Pursuing Legacy and Calling for Change: An Interview with Shuffle Along's Amber Iman

Rachel Spencer Hewitt

OnStage Columnist - New York/Philadelphia


I closed my broadway debut right before 2016 opened it’s calendar squares to black history month. As I exited the Music Box Theater, I soaked in the lights lining Broadway marquees: Forest Witaker starring in Hughie, Lupita N’Yongo and the history-making cast of Eclipsed, Les Miserables which celebrated and mourned the youngest and first black Jean val Jean, and now – the Music Box Theater with Audra MacDonald in Shuffle Along. The titles and names in these shows pulsed with life, reigning halos on the passer-bys below. Stretched before us, Broadway radiated with the rewards of a movement that previously existed only in the hearts of actors of color outside closed doors who are now seeing their faces above them. If we’re paying attention, we just may see the beginning of historical legacy forming here and now, a moment in time that deserves our attention, support, and exploration. One of the best ways to support a movement is to get to know the change-makers.

Amber Iman

Amber Iman

Months ago, I saw signs of this movement in the passion and actions of a young actress and friend: Amber Iman. I interviewed her in hopes of better unpacking the need for change and the steps being taken to see it materialize. What unfolds is a fearless determination, a call to action, and some defining moments of a legacy in the making.

I first met Amber Iman on the tech stage of Paula Vogel’s off-Broadway play A Civil War Christmas. Hurricane Irene had just passed over New York, but for a small and resilient troop of actors, a new storm was about to hit in the form of powerhouse vocals a soulful heartache: “Meet Amber Iman,” director Tina Landau beamed as she gestured to the new actress who had just joined the cast ten days before opening. Fresh as the newly-built floorboards underfoot, Amber gave a timid smile before diving into a whirlwind rehearsal that resulted in a performance of rave reviews and, very quickly after, rising as Broadway’s Nina Simone in the all-too-short-lived SoulDoctor. She now calls the Music Box Theater her home as she begins previews for Shuffle Along as a cast-member and the honored understudy to Audra herself.

What was your first “wake-up call” as an actor in NYC?

I moved to NY in January of 2012 like a genius. It was cold and I was broke. I moved in with a guy I didn’t really know and he turned out to be a professional a**hole. One day I had an audition for RENT at 10am. He hated loud noise in the morning. I put on 3 layers of clothes and put a blanket around my shoulders, took a cup of hot tea and some turkey bacon, and walked outside to the park across the street to warm up! I was singing at the top of my lungs, scaring away the squirrels and the children. In that moment, I knew that something had to change. In order for me to be successful, I had to find a way to live and be at peace. I had to create a home environment that would allow me to breathe and stretch and be me, fully. If I didn’t find that, I wouldn’t survive here. I was prepared to audition and work, but I wasn’t prepared to live in NY as an actress. I’m still figuring that out!

You made a bold decision not to pursue NY directly out of college – was that decision a practical choice/gut choice/both?

I had a full ride to Howard University – which was awesome because I graduated without debt – but I also had never worked a job in my life and didn’t have a dime saved, so moving to NY immediately just didn’t make sense. Also – all the kids who graduated before me, all of whom were incredibly talented, were all living in NY but working at Starbucks…They were all doing something wrong. I wanted to figure out the common denominator and not do that!!! They were all moving without equity cards, money, agents, or full knowledge of how to navigate NY.

I decided to make my own path. 

What did you do before coming to NY?

I moved back to ATL because growing up in that theatre community meant I knew how to navigate it. I knew all the theatres, which companies offered equity contracts, etc. and I knew that my mom could help me with what I didn’t know. I came up with a plan that was kind of brave and brazen, now that I think about it! I called the biggest casting director in the city and introduced myself.

“You don’t know me, but I just graduated from Howard University with a BFA in Musical Theatre, and I’m looking to work in Atlanta. Could I come perform a monologue and song for you on your lunch break?”

She was quiet for awhile. Nobody had ever asked her anything like that, but I think she liked my initiative, and we set a date. After I performed (while she ate a sandwich and drank a Coke) she said, “I really like you.” Afterwards she gave me a list of 3 shows she wanted me to audition for. I booked the first one I auditioned for and got my equity card! 

When I moved back to Atlanta, I made a list and gave myself 3 years to accomplish everything on it. I wanted to get my equity card, save money, network, and book shows, and possibly work towards securing a NY agent. Fortunately, I did everything (except save money, lol), but after 3 years, I packed up all my crap and moved up here!

How did the culture and spirit of your hometown influence you as an artist growing up/how does it influence you now?

Born and raised in Atlanta, GA. My mother is an actress so I grew up as a rehearsal room kid. I got the awesome opportunity to grow up around old school actors and singers and artists, full of wisdom and advice and love. Just being under the watchful eye of big black women and men (lol) who loved me was invaluable. My idols growing up weren’t the famous names. They were local ATL actors, some who had Broadway credits, some who traveled the world, and others who never left the city – but they schooled me and shaped me and encouraged me. I still hear their words in my head and visit them when I go home, so I carry them with me even now. 

How did the opportunity auditioning for Nina come about?

I was actually on the prowl to audition for something else, lol. I’ve known Kenny Leon (Tony award-winning director), since I was 3, and he’s like an uncle to me. He directed my mom in shows in Atlanta and directed me in shows over the years. I heard a buzz about “Holler If You Hear Me”, which he was directing, and my agents were having a hard time getting me submitted. He produces an annual event, the August Wilson Monologue Competition for high school students (which is awesome), and I was going to the competition to see the kids perform but also to see if he could get me seen. While waiting to speak with him, I started talking to one of his colleagues who was also also India Arie’s manager. I was griping about not finding work. She asked if I had heard about a couple projects and then brought up Soul Doctor. India Arie was playing Nina but they were looking for a stand-by as India would probably only do 5 out of 8 shows a week. She asked me to send her my head-shot and resume, and she would get me seen. The next day I got an email from the director and casting director, and my agents called me with an audition the next day.

Long story short, India passed on the show and instead of being the stand-by, I was Nina freaking Simone in my Broadway debut. The story behind my audition process is seriously a Lifetime movie.

What did you learn in filling the shoes of a performer with such a legacy?

I was scared when we first started. When you’re playing someone who walked the earth, someone who has children and siblings who are still living, it’s incredibly intimidating because I wanted to honor her. I didn’t want my portrayal to be a caricature and I had to find the right balance of me and Nina to make her a complete and whole woman on the stage and in the confines of the text. I learned that I was much stronger than I thought. I also learned that work is work. I thought that Broadway wold feel different (like unicorns and pixie dust), but it’s just like working anywhere else. You have a job to do and a story to tell. Of course the perks and the paycheck are amazing, but you have to stay focused on doing your job and staying grounded. 

Many actors perceive booking Broadway as the end all be all. What surprised you most about post-broadway life?

I realized how much I’d failed to plan. I thought it would take me 10 years to get to Broadway. It happened a year and a half after I moved to NY, and I woke up one day and said, now what???! I realized that I hadn’t thought past Broadway. After you do one show, do you want to do more? TV and Film? Teach? I needed to think about my life and what I wanted – not just for my resume but for my career, for my personal life, for my happiness and stability and sanity. For so long, my happiness was directly related to my employment. 

But if I don’t do a show for a year or longer (which happened to me), how will I maintain my happiness and peace? I’m still attempting to answer those questions.

What was the toughest part of post-broadway life?

Thinking that offers and money and agents and TV shows and Tony awards would be knocking my door down and actually waking up to crickets and tumbleweed…. lol. I had imagined this great post-show life and didn’t have a plan B. It was mostly just ignorance – I just didn’t have a full knowledge of how things work, and I thought people would know me and hire me and life wold be easy. It was a huge wake up call. I closed Soul Doctor in October of 2013 and my next salaried gig was in February of 2015…….I did tons of readings and workshops and even a show that was closed by the producers before our final dress-run, but I didn’t see my name on a call board for a year and a half. I struggled financially and emotionally and fought depression, it was really tough to overcome. But I knew that something else was in store for me and that my job was to say sane and bide my time. 

You host a web series – what was your vision/impetus to create/put yourself out there this way?

“Unemployed and Working” was born out of post-Soul Doctor depression. I asked a friend why nobody was talking about living and surviving the actor struggle, because I know that there are at least a million people going through what I’m going through. He said, “Amber if we sat around and talked abut it, we’d all jump [off a building].” I looked on actorsequity.com for unemployment support groups, I searched Facebook…..found nothing. I wanted and needed to find a way to encourage others and myself, to talk about unemployment in a way that was honest and open but also uplifting. The idea for the show came to me during margaritas with a friend, as do most fantastic ideas, and I felt challenged to make it into a reality. It happened way too easily which made me think that something was wrong. I had a meeting with Broadwayworld.com within a week of creating the idea, and they asked me what did I need and how soon I wanted to start filming!

The pursuit of Broadway already has its challenges, but what is the biggest struggle for an actor of color specifically in pursuit of broadway and other creative successes?

Let’s be clear that there are many, many, many struggles. The struggle has so many parts and pieces….. all of the issues seem to be the biggest struggles.

A lot of people think that the problem is a lack of plays/musicals/shows written by people of color or telling our stories. That’s not it. I do countless workshops and readings of shows written by people or color, telling powerful stories that need to be heard. But there aren’t enough people of color in the positions to produce, green light, or finance these shows. How many casting directors in NYC are people of color? How many producers and directors of color are sitting behind the table and actually making the big decisions? It starts from the top down. I like to use the term “the wrong people are getting the right money”.

Amber Iman in "Soul Doctor"

Amber Iman in "Soul Doctor"

When money is on the line (and let’s not forget that Broadway is a business focused on money making, not art making), people are going to go with the safest, most lucrative choice….and that doesn’t usually involve people of color – unless its a jukebox musical and we are singing and dancing, then it’s bound to be a hit! If you aren’t aware of this as an actor, and you move to NYC with bright eyes and big dreams, you’re in for a rude awakening. 

The biggest struggle is moving here with huge dreams and aspirations and realizing there isn’t really room for you at the table.

Is Broadway changing for the better in terms of diversity?

We have a super-duper long way to go. We are currently at Stage 1, level 1. I think that diversity is at least apart of the conversation, there’s an awareness. But its not yet seen as a problem that needs to be fixed – and that’s the problem. There’s so many things that have to be discussed and changed on the other side of the table and in the world before we see change on the stage. We have to change the way people think and feel and also the way people want to see people of color on stage, the way people will accept us on stage. Until people want to see people of color singing and dancing as much as they want to see us weeping and bleeding, things won’t change. 

What stories do you want the Broadway of the future to tell?

All stories, universal. I want to walk down Theatre Row and see marquees full of faces of all colors, and not just celebrities. I want the world to be represented.  

What makes a legacy?

Hard work. Sacrifice. Failures. Triumphs. Pushing boundaries. Asking questions. Giving back. Challenging the norms. Challenging yourself. Pissing people off sometimes (lol). 

What do you hope makes up your legacy?

I want to be remembered as someone who worked hard and stood up for what was right.

I want my legacy to be filled with hits and misses, but I want it to be clear that I kept going.

I’m outspoken and I don’t care. That doesn’t always work to my advantage, but I’m tired of foolishness. Things won’t change if I sit quietly, so I have to speak up. I’m not an angry Black woman, I’m just ready for change. I want to be known for doing good work. I want to inspire and uplift and encourage people, especially little chocolate drops that look like me. I try to live by the quote, “We must lift as we climb.” I want to give as much, if not more, than I receive. 

You did a photoshoot on legacy performers. Can you tell us a bit about the vision for that project?

Broadway Legacy is the brainchild of Christian Dante White, who is such a light and a visionary. He’s partnered with photographer Brent Dundore to create an online catalogue of art and information that will highlight and celebrate African American Theatre. I like to think of it as “us celebrating us”, refusing to wait for others to realize and honor our greatness.

Amber’s dreams and determination echo what many voices of actors of color have been championing for for decades. Most recently, Playbill.com announced a $2 Million grant rewarding theater programs for diversity in every position. Only the beginning, but an important start to the “right money” finally going into the “right hands.” If you’re feeling discouraged by the celebrity blanche-wash of the Great White Way while you’re still rehearsing in the cold, take a walk down W 45th and catch Amber and her cast in Shuffle Along and be inspired by and support the determination. Catch a bit of Amber’s glow and be part of a legacy in the making.

Taboo Theater: Crowd Funding & Self Promotion

Rachel Spencer Hewitt

Independently & Unapologetically Taking Your Work to the Next Level
Featuring a Crowdfunding Success Story and Practical Steps from an Expert

Increasingly, my Facebook feed is sprinkled with posts asking for donations. From international acting workshops to self-produced off-broadway plays to grad school class tuition, artists are taking advantage of the kindness of friends and strangers, importance of stacking pennies, and effectiveness of social networking. Combined, these elements just may make someone’s dreams come true, providing funds that otherwise would remain elusive.

In this article, I research experience and expertise to help bolster your confidence in self-promotion and help you prepare to take your project to the next level.

For some people, self-promotion comes naturally. These brave, outgoing souls feel no hesitation shouting their need and/or victory to the world. However, for other more introverted personalities, self-promotion feels terrifying, confusing, or even possibly offensive. The reality of self promotion and crowdfunding is that there is a sense of personal risk: Self-promotion makes us vulnerable. We fear backlash. Self-promotion and asking for support not only puts our own person out into public, but it does so in the context of our precious hopes and dreams. Receiving feedback from other people is inevitable, for better or worse. Pushing the birdie of our dream project out of the nest, so to speak, unavoidably creates the moment of suspension when we wait (publicly) to see if the dollar numbers climb enough give that baby bird wings. Or if that baby bird will fall, fail and die. But if we don’t send it out into the world…you know…never knowing if it can fly and regret and all that!!! In order for an original work in particular to succeed, extroverts and introverts, comfortable and uncomfortable both must acknowledge:

Self-promotion is necessary place for the success of original work.

Crowdfunding is a powerful and potentially rewarding platform for taking original work to the next level.

In order to confront the scary and boost courage in taking this necessary risk, I dig a bit deeper in this article into one artist’s experience, Brandi Leilani of the web series Supporting Roles, with making the bold move of pushing her dream out of the nest. Her social media promotion has been one of the most successful and creative that I’ve seen from a grassroots independent team. I wish I could say that feedback was all joy and success – and perhaps it was about 99% – but in truth she did experience some harsh criticism (aka Facebook scandal) while promoting her crowdfunding campaign. She also exceeded her campaign goal and her project took off. I was fascinated by the bumps and bruises she experienced while also succeeding, so I reached out to ask what that unsolicited and unfounded criticism was like to receive and how she overcame it. To explore the process further, I also reached out to an expert on crowdfunding, Isabella Junqueira – Phd candidate and scholar in residence – and asked for her basic tips and pointers for anyone interested in branching out on this potentially intimidating venture. Isa gave some key thoughts for artists getting started below. First, we’ll begin with Brandi’s experience.

Brandi has been a professional actress for over ten years. Like most of us, she works multiple jobs while auditioning, printing headshots, and jumping on the rejection/acceptance roller coaster ride. With the availability of equipment and technology created the opportunity for Brandi to make her web-series dream a reality. Like a great artist, she took her inspiration and made an opportunity for herself, becoming both actor and director, artist and producer. A photo caption of one of her original production notebooks on Facebook reads:

“One year ago Brandi and Sarah sat down with just two things; a crazy dream and the desire to create something together. Today, that dream and ‘web stuffz’ is an Official Selection at Austin Film Festival and that is just the BEST feeling.”

I asked Brandi about the “before” moments – good, bad, and ugly – that led up to her recent and currently running success.

Was this your first crowdfunding experience?

Yes! Crowdfunding was always in the back of my mind as a possibility for projects down the road, but then this particular project snuck up and seemed like the perfect fit. Each of us had friends who had tried the crowdfunding route before and each of them had incredibly varied experiences, so we were really nervous going into it. It wasn’t just a crash course in crowdfunding, but a crash course in producing and a complete redirection of my career.

What were the challenges/surprises in preparing to go live with your campaign? 

I’m going to be totally honest – I was terrified at the beginning. The terror was more manageable because I thought that Sarah was totally pulled together, but apparently she was pretty nervous starting out- she just hid it much better than I did. …And then there’s Shannon who went into it with blind trust that Sarah and I knew what we were doing. HAH! (After all, Shannon does have the best humor out of the three of us.)

We all three live in different cities, so Sarah and I would Skype once a week to check in with each other. In-between our meetings we mainly worked with spreadsheets, lists, and emails (thank you Google Drive!) while we each worked with our individual assignments. Sarah was assigned to work on the marketing and managing of all of our online materials, I was assigned to business networking, pitches, and submissions, and Shannon was our master writer for all written communication of our brand. On top of that, Sarah would send daily motivational GIFs to keep us all focused on the important things in life: pugs walking in baby pools, ducks learning to walk, etc. Really, the crowdfunding was the smaller part of a bigger picture in our minds, but a necessary step in this particular project.

As much work as we put into the campaign before it launched, we had no idea how much work was headed our way once we hit GO.

How much work (and resources) had you poured into your project before your campaign and what made you feel ready to take that next step into crowdfunding?

Whew. First of all – I don’t think that you’re ever really ready for crowdfunding the first go-round. But in retrospect we did a few things right that helped make it a successful campaign. Sarah and I first met each other in June of 2014, concepted the show that October, filmed 3 episodes over 2 days in April 2015 and released them June. The turnaround for that process was CRAZY fast. We managed to find a team of people who poured their hearts into the project as much as we did, but more importantly they poured their resources into the project. That was key to our success. Everything was done on the highest possible professional level. We had a limited crew, but we were complete with a director, DP, producer, gaffer, sound, and three AMAZING PAs who all volunteered their time. Once the filming was finished a professional editor did all of our post-production for us to really polish the project.

We always felt confident about the joy behind the concept and the writing of the scripts- the quality of the final edits pushed us over the edge to believe that this project was worthy of more time and episodes.

What platform did you use/why did you chose it/how much did your campaign bring in?

I went to a writing festival last fall and sat in on as many of the workshops as I could over that weekend. Nerd Alert One of my favorite lectures was given by Emily Best- the Founder and CEO of Seed and Spark. After hearing her talk it felt like an amazing platform for female filmmakers- I ended up being right about that.

After the festival I emailed her and chatted really briefly about what we were working on and she responded to me immediately. ….Uh, nothing like human contact to make a girl feel right at home.

Sarah, Shannon, and I went through a lot of pro and con comparisons and debates about which platform we wanted to use, but in the end we really liked a couple of key elements about S&S. First of all- they make you do a ton of work on the front end including very specific budget work before you ever officially begin the campaign. That work felt never ending at first, but we were really grateful almost immediately. The other major benefit of S&S is the “lend” option instead of cash payments. We had a number of artists offer us their work for free based off of what they saw and liked from our current work. We were able to consider their offers and choose whether that was the right direction for our project. Some of the offers were from people we knew, but we also received offers from people we had never met prior to the campaign.

What advice would you have for other artists eager to take that bold step in creating investment opportunity for their original work and ideas?

Oh. Man. Proof of Concept. You have to have a proof of concept. By far the best possible thing any artist can have is a Proof of Concept. And I don’t think it can just be a proof of an idea…but a fully realized visual for people to go by.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but having our first three episodes was VITAL to making our fundraising goal. People could see the quality of work we were already producing and the stories we were telling. It gave them a real motivation to want to join the campaign and be a part of something they believed in, not just something cool they thought might happen eventually.

What did it feel like to receive that brief unsolicited criticism from a stranger, and what thoughts did you choose to overcome it and press on with your vision?

I had no idea how much the words of a stranger could or would affect me. The day started with a text from Sarah followed by a barrage of texts and facebook messages from people asking me what was happening- I had no idea what they were talking about. This was my first foray into the speed and power of social media. The woman accused me of using money from our FRESHLY finished crowdfunding campaign for my own personal gain. But she didn’t just take out her vendetta on me… she did everything in her power to drag down the entire production of Supporting Roles. And with it- all of the people involved.

First I cried.

Then I got pissed.

As an artist, and specifically an actor, you’re emotional by nature. You’re heart is open and raw. Things that might hurt a little end up hurting much more than they should. I did a lot of soul searching that day about what people really think of me as a person and artist. Whether I’m a good person. Whether I’m a good actor. Whether I’m good enough.

There were a lot of comments made to me by people that day full of love and encouragement. But one comment I kept hearing was “She’s just jealous.”

I can’t diminish what those people were trying to do by telling me that. I get it. I understand that jealous people can say unkind things. I get that unkind people can sometimes be jealous. But there’s something about “She’s just jealous,” that didn’t sit right with me. Because jealousy doesn’t automatically cause you to be an ignorant bitch.

Supporting Roles was always intended to be a series about women supporting women. And in the moment of our greatest success to date, we were ignorantly attacked by another woman. As soon as I realized how ironic and ridiculous and dumb and obnoxious …. And did I say dumb?…that was, I realized it wasn’t worth giving another second of my time or energy.

Maybe people are going to choose to hate on us with every bit of success we get in this business, but as long as we’re doing it honestly and in a way we believe in ourselves we can’t have any regrets about what we’re doing. I believe in us and we will continue to support other artists and other females making their way in this world with love. Because it’s hard.

But on the flip side – the support we’ve gotten from people has meant more than we could ever convey. To those people we say: Love and Donuts. xoxo

Totally inspired by Brandi’s resilience and success, I gathered some amazing tips and steps from Isa Junqueira who helps create a game plan for you to get started below!

What do you love most about crowdfunding for independent artists?

I really appreciate the opportunity for creative and excellent work to become a reality to be enjoyed by a greater audience. Crowdfunding is usually a critical first step for such works to be produced.

2. What are the top three elements an artists’ project should have in place before starting a campaign?

There are various elements that are important when starting a Crowdfunding campaign. However, if I were to pick the initial 3, I would choose:

First, have a strategic plan for: pre-campaign, during and post-campaign requirements. If a proper strategic business model is not your strong point, think of it as an itinerary for a journey. When planning a journey you need to know how much tickets, hotels and transportation will cost. In the same fashion, when preparing a short business plan you will need to justify how much every step of your project will cost and how long it will take (highly recommend Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model canvas). You may not need to delineate this plan in detail on the platform itself but serious investors may ask about it and you must be prepared to answer. You must also start planning what kind of rewards related to your project you will offer. You can be creative as you like. Finally, a Crowdfunding campaign is a round-the-clock commitment. Thus, think how much labor assistance you will need: before launching a campaign, during and after the campaign.

Second, it is important that you have a clear vision of your mission. You must be able to communicate this vision enthusiastically, easily and succinctly to your campaign team (select your team well) and audience.

Thirdly, network, network and network. You may have a well-developed social network but you must go beyond this boundary. Be part of forums where others discuss their crowdfunding experiences; seek and discern the advice of experts; and search for the best type of Crowdfunding platform for your project (look for similar projects or genre).   Search for any other “crowd” cluster that may be beneficial to your campaign either as a resource or as a supporter or both.

3. Some artists are uncomfortable with self-promotion or may get a bad rap/be afraid of “bragging”, what’s your advice for a new crowdfunded on being bold about their product and themselves?

I believe that first, they should introspectively consider the execution of their craft. For actors: how do they prepare themselves before going to an audition. For writers: how do they present the highlights of their beloved scripts. For the directors: how do they share their vision for the production of a story. All of these steps require preparation, hard work, bold commitment, and excellent delivery. In the same way, an artist will not ‘brag,” he/she will simply talk honestly about their work and the significance of this particular project: why is the project important to them and to their selected audience, what they have accomplish thus far and how much more they will they be able to accomplish with the help of committed supporters.

4. Why is it crucial for artists to be unapologetic in asking for funds for their project?

It is crucial to be confident, organized and passionate about your project. Your audience, “the crowd,“ will be more inclined to be part of “your vision” and contribute to your cause if they sense that you have a strong commitment to this particular project. In addition, they must be confident that you will complete, distribute and promote your project successfully.

5. What is the connection between crowdfunding presentation and product value?

We live in age where visual presentation is a dynamic tool of communication. Videos should be well-made, engaging and not very long (2 – 5 minutes tops). They should establish a clear and compelling vision about you and your Crowdfunding project. Usually the visuals and videos at the onset of the campaign will represent the unfolding of a long courtship between you and your potential backers, so make it count. During the campaign it will be just as important to continue with updates and visuals to keep everyone already backing your project interested and pressing on to attract new backers.

And finally, what did Isa have to say about Brandi’s experience and our parallel fear that criticism will attempt to de-legitimize our dreams?

In any situation as an artist, critics will come out and say whatever they say from their paradigm. As an artist, you may choose to ignore it or see that perhaps there is something to it and solve the problem. In this case, Brandi’s project is the focal point. She is not crowdfunding for acquiring a dog. Thus, all that backers should be concern is how is she using the money to bring her project to fruition and that is why I am a firm believer in having that strategic business model plan. You can be transparent by showing your backers where you are int the process and where the money was used that was raise by the crowd. If she follows that her personal life should not come into question because it is not related to the project at all, people must have balanced life especially creative people. Now, if she went and use the money raised to buy a dog house and a diamond color for her dog than that is different. But that very seldom happens because people who enter these projects sacrifice a lot, they have invested a lot of themselves into the project and it is such a hard and time consuming process that I would say most people are very honest and honorable from the beginning. At least this is what I have seen.

Many actors or creative people do not consider themselves as business people but they are, or – I believe – they should be. Their craft, experience and their name is their brand, and they have to develop a strategy and a plan in order to make their marvelous ideas become realities while expanding the reach of their “brand.”

I completely, wholeheartedly agree!

So if you have a dream or project that you’re willing to be vulnerable for, get to work! Fear not the criticism, only the lack of preparation. Let your work speak for you and those critics fade into the background as your numbers climb. As with any project, in crowdfunding and self-promotion, more sweat before in prep means less sweat later in performance. Put in the work, and push that baby out of the nest. Tag me too! I love supporting dreams and watching them take wing.

Taboo Theater is a blog series by Rachel Spencer Hewitt covering unmentioned, uncomfortable, or controversial topics in the world of theater.

Rachel is a professional PR/Social Media Manager and Actress currently making her 3-second-stage-time debut on Broadway and loving every bit of it.

What are your thoughts? Have a crowdfunding story that reflects this? That differs? Crowdfunding questions? Share in the comments below!

Meet my guests – BIOS:

Brandi Hollsten considers herself a modern day renaissance woman. She writes, acts, plays ukulele, and organizes everything within reach. She fights the stigma of women and shoes by going barefoot whenever possible, once hung out with Elijah Wood for two minutes at his house (some may prefer the term “mildly stalked”), and can often be found with a mimosa in hand. http://www.brandihollsten.com

She is an Executive Producer, Writer, and Actor for Supporting Roles– a web series following two actresses through their ridiculous lives, really ridiculous auditions, and less ridiculous friendship.

Supporting Roles is produced and created by Sarah Adams and Brandi Hollsten, and written by Brandi and her sis Shannon Hollsten. It is an official selection for the 2015 Austin Film Festival. Current episodes are available online with the rest of Season 1 coming in February!


M. Isabella C. Junqueira has worked over 10 years as a project manager in project financing and strategic development. She received her Master in International Business Development from the École Superiéure de Commerce (ESC) de Dijon, France. Currently she is a PhD candidate in Management at LUMS, UK and her research interests reside in the intersection of entrepreneurship and alternative finance with a focus on: crowdfunding, innovative business models and networks management.

Auditioning Mom: How to Change a Diaper on a Moving Train

Rachel Spencer Hewitt

This lesson came early on while on my way to my first audition post-birth when Biscuit was about 5 weeks old.

The problem-solving I used in the infant catastrophe should have been a distraction to the audition shortly afterward, but in fact it liberated my mind to deliver some great work. Below are the steps to changing a diaper on a moving train, that – much to my surprise – translated beautifully when stepping into the room. Apparently, a little poop and movement was what my process needed that day. Who knew?!

How to Change a Diaper on a Moving Train
Level of Difficulty: High
Skill equivalent: Bomb-Squad Diffuser
Soundtrack: MI Theme Song

Baby (ideally <20lbs.)
Car seat/carrier (not required by law but always recommended for safe train travel)
Baby Poop (lots)
Diaper (dirty)
Diaper (clean)
Nursing Cover (replacement: jacket/sweater/magic cape)
Diaper mat (optional)
Moving Train
Haters (lots o’)

Imagine with me: you are enjoying the peace and quiet of a train car. Baby beside you, sleeping peacefully. Strapped in safely. Out. Hooray! you think, Infants are easy! Just as you gently open the crinkled, stained, and much-loved audition sides, ready to emote with artful calm, a blaring alarm goes off. This freakishly powerful wail comes not from man, machine, or beast but babe. You turn in your daughter’s (son’s) direction to see the redness in her cheeks, the pain in her gut: she needs a change, and soon, or in no time flat her wail will escalate until she’s full-blown belting Verdi’s La Forza Destino*, and – unfortunately for you – not everyone on this speeding bullet is an opera fan.

What started as the perfect opportunity to prep through text work and silence quickly evolved into an opportunity to prep through engagement. (And needing to engage now, before the growing stench paralyzes every muscle in your body except your gag reflex and the people aboard grow wild enough to toss you and your suffering child onto the passing platform…in New Jersey. And no, there is no silver lining for that.)

Like any good artistic venture, this real-life demand illustrates that silence and calm isn’t always afforded to moments of productivity, and the only way you’re going to get through this is if you get to work.

1. Forget Everyone Else

Saving everyone else from the discomfort of a crying baby will only distract you from doing your best for both you and your child, resulting in no one’s happiness. Instead of imagining the surrounding panic, judgment, and potential for failure, focus on your partner in this epic Poopsplosian: your baby. He or she is bumping and moving in a pool of filth, and only you have the power to clean it up, leading to everyone’s happiness. This is your life, your task, and your love, so what does anyone else’s judgment have to do with any of it?

2. Ready Your Materials

As much as you want to dive in and start fixing things, you will be so grateful taking a few seconds to get your ducks in a row. Like when dealing with a good script, start at the end and work backwards; pull out the doggy-diaper bag and flap it open, tucking it to your side open-side up. Prep yourself; put on the nursing cover to create a canopy if you so care to protect your baby from view. Unlatching the bottom of the straps, gently slide the clean diaper under the clothed bum. Place wipe case on lap, open, and pull first two wipes, lay loosely on top of case. It works out so smoothly with these pieces in order. When the time comes to act, a great performance often comes from great preparation.

3. Act with Abandon

You know how to change a diaper, so once you drop the haters and have your tools, the only thing left for you to do is claim that confidence. These steps are the same as at home. The scenery is just….faster. So breathe. You are still the authority in this situation. For extra modesty, drape your nursing cover over bottom half of baby and proceed with change through peep-gap up top. While the chest clip can stay in place, keeping it away from chin, unsnap onesie and tuck up around baby’s waist. Gingerly un-velcro dirty diaper. Left-hand on ankles, right hand grab wipes, go. Short wipe-spurts are bad technique. Smooth and confident brush strokes cover-well the canvas. Deposit dirty wipes into dirty diaper. Second-guessing is only going to waste time here. 

4. Get Rid of the Sh*t

Rolling wipes and diaper into a ball, gently ease them out from under the bum. Be sure to secure the diaper closed and drop it into that sweet little doggy-bag next to you in order to best move forward. With all the poop safely wrapped without a chance of flopping out or spreading, you can focus on re-wrapping the clean, happy bum in diaper and onesie. Re-close the bottom straps. Tie up bag. Remove nursing cover (extra flourish like super-hero cape an option) and let the world marvel at your magic. Sometimes we try to wrap up the task while also getting rid of the problem – this can cause spillage and contaminate the victory. The victory is sweeter when the task’s garbage is given the attention needed to tie it up early and get it out of the way so you can seal the deal without any spillover. Whatever is stinking up your process – discard it immediately. 

5. Feel Great

As your baby calms into a lull of bouncy purrs with bottom lip out, slowly learning that life has drastically improved thanks to your super skills, your task is simply to exhale the adrenaline in your system. That adrenaline is a wonderful thing. It’s what fueled your speed and focus in steps 1-4. The temptation is to allow the space created by exiting adrenaline fill with self-consciousness because of the amount of bodies that just witnessed your adventure. Again, I refer you to Step 1. Replace self-consciousness with victory. You gave yourself to the task. You took extraordinary care of your responsibility. You creatively problem-solved in the midst of very human chaos. What a gift! As you let go of what’s transpired, exhale that adrenaline and also be sure to fill the space it left with your personal victory. You will be amazed how creating a habit of that personal victory will become an inspiration to you the next time you’re asked to step back in, an affirmation that yes – you indeed can do this thing.

See? You’re more ready than you know.

Now, go get it, mama.

*Biscuit is insisting that I add the footnote that she is a highly-communicative baby and rarely screams – truly, I can count the number of times on one hand. One of “those” babies. She’d also like me to add that her opera of choice for the situation would be Mozart’s Requiem anyway.