Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

This week’s Theatre Talk features Whitney Bolam, costume goddess and business babe! I met Whitney many years ago during a production of London Community Players’ Dark of the Moon. Since then, we have been in a number of shows together, and Whitney has grown her business, The Costume Shoppe, into a thriving London gem! Read on to find out more about this talented lady!

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Whitney Bolam and I am a costumer, a sewer (that’s sew-er) and the owner of The Costume Shoppe in London Ontario. I’m a Costume Designer for community theatre, a Wardrobe Maven for the London Community Players, and from time to time I can also be found on London’s community theatre stages as an actor.

A few years ago, I became involved with community theatre here in London, volunteering as makeup designer for an elementary school production of The Lion King. From there, I began auditioning for various shows, always volunteering to help with costumes along the way. Often times I have found myself pulling double duty, being onstage as an actor as well as working backstage on costumes.

Over the past six years I have costumed over twenty community theatre productions, assisting with many others as an assistant, a sewer and a dresser. I’ve done three seasons with Oakville Children’s Music Theatre, a small theatre company in Oakville Ontario, working as their Costume Designer and Head of Wardrobe, where I costumed up to six productions, or 190 children, at a time.

 

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

 

In 2012, I started a small business called The Costume Shoppe, where I rent and sell costume pieces and accessories for theatrical productions, photo shoots and special events, including Halloween. Using a combination of hand-crafted costume pieces together with purchased items, I personally work together with directors, designers, photographers and individuals to create their desired look. I have worked with a number of theatre companies, high schools, businesses and several individuals who have rented from my growing collection of period, vintage or vintage-inspired and fantasy costume pieces. Through The Costume Shoppe, I also welcome special orders for custom creations, for everything from superhero capes to fairy tale gowns, which can be custom ordered and purchased by request. I’m currently working with the London Children’s Museum, creating unique and easy-to-wear children’s costumes based on the themes of the museum’s various galleries.

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

 

What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?

I have always loved acting, dressing up and pretty much anything dramatic. From about the age of 12, whenever someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say “an actor on Days of Our Lives,” but things changed once I went to university.

I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph in Theatre Studies, and it was during my time at Guelph that I fell in love with working backstage. Two instructors, who displayed such passion for their crafts, introduced me to the world of costuming, and I’ve never looked back. Paul Ord, the Technical Director and Jill Gill, the Costume Supervisor taught, challenged and inspired me for four years, and it’s because of them that I found a path that I never expected to find.

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

Since graduating from university, I have volunteered as an actor and a costume designer with the London Community Players and other community theatre companies, where I have been very fortunate to work with some incredibly talented individuals. I am amazed by how much I’ve learned about what to do (and sometimes what not to do) simply through observing and being involved with theatre.

A few years ago I opened The Costume Shoppe as a source for specialty costume rentals, many of which are constructed my me personally. Since there are not many places from which to rent costume pieces in London, especially for theatrical productions, I decided to come up with a business plan where I could share the collection of costumes I had made over the years at reasonable rental prices. The Costume Shoppe has assisted with a number of theatrical productions, photo shoots, special events and even a music video. In just a short time, The Costume Shoppe has grown to also include custom creations, where a client can request a specific costume piece to purchase, rather than rent.

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

 

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

Last year, I went back to school so I could expand on my knowledge of costuming. Technical Costume Studies is a graduate certificate program at Fanshawe College and over the next few years I will continue to study part-time as I learn new costuming skills such as pattern drafting, hat and jewelry making, fabric painting and dyeing as well as the aspects of working in professional theatre.

 

What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?

I have a few…

The Three Musketeers: LCP produced this massive show in 2010, and no one wanted to take on the challenge of designing the costumes. The director put out a call for costumers, and because I was already involved with the show as an actor, I joined a small group of ladies, and we threw ourselves into 17th Century France, building dozens of doublets, gowns, jewelry, hats and tabards. After several months of meetings, fabric shopping, sewing and fittings, the show was ready for the stage and included over 350 costume pieces!

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

 

Antony & Cleopatra: In 2011, as my first solo design project, I took on the challenge of costuming one of Shakespeare’s longest plays. Drawing inspiration from Ancient Rome and Egypt, I designed and hand-crafted each costume piece from scratch, and I couldn’t have been happier with how beautifully everything came together.

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

 

Edward II: The director for this production wanted the design concept to be “out of time,” which gave me an opportunity to try something very different from anything I’d done before, and from anything that had been seen on London’s community theatre stages. Designing the costumes as well as the makeup, I created a world of cyber-punk Goth, with a mash of blacks and silvers, leather, sequins and feathers, coloured hair extensions and lips, as well as intricate tattoos, which provided an effective backdrop for the tumultuous court of Edward II of England.

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

 

[They Fight!]: Not only did I get to work with a fantastic team of costume designers to put together a collection of fight scenes for this unique Fringe production, but I also got to play Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, wielding an awesome knife, taking on my friend Kerry Hishon as Faith! This was definitely the best time I’ve ever had on stage.

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

 

Do you have a “war story” from your performing/theatrical past that you’d be willing to share?

Costuming actors can be challenging at times. Sometimes actors only want to look pretty, which is difficult when they are playing a role which requires them to be anything but. Sometimes actors have very specific ideas of how they feel their character should be dressed and at times, will complain or fight to get their own way. Sometimes actors lie about their size, which I’ve never understood because the tape measure always tells the truth.

Working with kids has its challenges as well. They grow so quickly and unpredictably that measurements have to be taken not too long before costume construction begins, which can become a time management issue if there are a lot of costumes needing to be built, and one must keep in mind that alterations for kids are inevitable. Kids also have parents, many of whom are helpful and pleasant to deal with, but parents can be very protective of their children, and at times this can make the parents difficult to deal with.

As a Costume Designer, I have had good and bad experiences. Each production comes with a new challenge, but each new challenge gives me the chance to become better at what I do and to become more creative in finding solutions that help make the production a success.

 

What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?

I’ve just finished costuming Steel Magnolias for the London Community Players, which will be onstage at The Palace Theatre, October 8 – 18, 2015. Tickets are available by calling 519.432.1029 or online at www.palacetheatre.ca.

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

I will also be assisting with some sewing projects for LCP’s upcoming production of The Trials of Robin Hood, which goes onstage at The Palace Theatre, December 3-20, 2015.

Steel Magnolias will be my last costume design project for a while, as my husband and I are expecting a baby in February, and I will be taking some time off from theatre to focus on my family.

The Costume Shoppe will remain open until January 31, 2016 (unless this baby arrives early), and my plan is to close the shop for just a few months. The Costume Shoppe will re-open on September 1, 2016 in time for Halloween!

 

What are your goals for the future?

I love being my own boss, and I love the creativity that comes with being a costumer and the owner of a costume rental business. On any given day I can pull out some fabric and create an entirely new costume, whether at the request of the client or simply because I feel like it. But, I have also really enjoyed being back at school and learning how to make costume accessories, like hats and jewelry. Once I graduate from Fanshawe, I would like to find a position working for a professional theatre company in the Accessories Department. Since working in professional theatre is often seasonal, continuing to operate The Costume Shoppe on a part-time basis would give me the opportunity to continue along both career paths.

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

 

What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?

I’ve often said that I love what I do, because I do what I love.

Be brave; find what you love, what you’re passionate about and do that. Learn everything you can from everyone and everywhere you can, and become what you want to be. And remember that it’s never too late to change direction.

Be involved; volunteer with a local community theatre group, take sewing classes and find a good post-secondary school. There are lots of universities with excellent theatre programs, and there are some great colleges with specialized costuming programs that will not only teach you the technical skills of costuming, but will also help with networking and building contacts with professional theatre companies within Canada and around the world.

Be well-rounded; costuming has many sides, so learn to sew or improve upon the sewing skills you already have; build a portfolio of projects you’ve made; take a drawing class; study fashion history, world history and literature; take a class on the basics of business; get to know your fabrics; and most importantly, develop your social skills. As a costumer, you will encounter every type of personality there is!

Be a dreamer; one of my favourite quotes says, “There are no small parts, only small dreams and the theatre is no place for small dreams.” (Bigger Than the Sky, 2005)

Theatre Talk With Whitney Bolam, Costumer & Owner of The Costume Shoppe

Thank you so much for sharing, Whitney!

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Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

This week’s Theatre Talk features fight director Jared Kirby, based out of New York City. I met and was trained by Jared at the 2011 Art of Combat New York City Intensive workshop, and then came back for more punishment at the 2012 NYC workshop, where Jared introduced me to the joy of blood capsules. From there, Jared offered a special longsword class to my Original Kids during their annual NYC trip, where I got to assist with demonstrations (and subsequently became much cooler due to my association with a a real New York City fight director). I’m very grateful to Jared for the learning opportunities I’ve received from him, and can’t wait to study with him again (hopefully soon!). Want to know more about Jared? Read on!

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Jared Kirby, and I’ve been involved in Western Martial Arts and Combat for Stage & Screen for over 20 years. I teach in New York City (and the metro area) and have choreographed fights Off-Broadway, nationally, in London and Sydney. I’m the president of Art of Combat, a board member for the International Order of the Sword & Pen, and the president of Combat Con in Las Vegas.

I currently teach fencing at SUNY Purchase, Sarah Lawrence College and am a Provost of Arms (Assistant Master) through the Martinez Academy of Arms. I have an ongoing Combat for Stage & Screen class in New York City. I also teach a variety of workshops across the US and around the world including Canada, England, Scotland, Finland, Italy and Australia.

I am the editor and one of the translators of “Italian Rapier Combat,” the first complete, professional translation of Capo Ferro. I’m also the editor and wrote the introduction for “The School of Fencing” by Domenico Angelo and annotated by Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martínez. Most recently “The Gentleman’s Guide to Duelling” was released in February 2014.

 

What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?

I first fell in love with stage combat when I saw a human chess match at a Renaissance Faire. I was 15 years old and blown away. It looked like so much fun! I told myself “I’m going to do that someday.” Several years later, after I graduated from high school, I moved and auditioned for that very chess match. I got a part, received a lot of training, and ended up performing in the same chess match that inspired me to start learning stage combat. After that I had a voracious appetite for the sword and trained as much as possible with my instructor (Michael Anderson). Through that process I met someone who had moved to Scotland and learned historical sword fighting. When he came home he introduced me to the martial application of sword fighting and I loved it! From that point on I trained in both the stage and screen application as well as the martial art of European sword fighting. Each is a different way of expressing the art and use of a sword. I have never been able to determine which I love more, so I just keep doing both.

Having that dual background was a niche which helped me get roles when I was a professional actor. I can’t say I pursued it for that purpose though. I loved it, so I kept learning. I loved it, so I kept teaching others. I think it’s important to approach life in that way. If you pursue the things that you love, you will find opportunities and ways to bring that into your life.

After years with my first stage combat teacher, I moved to Scotland to study with Maestro Paul Macdonald. Now Maestro Macdonald is well known, but back in the nineties (before the Internet was a big thing) it was a huge deal to find someone who was teaching European swordsmanship. I decided to move to Edinburgh to train with him and a local group called the Dawn Duellist Society. It was at the end of my stay in Edinburgh that I met Maestro Ramon Martinez and after taking an hour and a half seminar with him in Spanish Rapier I was hooked. I remember telling him right after the class that I would be moving to New York to study it with him more (a decision that had solidified for me during that class). He was polite and did not laugh in my face but it was only 3 months later when I had packed up everything, moved to NYC, and found my way to his Academy. I have been studying with him for over 15 years now and during that time I have continued to learn from other great teachers in stage and screen combat from around the world.

 

Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?

That’s a hard one. The majority of the projects I get to work on are a blast! If I had to pick one story to tell it would be the Titus Andronicus that just closed at the end of August. It is my favourite Shakespeare play (and not for the obvious reason). Most people assume it’s because the play has 13 deaths, a rape, three hands chopped off, and two kids baked into pies and fed to their mother. All that is great for a fight director, but it’s actually because the play has the most number of characters who portray the most emotional depth in all of the cannon. Take Aaron the Moor for example. Here is the most vicious villain in the cannon and yet we get to see one scene with his lover and how he feels about her, then another scene where he unexpectedly is presented with his newborn baby and we get to see his emotional depth as a new father. This from a man who when facing death for his crimes says:

Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more. 

And that is just one of the characters who gets to show many different levels. But I digress 🙂

In this recent production not only did I get to create the violence, but I was also asked to Assistant Direct the production. It was a dream come true as I had the opportunity to share my insights about the production as well as create the blood and special effects that I think this play demands. We offered ponchos to all those in the front row because they were considered to be in the “splatter zone!” With the help of a great special effects woman, and two of my fighters (who took on the position I called blood boys), we were able to create realistic acts of violence. Each one furthered the story and revealed something about the characters that were dying and the ones doing the killing. It was a wonderful, creative and extremely fulfilling project to work on.

Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

 

Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?

The most recent one worth telling is the production of Hamlet I recently did the fights for which starred Peter Sarsgaard. The rehearsal process with Peter and Glenn Fitzgerald (the gentleman playing Laertes) was terrific. Their clarity about their characters made it easy to create choreography which expressed Hamlet & Laertes’ mindset and desires in that final fight.

I received an email from the stage manager towards the end of the run that Laertes’ voice was in bad shape and the doctor had recommended vocal rest. They were checking with me to see how long it would take to work a new actor in to the fights if necessary. Turns out that Glenn was able to push through the weekend but visited the doctor again and was then ordered to rest his voice. When they emailed again to tell me we would be working in a new Laertes (as soon as they found one) I mentioned that I could jump in if it was easier on them. Having played the role three times in the past helped the lines come back quickly and since half Laertes’ scenes had violence I knew the blocking for them and of course the fight choreography. They put me in and with 48 hours notice I went on as Laertes opposite Peter Sarsgaard’s Hamlet!

I often tell my students that success is opportunity and preparation meeting. This is a perfect example of that. When I arrived Tuesday morning to learn blocking and rehearsing the scenes it was only then that remembered Glenn is left handed. I had choreographed the fights lefty vs. righty. Luckily I can do a sword fight left handed, so I was able to jump right into the fight. The thing is that I would never have had that skill except that ten years ago I hurt my knee and couldn’t practice right-handed for 3-4 months. I discovered that I could still fence left-handed and so instead of stopping my training I decided to work left-handed while I healed. I never could have guessed back then that it would be such an important skill to have.

 

What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?

I am currently working on choreography for a few upcoming films. You can see some past work at youtube.com/jaredkirby and here are couple clips in particular:

As president of Combat Con, I am already busy at work coordinating the 2016 event in Las Vegas. I am working on another book, coordinating some exciting NYC workshops and I am excited to be traveling to Sydney Australia again this winter to teach a Combat Intensive with Kyle Rowling and John Lennox.

 

What are your goals for the future?

My overriding goal for the last 6 years has been and will probably remain unchanged. I want to continue doing great work with great people. While I know this is broad, it has served me well. This year alone I have gotten to work with Peter Sarsgaard and Steve Guttenberg, my NYC class was selected by Backstage magazine as 1 of 6 in the nation they recommend for Stage Combat, and I had the opportunity to bring a Titus Andronicus to the stage which has been rolling around in my head for nearly a decade. I’m very happy with all this and we are only 2/3 of the way through the year!

 

What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?

Oftentimes actors ask me: how important is stage combat to learn. Others will ask me: how many hours they need to train. I think it’s important to find the skills you are passionate about. Then pursue them with vigour. If you are training in a variety of things which only mildly interest you, it is a disservice to yourself. These may help you succeed as an actor, but I have found it to be less frequently true. The performers who pursue their passions vivaciously end up finding roads to success that they could not have envisioned. Do what you love.
Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

 

Thank you so much for sharing, Jared!

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Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

This week’s Theatre Talk features Australian Fight Director Kyle Rowling. I first met “Capt” (as he’s known to his students) at the 2011 Art of Combat New York City Intensive workshop. I was completely intimidated by him at first… he’s super tall and imposing, but he’s actually one of the kindest and most knowledgeable people you’ll ever meet. I’m honoured to have studied with him and to call Kyle a friend! (Also, he exists in action figure form… how crazy is that?!) Read on to find out more!

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Kyle Rowling. I am a professional Actor, Director and Stage Combatant. I am the Director of The Sydney Stage Combat School (SSCS), the President of The Australian Stage Combat Association (ASCA), the Vice-President of The Art of Combat: International (AoC), and a life member of The Society of Australian Fight Directors (SAFDi). I am a Certified Fight Director with AoC, SAFDi and a Certified Fight Master with ASCA.

My job, what I do is two fold as a Fight Director. Firstly my primary objective is to keep the performers I work with safe and able to continue working all day every day during a variety of potentially dangerous situations. As Fight Directors our job is to create ‘safe,’ believable’ and ‘repeatable’ illusions of violence for stage, screen and TV. Our secondary focus, and it is a very close second, is to create fights which serve the story and develop the characters at every moment. We do this by understanding the story and the characters and then by maintaining martial reality, and where possible, historical accuracy.

 

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?

I started my first acting class and martial arts class in the same year. That was 1978, I was 8 years old. I always knew I had a passion and desire for action films. However it wasn’t until 1994 when I was first introduced to Stage Combat when I realised I could blend my two loves of acting and martial arts into a performance.

I started with two years of Judo, then progressed to 10 years of Koshin-ryu Ju-jitsu. From there I started Yau Kung Mun Kung-fu and then Jow Ga Kung-fu. Around this time I found Stage Combat and began my studies in the Western Martial Arts, the martial arts and combative systems of Europe. However when Stage Combat first started in Australia our knowledge base was limited. It was not until I made my first trips overseas, especially to the Paddy Crean Stage Combat Workshop, that I was introduced to true historical European sword work that my eyes were opened. At this workshop I met and worked with people such as Brad Waller, Jared Kirby, Dr. John Lennox and many others. These are all people I know proudly call not only my mentors but my friends and colleagues.

Since that time I make an effort to train in any and all styles I can, taking a little from here and a little from there. It is important as a Fight Director to be as well versed in as many styles as possible as we never know what a productions director may ask of us.

 

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?

I have been very lucky (well, a very wise man once told me that ‘luck’ was ‘preparation meeting opportunity’, so when I got my first film role as Count Dooku’s Fight Double on Star Wars Episode II, he convinced me it wasn’t lucky that I got the job but the fact that I had spent the last 22 years preparing myself for that opportunity) so I will say I have been graced with several amazing opportunities in my career. As just mentioned I worked on Star Wars Episode II & III, I have also worked on Wanted, I was Eric Bana’s personal weapons trainer for Troy, I have also worked on Gabriel, Infini, Invincibles and spent 7 months last year in Wales as the Assistant Stunt Coordinator on Season 3 of Da Vinci’s Demons.

But if I had to pick a favourite I will always be thankful for the time I spent, and the character I played, in Episode 1 of Spartacus: Blood & Sand. I was there as an actor and for the first time got to use my skills for me, not to make someone else look good. I also got to work side-by-side with long time friend Andy Whitfield. I will always be grateful for the time I spent working with Andy before he passed away. (Love ya Brother)

 

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?

I don’t really have any ‘war stories.’ Every productions has its trials and tribulations. Whether it is the 4:30am make up calls, working in the freezing wind and rain in Wales, or the baking heat, I am always grateful just to be working. Sure, sometimes it is unpleasant, but at least I’m not sitting in an office 24/7 doing a job I hate. Yes, the conditions vary, the hours can be long, it can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, but when you love your job it is never ‘work.’ I don’t think I have ever had a day I didn’t want to be on set.

My advice to anyone that hates their job… QUIT. Life is too short. But don’t follow your dreams; you will always be one step behind them. Grab your dreams by the collar and LEAD it to where you want it to go.

 

What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?

Currently I don’t have anything huge on. I am back in Sydney running the SSCS, teaching Casual Classes twice a week, doing the odd Intensive Workshop, teaching at several acting schools in Sydney, and biding my time. My wife and I run a Shakespeare company here (Bard of the Beach, Sydney) and we will be starting rehearsals around November for our Summer Season, and we have the second ‘AoC Sydney Intensive Workshop’ planned for January, during which it will be my pleasure to bring Jared Kirby and Dr. John Lennox back to Sydney again for the second time.

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

What are your goals for the future?

Obviously I want to do more acting in film roles, again using the skill set I have created over many years. But as a Fight Director my primary goal is the continued education of the industry as to the need for highly trained and educated fight professionals. Particularly when it comes to period productions. Big Hollywood films will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on period costumes and recreating period sets but then do the wrong with with the weapons. This might be ok for the vast majority of audience members, but it is my belief that a film should serve ‘every’ audience member. Not just the historically ignorant. There are thousands of people like me around the world that know what you can and can’t, should and should not do with certain weapons. We pay the same amount for a movie ticket, so why shouldn’t we be catered for too?

What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?

Don’t quit. If you want it, go get it. But that starts now!!! Look back to my note on getting the job on Star Wars. There are no ‘overnight successes.’ Every one of these people have dedicated years to their art for that one chance to prove themselves. You must do that too.

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

 

Thank you so much for sharing, Kyle!

Photo Credits: kylerowling.com

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Theatre Talk With Shanna Mandell, Middle Eastern Cabaret Performer & Instructor

Theatre Talk With Shanna Mandell, Middle Eastern Cabaret Performer & Instructor

I met Shanna Mandell online through a mutual friend, and when she told me she was a bellydancer, I definitely had to know more! I was thrilled to learn more about Shanna’s experience as a performer and instructor in this beautiful style of dance. Read on to find out more!

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi, I am Shanna from Pittsburgh. I am a Middle Eastern Cabaret style performer and instructor. I am the most senior (bellydance wise) member of the Pittsburgh Bellydance Academy student troupe Faraatha (which is Arabic for Butterfly or Moth).

What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?

 I have always loved dance. As a little girl, we could not afford for me to take dance classes. In high school I took dance in my junior year. My junior year was also the year of World History and I briefly read about dance in the Middle Eastern cultures. In college, a friend wanted to start bellydancing as part of a medieval recreation group but things did not go very far. Finally, around six years ago when I joined my current real-world employer, we have a gym and several of my co-workers suggested that before I went postal I should start to go to the gym. There was a bellydance class and every since then I have been hooked. My first teacher was Mahira of Hawaii (there was another Mahira when she moved here from Hawaii after her husband retired from the Navy).

Now I have studied with many of the superstars of the art form. In fact, I am finally answering these questions at the airport on my way home from a dance conference, where I studied from not only U.S. dancers but also an Egyptian dance master (instead of an Egyptian dance mistress because governments be horrid). I really love that this art form has allowed me to travel not only for classes but also for intensives and festivals where I meet many more dancers of all experiences and walks of life.

What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?

So far my favorite dance projects are my four current choreographies and costume designs to go with them. I am working on a fan veil to Lindsey Stirling’s “Take Flight,” a skirt to Blackmore’s Night’s “Song and Dance pt.2,” The Weeknd’s “You Earned It” and Emilie Autumn’s “Dominant.” I think perhaps sword and fan veil is in order for this last one.

Now my favorite performance is always Halloween because we can be very silly and it is perfectly acceptable and really kind of encouraged. Last year Faraatha did a dance dressed as moths and we told the legend of the moth people; a Navajo Indian legend about people who went mad when their god stepped away and they began to inbreed like crazy and would run into flames because they were crazy inbred people.

Theatre Talk With Shanna Mandell, Middle Eastern Cabaret Performer & Instructor

Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?

Right now I am living my war story. I have been fighting inflamed cartilage in my knees and now I have a strained ankle. Those are not a big deal because I can slow down when things get too painful. The real fight is with my self esteem that took a blow when someone made me feel like I was not a good dancer. Here is the thing, I have had hardly any formal dance training until I was an adult and to make things more fun I am actually dyslexic. Not severely, mind you but I still have that learning block a bit. I left that person and now I am fighting to get that confidence back. Last year when I competed in Dallas and Pittsburgh I felt better as a dancer. I mean I danced with a live band to a song I did not know I was dancing to until a few hours before.

This last year and a half has been helping a ton between not dancing to songs that make me want to burst my ear drums on first listen and my two life and dance coaches Veronica Varlow and Sherena of Ohio. I am now allowed to be dark and mysterious when I so desire. I would much rather hear “You are a beautiful dancer” than “I don’t understand why you are not getting this choreography (that has been changed twice in the last three weeks)” because the latter just makes me feel more like a failure and chips away at my passion. I started to lose that passion with the person I left because she would tell me I need to lose weight, and to make things worse she could not even be honest with me that she wanted to take the three other girls to this gig… Instead she just would have “secret practices.” I should have left after that incident; instead, I stayed a few more months until I could come up with a rather lame excuse to stop going to her class.

What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?

My troupe is hosting a show on September 19, 2015 at the Pittsburgh Dance Center in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. My troupe will be performing at the annual Kaffif Halloween Hafla on October 29, 2015, and then there is the Pittsburgh Bellydance Festival and Competition from November 6th to the 8th, 2015. As well, I teach at Sterling Yoga on Fridays starting the first Friday in October.

What are your goals for the future?

My goals for the coming future are to learn and perform all four choreographies and compete at a few festivals in 2016. I will also perform with one of the live bands and maybe even learn to drum. For now it is to just enjoy being in a troupe that loves each other (most of the time), as well as taking many workshops and just learning to love myself and realize I am a pretty awesome dancer when I put my mind to it.

What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?

My advice to anyone who wants to pursue Middle Eastern dance is to find a teacher that is the right fit for you. Learn about all the styles before settling into one but still take classes that are not in your “style” because you might learn a new move that can be modified to your chosen style. Cross train in Western dance forms because West is meeting East more and more. Also, learn the culture of the dance because this is an ancient art form that is older than all the Western forms.

The best advice is to NEVER stop learning. I have been in workshops where some of the students are the top dancers in the world. Just yesterday I turned around in a workshop to see four of the fusion instructors also taking the workshop. Though my favorite moment was standing behind Victoria Teal of Virginia, Lisa Zahiya of North Carolina, Aziza of Montreal, Rosa Noreen of Maine and Kata Maya of Texas in a workshop.

Where can we find you online?

 

Theatre Talk With Shanna Mandell, Middle Eastern Cabaret Performer & Instructor

 

Thank you so much for sharing, Shanna!

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Theatre Talk With Caitlin “Spinnabel Lee” Matanle, Circus Performer & Businesswoman

Theatre Talk With Caitlin

I met Caitlin Matanle, aka Spinnabel Lee, at the Blogcademy in Washington, DC last year. She and I hit it off right away with our shared love of theatre and performing! Not to mention, she has killer style — can you say spiderweb dress? Yes please!

Not only is she an amazing performer, but Caitlin is a badass business babe who runs her own entertainment company, a teacher, blogger, podcast host, festival director, and the list goes on and on! I don’t know how she does it! But now I’m going to turn it over to her… read on to find out more!

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Caitlin “Spinnabel Lee” Matanle, and I run (and perform for!) my Washington, DC-area contemporary circus and fire dancing company, Spinnabel Lee Entertainment LLC. Personally, I am a multi-prop fire performer, hula hoop dancer and multi-personality costumed character. I also contract stilt walkers, fire eaters and breathers, and additional entertainers for my company. I produce entertainment for a variety of public and private events (mostly for adults – think weddings, corporate events, and the like).

I do lots of other things, too! I teach private hula hoop dancing lessons, I am the assistant manager of online content for the Flow Arts Institute (an organization that furthers flow arts — performance arts such as hula hooping, poi, and other types of prop manipulations — experience and education around the world), and I am one of the directors for FLAME Festival (the Southeastern U.S.’s largest fire arts festival). I also work on the staff for The Jellyvision Show (a podcast for creative entrepreneurs) and as a co-host for Breaking Business Podcast (another business-centric podcast to be released this fall!).

Unrelated to show business, I moonlight as an interior design/feng shui writer for my blog Liberation Decor and am about to pursue a second career in the interior design industry. Yes, I am a multi-passionate creative! I love staying busy, even though my fiance says I over commit myself.

What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?

I have always wanted to be in show business, even when I was a shy child convinced I would be on Broadway when I grew up. I did dance and theatre but stopped in high school. I was in a couple of college productions, but didn’t really give it much thought.

In 2006, I was traveling in Guatemala and went to a party where a few of the hosts spun fire poi for the guests. I was absolutely mesmerized and knew I had to learn. When I went home, I ordered a set of (ridiculously heavy and bruise-inducing) practice poi online and set out to find some instructional videos. The problem was, YouTube at the time was nowhere near the treasure trove of knowledge it is today — all I could find were a couple of hard-to-understand videos, and I quickly gave up.

A couple of years later, I saw an old friend at an out-of-town party, and she was learning poi herself. She taught me the basics, and I went home and continued to learn. At the time, I was in a new town with no friends, so I looked online to see if I could find another teacher. I found a hula hoop class starting up about an hour away and thought I might at least meet some like-minded people (even though I wasn’t very interested in hooping at the time). I drove there every week, quickly became obsessed, and linked up with a performance collective organized by the teacher. The rest is, more or less, history!

 

Theatre Talk With Caitlin

 

What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?

I majored in sociology/anthropology in college, and I joke that I use that major (along with a healthy dose of psychology) every time I am part of an event. Hands down, the best part of my job as a performer is meeting all sorts of people and getting to observe their crazy social gatherings. I’m fascinated by new social groups. It would be impossible to pick a favourite! I’ve worked at events for celebrity lawyers, government folks, business tycoons and heirs, motorcycle clubs, haunted houses, large financial institutions… the list goes on! Probably the weirdest are the secretive unnamed “corporate events” I occasionally get contracted for — I don’t usually find out who the client is until I arrive. One was an offshore drilling convention!

Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?

One time I failed to prepare my fire poi properly and the whole chain, handle, and hand (my own) holding it caught on fire. I had gross blisters, but surprisingly, no scars (I have them from much less severe burns, though!). It was my safety assistant’s first show, but they handled it with aplomb. I finished the act with a single poi before quickly heading to the nearest cold faucet!

What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?

I am working on outsourcing more of my business (both in my office and performing in the field) to allow it to grow while freeing up my time to pursue new interests and endeavors. I recently started a second blog, Liberation Decor, which is all about intuitive interior design, feng shui, and rule breaking decorating. I plan to add services in the future!

 

Theatre Talk With Caitlin

What are your goals for the future?

I want to continue to grow Spinnabel Lee Entertainment, as well as eventually start my own practice as a feng shui interior design consultant. I plan on attending an online design school starting this winter to fill out my knowledge, and have secured a job to get started in the industry! I never want to feel confined to one job, passion, or industry.

What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?

Don’t quit your day job! I’m half-kidding… but really, any endeavor where you’re in business for yourself will require serious hustle — more than you can ever imagine. Entrepreneurship is truly not for the faint of heart.

If you do want a future in show business, make sure you always set goals and know where you are headed. Have a five-year plan. If you see yourself as part of a big touring show five years from now, your actions and decisions today will be completely different from those of someone who sees themselves running an entertainment company five years from now.

 

Theatre Talk With Caitlin

Where can we find you online?

 

Thank you so much for sharing, Caitlin!

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