Growing up I always wanted to be an actress. I think it may have started after seeing my mother perform in a stage production of A Raisin in the Sun. So I began my journey towards that goal and ultimately secured an agent. However, there was a time when I went to audition for a play in a community theater and was told I couldn't audition because there wasn't a role for a black woman. In fact, the theater owner suggested I look at other options and explained to me that they rarely produced shows for black audiences because "black people don't go to the theater." I was so upset and disappointed for that moment but that rejection allowed me to create new opportunities for me and others that I hadn't expected.
1. Identify your talents and develop a career or business from them
One way to identify your talents is to think about the things you enjoy doing. What are you passionate about? Can those hobbies or personal interests be combined with a specific skill or expertise you have?
Amanda Pekoe of The Pekoe group had a passion for theatre and experience in marketing. So she decided to fuse the two and created a marketing company specializing in Broadway and Off Broadway shows. Amanda felt the need to follow the path that seemed to be laid out in front of her. Her company has been very successful, working with shows like Rock of Ages, Eclipsed and Twelfth Night to name a few.
2. Recognize the gap in an industry or the perceived gap and fill it
How can you fill the gap? Often, ideas come when you're looking for something to fill a need but are unable to find it.
Though I was disappointed by the theater owner's response to my interest in auditioning, it really put a spotlight on the lack of diversity in entertainment locally. This led me to not only create projects for diverse audiences, but to also give opportunities for performers gain exposure.
3. Develop relationships with people and discover mentors
When Amanda started the Pekoe group, one of her college professors was instrumental in building her confidence and recommended her for her first big marketing job on Broadway. Mentors come in many varieties. It could be an old college professor, or someone in your professional network. Guidance can also come in the form of blog posts or emails. I have found a lot of inspiration from people like David Siteman Garland and Andrew Warner to name a few who graciously helped me via emails when I launched my first show a few years ago.
If I hadn't been told no, I wouldn't have gone on to produce a community festival, now in its fourth year, a web series, a digital media and production company or launch a talent development and brand representation company.
No, can be the start of something big!
Jacqueline Lisenby is a Digital Talent Brand Manager with Talent House and Producer with Statusj. She is the creator of SheXpo (Side Hustle & Entrepreneurial Expo for Women) and UrbanFest. Jacqueline works with emerging and established talent developing and managing their digital brand while creating partnerships with corporate brands.