explain what the sensor that your face is about?  And she’s like, sure, she goes into this thing. And she says, you know, I’ll tell you, Chris, when you get to be my age, you stop thinking about the future because there is no more future. Everything comes up, becomes about the past and the decisions that she made that led you to where you are today. And I was like, oh my God. I mean, well, that’s what the numbers I saw. I didn’t even understand really the, the root, the heart of this number, you know, and that’s what it became. And then, and then you just listen and you listen to me and just everybody, um, you know, but at the same time, it’s kind of the same answer to what I could do better. You know, I think in a, in a weird way as like now that I have that like, perspective and I’m like, oh, I’m proud of myself.  Like having those moments of those revelations, you know, I, I would, I could go on, you know, if I could go back again, it would just be from day one. That’s all. I would just really start the process like that. And just, um, you know, because I think for me it was helpful. I’m, I’m a builder. Like I like to build off of things and build off of people. And the more information you have, the more you can build, you know, some people aren’t like that. Some people want to have their, their moment, their time of ahead to just create blank space and then, and then adjust as they need to. But I really do love, um, as much input from the beginning to really just shape and mold something that, that, that, that everybody kind of has a voice in, because I think, you know, that’s when one everybody’s invested a different way, you know, and, and everybody, um, it brings everybody to the same page a lot quicker because you can’t have somebody performing choreography that they don’t understand because it comes from your mind. It’s just beneficial. So, you know, that’s not too complicated. Does it say, you know, I think my, my something I’m proud of myself that I did well, I think ultimately is also the thing that I could go back onto it and even better. And there you go,  

It makes so much sense. Yes, yes. 100%. This is what I wanted. This is what I needed. Uh, well, thank you all so much for a lovely walk down memory lane, uh, ****  eating grin on my face from ear to ear for over an hour. Um, I really appreciate you doing this and it feels great to still be sharing this thing and still be learning from this thing. Like we learned every single day on the job. So many things. And now every day that the movie is out there in the world, we’re learning different things about how it’s received. We’re learning different ways about how to, um, how to do work moving forward. Like what a tremendous gift this has been. And you all are a gift in my life. Thank you so much. I don’t have words. Appreciate you all tremendously. I love you.  

Well, there you have it. And there, I have it a time capsule of one of the most precious and important chapters of my life. Um, and also a peek into our world of dance in nights. I really hope that you enjoyed that. I hope that you watch the movie 180 trillion times, and I hope you get out there into the world, into your community and keep it very, very funky. Thanks everybody for being here. I will talk to you very soon. Bye

Me again, wondering if you ever noticed that one more time almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe, and leave a rating or review because your words move me too. Number two thing, I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit thedanawilson.com for links to free workshops. And so, so much more. All right, that’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye. 

Ep. #36 The Assistant

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #36 The Assistant
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Whether you ARE an assistant, HAVE an assistant, WANT an assistant, or want TO BE an assistant, this episode is for you. The (many) roles and responsibilities of assistants are often not discussed out in the open. Well, I’m here to start bringing this conversation to the forefront.  What makes a great assistant? When is an assistant NOT an assistant? Let’s talk collaboration, ownership, and all about assistants!

Show Notes

Quick Links:

Watching Smiling: https://www.instagram.com/p/CELBTJXFv27/

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place. 

Dana: Hello. Hello and hello. I am Dana and I am jazzed that you are here today. I’m stoked on this episode because it is dense. It carries a lot of value in a little bit of time. So whether you are an assistant or a person who has an assistant or a person who is looking to have an assistant, I think you will get a lot out of this episode, by the way. I think we all could use an assistant at some point.  

So this episode truly is for everyone. So much value so much goodness, but first let’s talk wins. This week, coincidentally, I am claiming a win. That is a video project I created in collaboration with my podcast assistant Malia Baker. She choreographed it, I directed and edited it. And it is a video homage to Louie Prima and Keely Smith called “Smiling.” It was influenced by the golden age of movie musicals and our cast and crew was golden to truly such an awesome time capsule of a project. I loved every part of making this video and, um, man, we, we shot it just days before the lockdown was enforced and I’m so proud to be sharing it with the world right now. I think it carries a very important message and a handful of very fun surprises as well. So check that out. It lives on my Instagram @DanaDaners and also on Malia’s personal page. She is @MaliaBaker. Get into it. Do your face a favor, give a smile. Okay. Now speaking of your face and your smile, what is your win this week? What’s going well in your world.  

Okay. Awesome. And congrats. Keep crushing it. If you are listening the podcast chronologically, you have just emerged from four back to back episodes about auditioning. This episode is coming at a very timely time because I want to acknowledge that auditioning for work is not the only way to get work. In fact, possibly the most fruitful way that I introduced myself to the industry was as an assistant, an assistant choreographer to be specific. Now I opened this episode by talking about my win with my assistant Malia Baker. That was unintentional, but coincidentally, very, very appropriate to this episode. Now there is a hot button conversation happening in the dance world right now. That’s probably happened in other industries forever. Um, sort of as language changes and our professional landscape changes. This conversation will continue to happen. Probably forevermore. The subject, broadly is the roles and responsibilities of assistants. Is the assistant the person that gets the coffee is the assistant. The person that remembers the steps or teaches the steps or cleans the steps or contributes steps? Question Mark.  When is an assistant, not an assistant, what makes a great assistant we’re digging in to all of it. So buckle up.  

Alright. So I have been an assistant and I occasionally still assist for about 15 years, world tours, movies, commercials, music, videos, award shows you name it I’ve assisted on it. I’ve also danced and assisted on the same project, which can be really, really challenging. I’ll explain why, as you’re about to find out the role of an assistant is very, very broad. And the role of a performer is very, very specific. Sometimes it can be challenging to have the bird’s eye view and the worm’s eye view at the same time. All right, let’s talk first about what an assistant does. Well, as I mentioned, it’s always a little bit different, not just from project to project, but from boss to boss, from person to person. So let’s consider what assistants might do. They might, depending on the project or the person, edit video, edit music, go pick up coffee, go pick up lunch, take lunch orders, book studio space, manage and coordinate schedules. That’s a start, but they always, they always facilitate a vision. They facilitate the creative vision of their boss or of the project that they’re assisting on. 

Now let’s talk about the different types of assistance. A personal assistant, for example, might organize travel, like actually book the flights, the cars, the hotel reservations, they might run personal errands or organize a personal schedule. I have known personal assistants to actually buy the Christmas gifts and birthday gifts for their bosses, families and friends. Um, I’ve even known of a boss who trusted their assistant to decide on their future home. Yes. Like the house they will live in the assistant went and saw it and said, yes. Very wide range of responsibilities there for a personal assistant. And of course it depends on the person. Let’s talk now about a choreography assistant, a choreographic assistant or a choreography assistant or a choreographer’s assistant might be a moving body in the room during the creation process and during the rehearsal process. Occasionally they’re responsible for retaining the counts in the choreography, teaching choreography, cleaning choreography, even giving feedback on the choreography itself, If asked. I have also used and served as a technical assistant, this is a person that might film, edit and upload tutorial, videos, rehearsal videos, so on and so forth. Those are just a few examples of titles and responsibilities of assistants. I could really go on for probably a day about the things that assistants do. So why don’t we actually shift our focus to this question? When is an assistant not an assistant. First of all, I want to state that I see assistants as collaborators and possibly the most important part of the team. My assistants know my every move. They know my schedule, they know my values, they know my vision, they know how I like to work. And it is their job to work, to facilitate my vision. In the choreography space on a choreography team, by my definition, an assistant is responsible for facilitating a creative vision. That may mean tactical tasks, physical things like setting up the studio, organizing the schedule, organizing video footage, tutorials, et cetera. It might even mean systematic work, streamlining a process, making sure that things go smoothly with that being said to me, the moment an assistant crosses into another realm of collaborator is when they’re asked or expected to contribute their own creative vision for the work. I know many choreographers are totally okay with feedback when it comes to their choreography or process, but this is not the same as bringing a creative idea to the table. I’ll give an example. I know that many choreographers are okay, and even encourage getting feedback from their assistants. Feedback, for example, on things like weight transfers, transitions, or even presenting a step like, Ooh, it might feel better to ball change right left instead of left, right, Because my weight is already on the left side or, Ooh, I love that step. It reminds me of this. Or to get into that turn, it might be better if I start from this position instead of that one, that way I can move quicker and give you what you want, which is covering a lot of distance in a little bit of time. To me, that’s very acceptable and expected feedback from an assistant. And to me, that is absolutely not the same as bringing a creative idea to the table. To me, when a person is asked or expected to bring their own idea or vision, they are an associate or possibly even a co choreographer, not an assistant. An example of bringing a creative idea to the table might look something like this. Is there a world where instead of our hero woman being in love with peanut butter, she is actually in love with a frog that turns into a can of peanut butter. Example of creative vision, opposed to facilitating the creative vision and wow frogs and peanut butter, Welcome to my mind. Welcome to my very creative mind. 

All right, now let’s talk about what makes a great assistant. I’ll give you a hint. What makes a great assistant is also what makes a great relationship. That’s really what we’re talking about here today. The relationship between boss and assistant. In my book, these are four qualities of a great assistant. Number one ESP, mind reading capabilities. In the event that you do not possess mind reading capabilities, which none of us do. Um, here is a great way to read somebody’s mind, ask them what they think and write it down. Great way to read somebody’s mind is to actually put it on paper, get a clear idea of expectations. And then you are so much better set up for success. 

Another quality of a great assistant to me is somebody that has a good memory and mindset for not only managing information, but mining it. This is a person who knows how to ask the right questions. This is a person that knows where to look for information and how to get it and how to organize it. Another quality of a fabulous assistant. It sounds weird to say this, but customer service. The assistant establishes the flow of the project, the flow of information. And oftentimes when people think back about how the project went, it will be the work of the assistant that they remember, that they walk away with, that they think of as being either remarkably positive or not so much. Oh, here’s my favorite. My favorite quality of a great assistant is somebody that over delivers, under time. I love looking for the habit of somebody who over-delivers, because that’s a quality that I seek in my own career. And I like to think of my assistants as an extension of myself. If I do, they do too. 

Moving right along, let’s talk about how to be a great assistant. There are notions that an assistant is akin to a servant role or a secretary role. If you are an assistant, what if, instead of believing those stories, you chose to believe the following. What if you chose to own your work and not do their work? What if you owned the value that you bring? What if you facilitate the zones for genius? What if you make the space and maintain the space for brilliance? What if that is your job? Instead of doing the jobs left undone by others, you make the space, you maintain the space, you make the zones for genius. What if instead of getting walked on, you wanted to grow. What if you wanted to be the best at what you do, not the second best to your boss, but the best you, this is abundance mentality.  This is ownership, and this is very attractive. 

Now I could not talk about how to be a great assistant without asking you to pay attention to the details, study, to learn the likes and dislikes of the person that you’re working for. And I don’t just mean what things do they like and dislike out there in the world, but what qualities do they like and dislike about themselves? Where can you supplement and help enhance the person that they already are with the person that you already are? For example, do they like knowing people’s names, but are terrible at remembering them? Do they have a preference for the way that tables and chairs are set up? Do they have a vibe that you can contribute to? Do they love the snacks that you brought? do they have any food allergies? Do they prefer their music loud or quiet? Do they like hearing your opinion? Do they work well with tech or do they get easily frustrated with tech? Are they an iPhone or an Android person? Do they prefer large or small groups of dancers? What are the tough parts and flow states of their process? In general, if they mentioned liking or disliking a thing, make sure that you note it, but don’t wait for them to say it. Most of this stuff can be very easily perceived if you are perceptive. 

Alright. I think it’s really, really important as an assistant that you manage your mind. It’s important to remember that, although yes, you may be working for someone else. You are also a leader. People are looking to you as number two, to establish the tone. They’re looking to you for cues about what is trickling down. So be responsible for the way that you lead as well as the way that you follow. Lastly, I kind of touched on this before, but represent your boss. Try to show up always as the best version, not only of yourself, but of them as well. This preserves your relationship with them, as well as the relationship you have with yourself, show up as the best version of you. 

Alright, now this might be sort of an unexpected spin on this episode, but I do want to talk about how to have assistants from the perspective of somebody who’s been one for 15 years, and now has a few of my very own. First don’t expect anyone to read your mind. You’re welcome assistants. For those people that seek to have the help of others. It is extremely beneficial to know what you want. It’s even more beneficial. If you write it down, say what it is that you want ask for exactly what you want. Now, to me, the first phase of a boss assistant relationship is establishing trust. I usually do this through a series of simple tactical assignments that an assistant can follow through on these are measurable they’re visible sometimes they’re actually physical. Make this order, pick it up, set up these chairs in this certain way, post this specific post at this specific time.  

It’s very simple to see if these markers have been met. As the trust is established, as those markers are met, then the relationship between assistant and boss turns into one, that’s less about simply doing things and more about ways of doing things. Now you can delegate the process of getting things done, not just ask people to get things done for you. This is where real true collaboration comes into play. This is where you build systems together based on what works and what doesn’t work. Creating a process together and tweaking it together. Keeping a tight feedback loop is a step in the agent boss relationship that sometimes is expected to fall only on the assistance lap, but I see this as being truly a collaboration and when done well, this is a make or break step that can truly multiply your results your output exponentially. And here is why when you delegate a task to somebody, especially somebody who wants to do the task well, it’s usually met with a hundred questions at that point, you might be telling yourself, by this point, I might as well have just done it myself. Well it’s possible, but it really, really pays to invest in these systems and in finding ways to answer these questions early on so that you don’t have to later. Here is the critical step. I asked my assistants to come back to me, not only with their questions, but with what they think I would answer to those questions that helps me not only get to know them and the way they think, but it helps me get to know the way they think I think, and somewhere within that, I might even be presented with an idea that’s better than my own ideas. I love this step. Here’s an example. If I ask somebody to book a rehearsal space for me, I tell them the dimensions of the studio that I need. I tell them the hours that I need the studio and the preferred location, but perhaps they come back to me wondering what my budget is, instead of just saying, what is your budget? They might say, I think you’d prefer this budget, but these are the price ranges available. I love this answer because it shows me that my assistant has an idea of what they think my values are. They think that I value money in a certain way. Now, perhaps they’re wrong. Perhaps I value being very, very frugal when I rent rehearsal space, but it’s possible that I don’t consider money at all. I will pay any dollar amount as long as the dimensions are correct. There is adequate parking for example, um, and it’s within five miles of my house. Like maybe those are my values, but by responding to me with the answer that they think is best, then I’m informed of, of perhaps a blind spot that my assistants and I have in our understanding of each other and our values. This is essential. This step, I really, really strongly recommend this. I really also recommend that you treat your assistant as the most important part of your team.  Take care of them, take care of them financially and otherwise. This is the person closest to you and your work. It’s essential that you hold them closely with care. 

Alright, now, speaking of care and holding things closely, I have decided to much debate that I would like to share with you. Some of my assistant fails. Yep. I’m telling you all about the times that I have fallen so that you don’t have to fall down to. My first story is when I was assisting the one, the only, Toni Basil, who is still a dear friend and mentor of mine and a dance legend. I might add if you’re not familiar with Toni Basil strongly encourage, you hit pause on this episode, go do a little research. And then come on back. I was assisting Toni on an award show. I believe it was the Soul Train Awards.  And I believe the year was like 1600 BC. It was a really long time ago. And I remember the director of the award show asked Toni a question. Toni paused and seemed like she was struggling to find the answer. So I answered for her because the answer to this particular question was right on the tip of my tongue. I did not exercise any restraint. I jumped in with all of my enthusiasm and willingness to answer and speak for my boss. Holy smokes. She was standing right there. A fully capable, fully responsible fully.. Did I say capable? Yeah. Toni Basil is one of the most capable human beings. I know she knows this industry and several industries I might add inside and out. She is, as I mentioned a legend and I thought it would be a good idea to speak for her. When for two seconds, she took pause to consider her answer. Oh yes, this was a fumble. And I knew it immediately. When Toni Basil’s daggers in her eyes shot back at me and almost physically zipped my mouth for me. I remember I wanted to just crawl into myself and die and never speak again. Instead I apologized and I’ve learned pretty well. Although my instinct to talk quickly has helped me in the past. It’s also hurt me time and time again. Take pause, consider, and always let number one, speak first. A piggyback lesson on that is that it’s also good practice to let number one, have the last word too. All right. Assistant fail number two. Oh, this one is cringy. I was assisting Marty Kudelka on a project for Justin Timberlake. We’re hiring dancers. I remember a table full of headshots. Some of them, my friends, none of them were me. Um, we’re discussing the people that would be the right fit and it fell on my lap to hire the dancers for the job. That means call the agents, make the official booking and make sure that the dancers have all the information they need to start work on the start date. Well, start date rolls around. We begin rehearsal and Marty looks at me and he says, we’re missing a girl. I look at my notes. I look at my outgoing email. I’m like, Nope, this is everybody. And then Marty said to me, yeah, but where is dancer X? My gut sank and hit the floor was I really that sloppy that out of like eight dancers. It wasn’t even like 56 dancers. It was like eight dancers. Out of eight I missed one. Oh my gosh. That’s definitely failing status right there. That is an assistant fail. Marty was extremely gracious. And let that one slide. I absolutely have not lived it down, but for that project, we made seven out of eight work.  

Holy smokes. Do I still feel awful about that? So awful about that. Compassion, Dana, compassion. It’s okay to mess up. Okay. This one’s subtle, but I think it’s very important while I was working with Christopher Scott on, In the Heights, he pointed out to me one day that my feedback even nonverbal is very, very visible. I’m the guy that likes to report the news. I speak quickly. I speak my every thought, usually, podcasts, very appropriate place for me to land. But even in the room, the thing that I learned from Chris is that yes, especially in an associate role, my opinion is valued, but Dana, come on. It does not need to be given 100% of the time. I remember Chris making a joke about the bill of my hat, being my tell, that he could see it from across the studio, either nodding vigorously up and down or holding very, very still. The nodding bill of the hat obviously would suggest that I am in favor of this idea, this take, this pass. The stillness means I’m not buying it. Now. Here’s the important thing there oftentimes as an associate, as an assistant or as anyone other than the director, your opinion is not the most important thing happening in the room. I am constantly learning the value of being neutral, the value of allowing people, the space visually and audibly and otherwise to have their own opinions. Before I attempt to change the temperature of the room with mine. Exercise, it is my exercise, neutrality. Look out neutrality. Here I come. Wow. What a goal? Huh?  

All right, everybody. I hope that this information is useful to you. Whether you are an assistant or someone who has an assistant or someone who is looking to have an assistant. And because there are so many different ways of working together because I’m an assistant and I have one, I would really love to hear your feedback on this episode. So head over to Words that move me Podcast on IG to leave a comment on this episode, and don’t forget to subscribe and download these episodes If you’re loving and finding value here, please share it. Let me know that you’re digging the goods and please don’t forget more than anything to keep it funky. I appreciate you go have a funky rest of your day. I’ll talk to you very soon. 

Thought you were done, No, I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website though. theDanawilson.com/podcast Finally, and most importantly, now you have moved over to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more. All right, everybody now I’m really done. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. 

Ep. #33 Casting Director Download – Kristian Charbonier (Audition August Episode 2)

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #33 Casting Director Download - Kristian Charbonier (Audition August Episode 2)
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How do you get your headshot in front of a casting director? How does a headshot turn into a booking?  How does a booking turn into a FULL BLOWN FEATURE FILM? Collaboration, that’s how! I loved having casting director and collaboration king, Kristian Charbonier on the podcast this week!! We go deep on diversity and collaboration in the casting process. We talk In The Heights, inclusivity, representation, and organization so I hope you brought your highlighter…

Show Notes

Quick Links:

Kristian Charbonier :https://www.instagram.com/ktcharbonier/

Telsey and Co. Casting: https://www.telseyandco.com/

In the Heights Movie: https://www.instagram.com/intheheightsmovie/?hl=en

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me. The podcast were movers and shakers. Like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place. 

Dana: Hello. Hello everybody. And welcome to words that move me. I’m Dana and I am stoked that you are here. Yes. This is week two of audition August all this month. I am talking to different people from all sides of the casting table about what the audition process is to them and what usually works. What usually doesn’t, how are auditions changing and how might we change to ensure our ability to create work for ourselves? It’s a big month.  And at the end of this big month, really big event, I will be hosting a virtual workshop event via zoom on how to audition. Yes, I will be dishing out almost all of my personal tips and tricks. Come on. I’m no fool. And I will go deep on the art of the self tape as that is the primary way people are submitting for projects right now, the workshop itself will be on August 31st from 4 to 5:30 PM Pacific. More details and info about registering. It can be found on my website, the Dana wilson.com. And you better believe I will be shouting about this loud and proud from the gram I’m @danadaners and the podcast is @wordsthatmovemepodcast. So check out all of those spaces for more information, so jazzed about it. Okay. Let’s move on to wins. Yes. This week, I am celebrating a project, a new seaweed sisters project. If you do not know what and who the seaweed sisters are, I strongly encourage you take a google dive and watch our video work, but also give a listen to words that move me episode 15, where the sisters and I sit and chat about ourselves. Very, very special. Anyways. Yes. The seaweed sisters have another video in the works. It is in the camera already actually. And, um, I always celebrate my time with the sisters, but this one is particularly special, not just because we are creating with our dear friend and longtime collaborator, Isaac Ravishankara who also directed us in number two, the sequel and number three part tree. And not just because we shot it socially distant and, um, corona compliant. But also because we got the ball back rolling on this one. Now I’m sure that everyone listening has experienced an unusual pattern in their motivation. At some point, during 2020, for me, this is a matter of momentum, more or less when things especially projects are rolling, they stay rolling. But when they’re on pause, it can be extra hard to get things moving again. So I’m celebrating this project as a win because it is an awesome example of people coming together to push things into motion. And I’m so excited for it to exist. And I’m excited to share it with you. Okay. What’s going well in your world. What’s moving.  

Okay. Killer great. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Congratulations. I’m so glad that you are winning. All right. Let’s dig into it. This week’s guest is Kristian Charbonier. He is an associate casting director at Telsey and Company. One of the biggest casting offices in New York city. And we met on In the Heights. Um, the feature film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda is Broadway hit, In the Heights. Uh, we met last year and Oh, yes, don’t worry. We’re going to talk plenty about In the Heights, but this conversation really looks into what a casting director does and what you can do to create memorable casting and audition experiences. We talk collaboration, we talk inclusion and equity on Broadway, on stage and behind the curtain on screen and behind the camera. Oh, we talk a great many things. So let’s dive in. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Kristian Charbonier. I’ll talk to you guys later. 

Dana: Kristian! Welcome to words that move me. Thank you so much for being here today. I’m jazzed about it. 

Kristian: Thank you for having me I’m jazzed as well. 

Dana: Yay. Um, okay. So one of the things I like to do on the podcast is I have my guests introduce themselves. So tell us a little bit about you and what you do. 

Kristian: Yes. So my name is Kristian Charbonier. I reside in New York city. I’m currently, given the circumstances, in Miami, Florida with my family, where I was born and raised. Um, I am a casting associate at Telsey and Company casting in New York. Our office is a little different from most casting offices, just considering we do a very big collaborative situation of all the projects we work on. We work on TV shows. We work on films, broadway musicals, Broadway plays, commercials, any sort of situation where we need a cast dancers for fashion week. Like we’ve done some time. Throw us something we’ve probably done it. We’ve cast people for video games before. Um, and I have worked there for about four and a half years now. I started there right as I graduated college and I’ve been there since, and I have learned so much and I have grown so much as a person, as an employee. I’m sure we’ll get into it. 

Oh, we’re going into it. We’re going into all of the things. Um, so I’m glad that you kind of dropped the line about all of the different things that casting directors, casting associates and casting assistants do. Um, but before we dig deeper on that, could you touch on the difference between those three titles?  

Absolutely. So you typically in casting start as an assistant, which is the way I started as well. Um, assistant sounds just like it is, you are assisting on every single thing that the project calls for in regards to casting. So you’re putting out the appointments, you’re helping cut the sides for the auditions. You’re prepping the audition with the casting director and with the associate you’re uploading the tapes to send to the team. Um, you’re really the main point of focusing in terms of organization. I say to all of our interns and the assistants who come in and out of our office, that our main job there is organization. The best associates were amazing assistants as well. If you move from assistant to associate, then as an associate, you really take a lot more responsibility than you did as an assistant. You’re the one in the session, reading with the actors, coaching the actors, you’re really discussing with the creative team on a more personal basis, a lot more than an assistant would.  Um, I think this is really the point in your career where you’re really formulating yourself into being a casting director, which the director is the face of the project. The person who’s on all calls is negotiating. The deals with the big agents is giving you the ideas that you might not typically think of as an associate. Um, you’re, you’re the main source of collaboration in that specific field. Um, I’m sure you know this because you are so collaborative in everything we’ve done together. Um, the collaboration is so key, especially in those relationships. You have to have an open form of communication. You really have to be able to trust each person that you’re working with because when you fall, they’ll pick you up when they fall you’re supposed to be there to pick them up. 

I love this notion that behind every individual role, there is a team. Like there is no such thing, especially in terms of making a movie or a Broadway show of one person carrying all the weight. It might be one person carrying all the post its or highlighters, but it is absolutely a team effort and you have to be a collaborative person to succeed. So, okay, this week on actually not just this week, this month on the podcast, I’m talking exclusively, almost exclusively about auditions. So that makes me talking to you really, really exciting because not many people get a direct line of communication with the casting associate or the casting director. Um, other than that quick 20 minutes in the room. So I think this is an awesome opportunity to hear a little bit more about A. what you do B. how it works behind the scenes and, um, C. kind of what you look for, what stands out to you in the process.   Um, so I, I guess let’s dig into it. You mentioned that Telsey does everything from Broadway to film to fashion week. All of the things. I know that in the past they’ve cast, um, actually current Broadway shows Hamilton, Wicked, West Side Story, Frozen to name a few, but in the past, everything from American in Paris to Fiddler on the Roof to, I mean, quite literally all the things Oh, in the Heights obviously, um, which transitions us into film, you guys were the agency behind, um, is that correct? The agency? What is Telsey? The agency. 

The office 

Oh, okay. Great. So, so Telsey was the office behind, um, casting In the Heights. The film that I worked on with Christopher Scott, Emilio Dosal, um, Ebony Williams and Eddie Torres jr. What a dance team, shout out friends team, um, Telsey also was responsible for casting the Greatest Showman, Mary Poppins, the one with Emily blunt, which I love. And one of my favorite movies of all time Across the Universe directed by Julie Taymor, which between you and I, and now between us and the world, there is not one thing that I would change about that movie. I would not change a single character casting. I wouldn’t change a step. I wouldn’t even change the one part where the guy with the briefcase kind of slips and falls a little bit. I love it. I would, I love it all. It’s so great. Um, but you guys don’t just do musicals. I guess one thing I’m curious about is the difference in process. If there is one from casting, a Broadway show that involves singing, dancing, all the things to casting a dramatic film or TV series, um, I mean, obviously you would audition one for singing and dancing and not the other, but other than that, is there a difference in process for different mediums?  

It depends on the medium. Um, I would say that in TV and film, there’s more structure to the process in terms of deadline and when certain things have to happen, because there are so many moving parts in that regard. Um, whereas in a Broadway show, there is a structure and a deadline, of course, because we have dates. We have first rehearsal, we have the presentation, we have all of those outlying dates. Um, but I do think that in terms of a Broadway show, there is a little more time to really amp up the pace. Whereas TV and film, you really got to go from the start just because you know, that that first day of principal photography is not moving and you have to get that that day, um, which is something you and I learned very well together.  

That is exactly why I found myself in the middle of times square at Telsey and Company. Well after hours, I don’t even remember what time it was, but there was nobody there except for In the Heights choreography team and you and we were sitting in an office with probably a hundred headshots on the floor and magnetism or pinned to the walls. And we’re just moving people around, having conversations, imagining this person with this person, no, that person with this person, these people, as a group, this person as a standout individual, you know, all of the different combinations of people. And that was because we were pressed for time, extremely pressed for time on that project. Would you say that that’s standard when you work on films, does that sort of thing happen often?  

Yes. I will say once we get past the point of the principal players in the film, which that’s not even ultimately true, because sometimes we are casting go, go, go, let’s cast every single principal, that’s cast every single supporting role, let’s cast all the dancers and singers at the same pace. In the Heights was a little different because we really had time to prep for those principles and then once we started together, as we’ve said, five times already, it was go, go, go from the start. Um, that to me is the way I love to work, so it was never anything alarming or crazy to me. It was just like the thrill of sitting there and just moving everything around is like, it’s just, I can’t explain that. I never will be able to. Um, so that, that in regards to again, a TV/film project is more so that way where let’s sit here for three hours at 9:00 PM and let’s go through it all and let’s make it happen.  

Yes. Let’s make it happen. That is the energy. That was the energy of the room. Um, do you have a steel trap memory for names and faces? Are you, are you really like, even outside of your job training, have you been good at that?  

I, I really, it’s kind of weird that I do have that and I don’t think I really realized it until I started working professionally. I still see people to this day who I remember, like seeing them perform it in high school at our like state competitions. And I’ll be like, Oh yeah, that girl sang this song from bat boy, my junior year of high school. And now she’s in final callbacks for Elphaba on Broadway. Like those things happen all the time. Um, which again, I think is such a healthy and good thing for my specific position in the company, because you have to be that person to be able to remember, um, Chris Scott and I had a big joke where he would always be like, who was that girl again? And I’ll say she was wearing the red shirt that I had like a T on the side. And then she had like purple shoelaces, remember? And he’ll be like, how did you remember that? And I’m like, I don’t know. It’s just the way my brain works. It’s the way we work. You know,  

I love that. And in the event that your sticky brain slips and misses someone, tell me about the room that you showed us at Telsey that is literally floor to ceiling binders of everyone that is auditioned for projects in the past. Um, you keep all the headshots, resumes, bios, like that room was such an incredible archive of, of audition history.  

Yes, it’s amazing because we, number one, thankfully have this space for that. And number two, um, we see so many incredible people all the time. That just because they’re not right in that exact moment, doesn’t mean that a year from now two years from now, six months from now, they will, they won’t be the right person. It’s it happens all the time. And the best thing is, is when we get a new project and you’re like, I worked on, I worked on this commercial like two years ago that I needed a 75 year old who could do a pas de bourses, let me go find those schedules and see who it was that got called back for that, because I knew those people again, right now. That’s an amazing archive that we have. And it’s also really fun as an industry slash theater nerd, to just look through those schedules. We do it all the time. We’re like, can you believe that? So, and so came in for this role in 1996 and got like, it’s just, it’s unbelievable. And you saw them yourself. There’s so many. Um, and it’s just  

Floor to ceiling as big as my living room and bigger maybe. I mean, incredible amount of history and information. And yeah, as you pointed out like some super special, uh, like historic moments in terms of transformation and trajectory, the existence of that room in and of itself speaks to a motto that I hold when I go into auditions all the time. And that is, it’s more important to be memorable than to be perfect. And once I lift the pressure of being perfect, once my only objective is to be memorable, I opened myself up to new potential. That’s just not stressed out energy, but also to sticking myself into the mind of somebody like you, who really might remember that moment as being the right moment for something else, trying to be the perfect thing for every project just doesn’t exist, but trying to be memorable enough to stick in someone’s mind so that when the right product project comes along, you’re there at the top of the mind. Like that is so cool. And it’s so cool that you guys have a paper trail for that.  

And I love that motto that you said, yes, it’s perfection. It, it’s not necessary. It’s for that specific, be the best that you can be in that moment. That’s it. There’s nothing more. That moment exists, one time, you leave. It won’t happen again. That’s it.  

I love this. Let’s talk through the role of an associate casting director on the day of a massive audition. Go. 

Great. So typically, because I, even though I just said, you don’t have to be perfect, am a perfectionist in my mind. So the night before I am very excited, but also just thinking about every single thing that I can do to make it go flawlessly, which again, we both know that that really doesn’t exist. Um, but we can try. But, um, so we’ll get to the studio about an hour before we start session, um, with our hundreds of schedules and all the names. Um, two days prior to that, I’ll spend all day on the phone with the agents talking about who’s new that I don’t already know that I haven’t scheduled yet, who they think I should try.  

These are talent agents.  

Yes. Talent Agencts. Um, we’ll get to the studio an hour before we’ll start to get the room going. Everything’s set up our systems. And then once we bring that first group in, it’s go, go, go. As you know, until that last second that the studio director comes and tells us you have to leave. Um, which once again, we have, we have experienced together,  

Probably why we wound up back at your offices. They were like, you don’t have to go home, but you got to get out of here. And we all look at you like, uh,  

And, um, as, as you associate in those moments, really what you’re there to do is to serve the creative team. We’re trying to help you guys figure out your vision and figure out what you think is necessary to achieve what you have in your mind. Um, we’re also there to help you out in the event that you’re not really familiar with someone and maybe you’re, you want some sort of extra feedback about someone that we’re very comfortable with and have tried multiple times and have booked on jobs or are big fans of, um, so there’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of, again, the word that always comes to mind every time I’m discussing any of these things is collaboration and the best people to work with are the people who we collaborate with. That’s something that I experienced with you and Emilio and Ebony and Chris, all from the second I met you guys was that it was such a collaboration and it was such a dialogue the entire time, It was never, I want this and that’s it. It was, I want this, what do you think? Right. Which is so important. 

So helpful. So helpful. Yes. Okay. So that’s a big day. Um, so you come in, sorry, you, you talk to the agencies, you make the schedule, you talk to the creative team, you have an understanding of what it is that the creative team is looking for. You have sign up sheets, you make sure everybody is where they need to be at the right time. And then we hit record on cameras. Choreo team kind of takes it away. We start funneling people through, we teach material, we break people into groups, make sure everybody’s visible on camera and that we know how to contact people when we’re ready. And then of course begins the, um, endless watching of the footage, which there was a bundle of. Um, and I love that by the way. I, wow. Can’t imagine how things were done before. Um, actually I can just much more labor intensive on the dancers behalf. Like I can watch you dance 12 times on tape instead of making you dance 12 times in person. 

Exactly. Yeah. It’s amazing to think. And you see these old movie musicals with these hundreds of people in the background and you’re like, how did they do this without a computer. And they danced  

They danced! And they took notes and they took notes and the danced, that’s it. Um, okay. So then you organize that, that footage I’m assuming, and that goes into an archive somewhere.  

Yes. We upload ’em to a system that’s called Cast It, which a lot of TV and film offices use. And that’s another way that everything stays really organized. So that in the event that you’re asking me for tape on a person, I can just easily go into the, into the archive and find that tape and send that to you all.  

So you’ve got all the digital organized, you’ve got all the material, you know, the paper headshots and resumes organized. And then the moment comes where creative has decided that we’re ready to book people in. What is your role in doing that? How does that, how does that work flow pan out from me saying, I want Sarah to Sarah getting a phone call saying show up at this time, on this day for this many dollars. What’s that work flow  

Yes. So that’s the best part about our job is when you get to call someone and tell their agent that they got the job. Um, so once we hear from you and we have all approvals to move forward and hire this specific person, or people we’ll call the agent will say, Hey, so, and so’s getting the job. I’m going to email you all the offer details. We’ll send all the offer details. Once we close that deal, I will say, I will fill out a whole bunch of paperwork, send that over to production. And then production is the person who takes over and then does all the phone calling, sets up their fittings, lets them know what day they need to be where. Um, preps them for any sort of information that they would need in order to be there on that day. Um, and then believe it or not, people show up to set and shoot a movie. And then the movie is made. It’s unreal to me even now, even still, I still work on projects and I, I go to a screening of the film or the TV show and I’m like, they made this movie or this tv show, like it happened  

That got done. That was headshots on the floor. And now it is a movie.  

Yes. And even like specifically for a project like In the Heights where we did do a massive open call and found a whole bunch of actor, actors and dancers that we never would have met coming from an agency just specifically because they didn’t have representation to see them on screen in a trailer or in the film. You’re like, this was a person who just showed up to this audition and he’s now in this movie, it’s unbelievable. It’s so it’s so cool and rewarding.  

Let’s dig in a little deeper on that. That’s one thing I think was really unique about In the Heights is our efforts to be as inclusive and true to the story and the culture and the time as possible. And I do think we made opportunities available in ways that maybe traditionally aren’t, um, you know, in other film projects, it’s probably standard for a casting director to call the talent agency. The talent agency sends their top five that might be a good fit. And then, then some, one of those five gets the job. But what about the people who don’t have representation? What about the people who aren’t uh, uh, the top five? We really had several opportunities for people without representation, people without having done a film or a TV show or an any show. I, I think that this project was very inclusive. I think that this project gave the floor to a lot of people who either haven’t seen it in a long time or aren’t used to taking the floor. Broadway has a nickname, um, the great White Way. And I can understand why, I do think that that’s changing. Um, but I can imagine that the casting directors are feeling a lot of that heat because a lot of people think that it is the casting director’s choice. You just highlighted that the casting director serves the creative team, it comes back to the creative’s decision. Um, do you feel in your role heat from Broadway and film entertainment, not being inclusive enough?  

I have been lucky in, in my personal trajectory that I have worked on so many different projects that have started that very first conversation with let’s find the best person. It doesn’t have to be a specific person. Let’s find the best person, especially in regards to something like In the Heights where all we were looking for were people who would perfectly and realistically portray this very real story and this very real community. And I think that these creative teams and everyone in the industry has just tried to go the easiest route. And that’s why we end up in the place that we are instead of digging deeper and finding these underrepresented communities and trying to give opportunity to these people. Like we said, who have no representation who probably honestly never thought in their lifetime, they would even be in a major feature film. I think that that’s one of the main things that we, again collaboratively did together on this project. And I think it’s something that once you do it one time, you know, that it’s possible.  

I might also add not only do you find that it’s possible, but you find that it’s worth it, especially on a project like In the Heights, which is about your dreams, it is about living your dreams, but more so it’s about fighting for them. It’s like the themes of this film are the themes of today. And I think it would have been a shame to watch that watch the leading roles and the supporting roles to watch the dance, to watch all of it, be danced by people who live on the silver screen and eat from a silver spoon. It just would have so missed the mark. Um, and what I experienced in working with people who have never been on set before, um, and working with people who are aren’t SAG card holders was not that it was a hot mess of disorganization and not that there was unprofessional, um, behavior on set, but actually quite the opposite, extreme respect, extreme enthusiasm, readiness, willingness. And I think that we’ll see in the, in the, uh, in the final cut how important it is to have representation, inclusivity, authenticity, especially when you’re, when you’re telling a story like that one.  

Absolutely. And I started, I love that you used the word authenticity because In the Heights specifically means so much to so many people because it was something that they could see and see themselves on that Broadway stage, which is what we’re doing in the film now as well. It’s showing so many kids from Washington Heights itself that they can be a movie one day that they can be dancers in a film. They can have speaking roles. And if I’m that, it’s all doable.  

I am wondering what are the things, the changes that you’ve noticed in your industry in the last handful of years and what do you hope to see in the next handful of years? 

Yes. Um, something that I’ve seen, which again goes back to something we talked about a little earlier, is this idea of who else is out there. I think that’s always existed in our industry and we always, casting people specifically, like you’re never satisfied until you know, that you, until you see that electricity in front of that camera and you know, that that person is it, you know. How much more are we going to do to find that person? And what more are we going to do to find that person. 

Leave no rock unturned?

Yes. Or just again, like we were saying re-inventing and thinking of things a different way. I mean, Ali Stroker who won the Tony for Oklahoma, um, that’s it, it’s just unbelievable to see Ali Stroker who we have auditioned for years. Like finally be raised up to this pedestal and be like, this is someone who is so talented and so worthy. And I also feel like that’s something we can do even more with underrepresented communities, um, with Latino communities, with Asian communities, with the black community. I think that those are so important and it’s something that maybe we produce more content that centers around these communities. Um, but I think it’s something that, that the, that the industry is in this moment focused on. And I hope that they continue to focus on that  

All different levels, right? Like on the talent, of course, yes. Like the onscreen representation, but also behind the curtain, the writers, as you mentioned, producers, but on Broadway also, literally the people behind the curtain 

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s something that I’ve discussed with a couple of people around my age, how we were all so lucky to end up where we are, because we were able to go places and intern for free and be able to be financially supported to do that where so many people aren’t able to, and that’s why they’re not able to break into the industry because they didn’t have those same opportunities that we had. And we have to find ways to be able to reach those people and allow them the same opportunities that we’ve all had. I think that’s another thing that the industry is really focusing on now is how can we bring people who don’t have the same opportunities that we’ve had into not just in front of the camera or on the stage, but into the costume shops, into the casting offices, into the tech sides of the industry, into the stage management offices, all of those different facets that the, the, the audiences don’t see, but surely exist and drive that product. And that product would never happen without those people. I mean, I, my family is Cuban and I’m so I’m so lucky to be where I am, So I could have been supported by my family. And I told my parents, I wanted to be a casting director. They didn’t know what that was, but they said, yeah, sure, go for it. Why not? Um, and it’s so important and so exciting to see other Latino people in the industry and be like, Oh my God, yes. Like, you know, it’s happening, we’re doing it. Um, it’s something that’s so spotlighted right now. And I think that once, like I mentioned before, once we, and we have started, once we continue to really drive that car forward, we’re never going to look back. We’re going to be like, this was the way we need to continue. And this is the way that we’re going to continue.  

Yes. I’m just like, I wish that everybody could see me. I’m just like nodding perpetually nodding in agreement. Um, so it sounds like you are glad to see the, that casting directors and casting offices are doing more outreach, doing more in terms of going out and finding, but what would you say to somebody that might be listening that wants to be found? What would, what would you say to somebody who believes that they are talented and out there and don’t want to wait for you to come find them?  

Right. Um, we’re lucky enough to be in the age of the internet and the internet has been just, I, I, I don’t know how people lived without the internet truly. Um, number one, I think actors, I think dancers are just the most gracious people because to get up every single morning and go to auditions and put yourself on the line every single time, I think that that is more commendable and more brave than I could ever be. Um, and I think that, that goes for the same, for the same people that you were describing, go to these open calls, we are looking, and we are paying attention. If you, if you see something about a video submission, take the time and make the best video that you can make and submit, do these things to put yourself out there and get yourself in front of all of these people who are looking for you because we are, um, and don’t be afraid to do it.  I feel like there’s so, like, what’s the worst that could happen. You send the video and you don’t hear anything. At least you sent the video, you would never hear anything. If you didn’t send the video at all, you know, um, it’s it’s and again, it’s tried and true. We cast people from open calls. Like we said, so many of those people in, In the Heights where people who we just, I put out an ad and said, Hey, show up at this location on this day and be ready to dance. And that was it. And they showed up and then they ended up in the movie  

Where was that ad. And where do people look to find those?  

So our company has that, I would say, because I help run the social media of our company. I might be biased. So we do post our stuff on, um, our social medias. Um, our, all of our handles are @Telseyandco Um, and again, we, as casting, people are very good research papers as well. So I spent two or three weeks calling every salsa studio in New York, calling all the agents and saying, Hey, do you know this person who like shot this salsa commercial one day? Um, and the agent would be like, I don’t really know them that well, but I’ll shoot them the flyer and see who they want. Um, Eddie Torres Jr. Was a huge source of finding so many organic, authentic New York dancers.  

People that don’t have studios that they train out, they train in clubs. They dance socially, not in, not in little structured pods.  

Exactly. Um, so there’s so much research that goes into it. Um, but again, so many of these calls are now publicized on the internet that you you’ll be able to find them and follow our social medias. And I’m sure you’ll see. I mean, if you scroll for our Twitter and our Instagram, it’s literally all just ad after ad, after ad open call for Wicked open call for In the Heights open call for third, every, every project that we’re looking for, very specific people, it happens

Cool.  Very cool. Good to know. Good to know. Um, okay. Rapid-fire burnout round. What are the things that people who book consistently consistently do in auditions?  

They exude positivity. They are on time. I love people who are on time. I highlight — I highlight them highly. If they’re on time, 

High highlights. 

Yes. I love. There was such a thing. Oh, yes. Amazing. Um, and people who are open and game to do anything, I think that you can really tell that from a person in a room very, very quickly. Um, it’s also so fun to be on the sidewall, the, the choreographers and the associates and the assistants are teaching because you’re watching these people and you really, really get to know the way they work. Um, and the number one thing that I see in so many people, and I find so commendable is if they may, if they mess up, they, you, you’re not really convinced they messed up by the second count because you’re, you’re like, wait, what?  Like they, they just effortlessly go over that. I think that’s something that’s. So especially about dancers. So unbelievable is that you almost think you’re like, did I just blink and miss something? Or did they mess up? Yes. Yes. Because they just keep going. And that is the number one thing, not only in a specific audition, but just in the industry, in the industry in general, you should have to keep going. You have to keep doing it and it’s going to happen if you keep doing it. And if you are being the best that you can be,  

Oh, that’s such great advice. I should have ended on that. But instead, I’m going to ask what, what are the telltale signs of somebody that is not ready to be working professionally?  

That’s a little bit of a hard question, because if they’re not, if they’re not ready for that specific project, like we said before, they might be ready for something else. Um, what I, rather than not ready to work. One thing that I realized in people who don’t audition the best is that they are so in their heads, that you can see the, you can see them thinking above their head. Like you see the word scrolling over their head. Where it’s, I think that, that shuts you down so much, both externally and internally that you just got to roll through it. If you are, if you’re stressed about it, if you’re not having a good time, it’s okay to walk over to the casting person and let them know, Hey, this isn’t the right one for me. 

Not my best take, not my best.  

Absolutely. Or let’s say perfect example, someone who does perform for the camera, we say, thank you. And they didn’t feel that good. Come on over and say, Hey, I’m so sorry. Can I just do it one more time? Like I know that I can be better. I think that knowing that and being that thinking in that space makes you so much more successful. If you don’t think in that space, I think that you just, you’re doing yourself a disservice because the only person that you’re hurting is yourself. In that regard, you have to be your, you have to think for yourself and you have to be your biggest fan. In those moments, you have to trust yourself and know that you are doing the best you can do. And if you’re not doing the best you can do, if you’re not having a good day, come on over and tell us, let us know where we are there. It’s what I always tell people. Especially when I talk to like kids in high school, who I work with, or kids who have just graduated from college, our job is to cast the project. So all we want more than anything is for you to be amazing. Like that’s, that’s all we want. We don’t want anything less than that. So if you’re not being amazing, we want to help you be amazing. Let’s figure out what it is that we can do to help you be amazing.  Lets figure out what we can do to help you be amazing. 

Exactly. You guys are trying to cast the project. You want to cast the project. This is great. And somebody’s performance in an audition really doesn’t have everything to do with their readiness or not to work professionally. So thank you for calling me out on that. Very gently. Um, but also thank you for the perspective of, yes, you guys want them to be the right person. So although it can be tough, I’m saying this from the performer’s point of view, to be both inside yourself, enough to deliver an impassioned performance, but outside yourself enough to have seen whether or not that was your best work, it really takes a multilevel awareness of yourself and your performance be able to say, Oh, that wasn’t it. Let me, let me ask, let my outside self ask for one more time. And then let me go back in and make the corrections that really helped me hit.  And that takes time. It takes practice and it takes permission. So I’m so glad that you opened that line of communication. Like, if you feel like you need one more, come and ask, it’s one of my favorite things to do at auditions. Whether I feel like I nailed it or not. I say, alright, that’s pass number one. Is there anything else you’d like to see differently? I love to be directed. And with that statement, very simple statement, you know, Oh, this is the person who can communicate and talk about their work. Oh, this is a person that wants to deliver. Um, and Oh, this is a person that actually likes feedback because that’s another thing that I know on both sides of the table. I like working with people that are open to feedback and open to making change and getting better. It’s what film productions need and film, especially you have to do those things quickly. So if you see somebody do that in a casting, when the, when you’ve got like a 15 minute window, if they can do that in that window, imagine how much they can do in a nine hour rehearsal.  

Absolutely. And again, you, you said it exactly in the event that someone does ask those questions, you see, you’re like, okay, this is someone who, who does take direction very well and who is open to direction and is collaborative in that regard. Again, it all goes back to collaboration. We all want to work with people who are collaborative because it, number one makes the project more fruitful and you never know what any single person is going to bring and how it’s going to better, any single thing that you’re doing. But also it just makes it easier. Like, of course you want to work with people who are going to be easy to work with. That’s the whole point of collaboration it’s going to be. We’re all going to click where, and like our specific example is all of us together working on In the Heights. We all were there for each other. We were all collaborative in that regard. We were all doing the work together and that’s why we have a great final product.  

Okay. Kristian, final thought before we go, and this is a doozy. So take a deep breath. What are your thoughts on the shutdown on Broadway right now? And what do you think we can expect once Broadway reopens? Give me the real, Real. 

I think that we can expect joyous, joyous, joyous, first curtain calls. I think that people will be just so, I mean, it’s us New Yorkers, especially it’s our, it’s our life. We go to the theater all the time. You know, it’s something that, uh, number one, it’s, it’s a lifestyle for so many of the people who are on Broadway because they are so unfortunately unemployed right now because of the shutdown. Um, what we can expect. I think that there will definitely be a lot of internal look at everyone on Broadway and how we can better the industry. Once the industry picks back up again, although we are already doing that, I firmly believe, um, I think that the industry will look different in that regard. I think we’ll be a lot more discussion regarding inclusion and collaboration and bringing so many other underrepresented communities and underrepresented people into the industry. Um, of course that takes time, but I think that people are willing to put their thoughts and finances towards that. Um, as far as what it will feel like to be in a theater again, I, I, I can’t imagine it just because it’s been so long, but I know that it’s going to be amazing and I know that we need to make it happen because number one, it’s a lifestyle for so many people. Like we said, we need this to happen so that people can survive financially. And how boring would the world be without Broadway or without entertainment at all? Not interested. It would, it wouldn’t, it would not be a good one. My friends and I used to joke when we were younger. We’re like, what’s more important than Broadway, as a joke, of course, now that we’re older, we all understand, but it’s true. What, how, how could we live in a world without any of these parts of our industry and not specifically just Broadway, just TV and film and how all of these films are so delayed now because of the shutdown. And it’s like us, for example, again, I keep going back to us, but we thought the movie that we saw would have been out for a month today, and now it’s another year. You know, I think, I think it’s gonna be a very interesting world to go back to, but I think it will be a more open and more thoughtful world than it was before the shutdown.  

It’s a beautiful way to wrap it up. I truly do believe that after the depression, after the recession, there is a Renaissance and I can’t think of a place better suited for that than Broadway. Because although you did mention it’s part of a New Yorker’s culture. Most of the people in the film In the Heights never saw the Broadway show In the Heights because they couldn’t afford. There are less jobs because if I’ve learned nothing, not every show on Broadway structure was built to exist forever. Maybe a new structure needs to show up probably in order to be fewer disdain. God knows what happens next. I hope it’s not enough pandemic, but I really do think, as you’ve mentioned, surveillance is a time where we get to look deep I and do the more time intensive and thought intensive work. I think that you are a person who is completely dedicated to doing that. I am working to become a person that is totally dedicated to doing that. I’m so grateful for you and getting to meet you. I think we learned a lot today. I’m so grateful that you, uh, decided to chat and share with us. Thank you so much.  

Thank you. I’m so happy I could do this and I’m naturally such a fan and  

Yeah, I would love to do an in the Heights exclusive super podcast someday. So perhaps we’ll get to talk again. Um, yeah. Okay, Kristian, thanks again. Have a great rest of your day 

Thought you were done. No. Now I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website, theDanawilson.com/podcast finally, and most importantly now to become a words that move me member, so kickball change over to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more and join. All right, everybody. Now I’m really done. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon.