Global pandemic or not, this industry is hard. Showbiz is not all glitz and glam. It’s ridden with financial insecurity, frequent rejection, an uncertain career trajectory, risk of injury, missing holidays with family and nights out with friends, and also that whole always-questioning-your-worth thing. In spite of this, here we all are—hustling through the tough stuff so that we can “live the dream.” #amiright?
Still, it’s hard not to become discouraged or jaded by the industry we’ve chosen (or, that maybe chose us). And now especially—in a time of worldwide crisis—how can we as professional artists stay motivated, inspired, and engaged in our vocation? Cue Broadway Bound Initiative, a treasure chest of free resources, personalized mentorship, and community events to empower artists with the knowledge, tools, and interpersonal connections to succeed.
The Dance Journalist got the backstage scoop from BBI founder, Emily Grace Kersey, who felt most lost after making her Broadway dream come true. Kersey put in the work to get herself unstuck and created BBI to inspire other artists to do the same.
What’s your dance background and professional experience?
I started dancing at the ripe old age of three. I grew up training in ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, lyrical, you name it. I thought I wanted to be a ballet dancer, but I also loved musicals from day one and once I was in high school my focus switched more to musical theater. I attended the University of the Arts for dance and minored in Musical Theater. During my senior year of college I would often take a bus from Philly to NYC at 5am to get to auditions by 8am (non-eq life) and then I’d bus back right after to make it to rehearsals or any showcases I had that evening. Once I graduated, I moved to NYC immediately. I worked at several regional theaters, did two non-union national tours, got my Equity card, and a year later booked the Broadway revival of CATS as a replacement for Cassandra. Since then, I’ve done several workshops here in the city, built a Broadway mentorship program called Broadway Bound Initiative, and most recently was a part of a new musical called Fly that opened at La Jolla Playhouse this month!
What training programs, mentors, jobs, or experiences helped shape you as a professional performer?
Between my junior and senior year of college, I attended Broadway Dance Center’s Summer Internship program, now known as the Professional Semester. It was an amazing introduction to life in NYC as well as the dance culture here. I learned how to format a resume, attend an audition, approach dance class in the city, and interact with teachers and fellow students in a way I never had to before. It opened my eyes. It offered me professional connections to artists I now call friends. That summer made me think…I can definitely do this.
What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Save more money and don’t claim unemployment! If you can work, work! Unemployment is a great resource when you’re between gigs (or if you’re quarantined and can’t possibly work), but if you’re done with a show and you have no gigs coming up, go back to work a side gig or side hustle. You’ll make way more money and it won’t bite you in the butt when it comes to paying taxes. Also, save as much as you can all the time. Even when you’re worried about making rent, save a dollar.
Why is it important for a dancer to be savvy when it comes to the business of show business?
Talent and luck can only get you so far, and they won’t keep you sane in this fickle industry. It’s so important to treat your career as exactly that…a career. Not a hobby, not a side gig…it’s a business, at least it is if you want it to make you money. Even though you’re pursuing your passion, you have to treat every day like everybody else treats their 9-5 job. You have to approach every day, audition, agent meeting, dance class, and voice lesson with a purpose. You are the CEO of you. That way, you always know why you’re doing something whether it’s choosing one gig over another or saying no to agency representation. Navigate your career with intention, and you will have a career you want rather than one that just happens to you.
How did BBI come about? What services and resources do you offer?
Broadway Bound Initiative brought me back to myself. I had just made my Broadway debut; I had achieved a lifelong dream. After closing CATS, the following year was one of the lowest of my life. I didn’t trust myself as an artist, I was questioning whether or not I belonged in the industry—if my successes were just lucky flukes that would never happen again. I felt stuck. It was because of that that I joined a women’s confidence coaching group. I ended up working one-on-one with the coach after the group program was over, and she is now my mindset and entrepreneurial coach. Getting myself unstuck inspired me to want to help others get unstuck in their careers. I thought, I have all of this experience and knowledge about the industry that I’m a part of, and a lot of people come to NYC to pursue a career in this industry without any guidance and information to get them started. What if I provide them the necessary information to get them ahead of the curve? I could help others approach their career with more information and less trial and error.
Through BBI, I offer free resources to get you started in the industry, as well as tailored mentoring for aspiring Broadway dancers ready to regain power in their careers, get unstuck, cut the guesswork, and make their journey strategic. But the best way to discover what BBI offers is to hop on a free call with me so that I can get a sense of what you’re looking for most in terms of support/guidance…and we can go from there!
This is a tough industry, how does BBI empower aspiring performers with the tools for success?
The main theme throughout my work with clients is the idea of regaining your power…whether it’s in the audition room or in a broader sense and you want to take power back over the trajectory of your career. By encouraging clients to look at themselves as the CEO of their careers, they regain the power as the director of the train and not a passenger. BBI provides you with accountability, guidance, and a business mindset that empower clients to actively insert themselves into the musical theater industry.
How do you utilize the BBI practices you teach in your own journey as a performer?
Here’s a great example…I often preach the value of vision setting and breaking down that vision into actionable goals so that you are actively working towards your dream life. I have lists (I love lists) of business goals and career goals for myself. They’re all broken down into daily/weekly/monthly actions that get me to achieve those goals. I check in regularly and adjust, if necessary, but having a larger picture of what I’m working towards keeps me and my actions focused.
All Broadway Bound Initiative practices have been developed from my own experience, and personal “trial and error.” From vision-setting and audition mindset to getting an agent, submitting to casting directors directly, and deciding when to take your Equity card, I guide and support my clients based on my time spent in the industry as well as the trends I’m noticing. My goal with this business is to take all of the information I have learned through experience, peers’ experiences, and industry professionals’ advice, and to provide it to clients in a way that’s effective and cuts their learning curve.
Talk to us about some of your collabs with other artist-preneurs in the industry.
Collaborating with fellow artist-preneurs in this industry has been so incredibly inspiring and exhilarating! This past year, fellow Broadway performer, entrepreneur, and associate choreographer, Ali Solomon and I launched a series of monthly community-building events called Broadway, Business, and Bubbles. The idea is to bring artists together to discuss pain-points in the industry, support fellow artist-preneurs, and foster community-building within our networks. With the entrance of COVID-19, we’ve taken our events online and are doing a bi-weekly virtual happy hour to come together as artists, socialize, and bounce ideas off of one another. (For details about our next event, follow me on Instagram!) I’m also currently working on a collaborative month-long event for college seniors (also virtual) with Katy Kauffman, founder of Hustle by TRSK. This month we launched a virtual study group called The Academy, helping collegiate artists take the right steps toward their performance careers during a period of uncertainty in the industry. This group provides support and guidance for college seniors, who are graduating from their performing arts programs into a very uncertain version of our industry. Details on eventbrite.com search The Academy: Hustle by TRSK x Broadway Bound Initiative.
What’s the best way for people to locate your resources and connect with you?
For daily resources, industry tips, and future events follow me on Instagram @broadwayboundinitiative. To see more info about the various Mentorship Programs that I offer, check out www.emilygracekersey.com/bbi . You can also apply for programs or set up a free Discovery Session on my website. Let’s strategize your journey to Broadway!