Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Caroline Younger. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Caroline, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today We’d love to hear from you about what you think Corporate America gets wrong in your industry and why it matters.
Corporate America has a plan and projects what is supposed to happen based on what it thinks should happen based on a model, a construct. Corporate America is rigid, promotes standards and norms that do not include a large part of society, Corporate America has an agenda and allows for little collaboration and uses formulas to lure a costumer into purchasing a product or joining a “community”. All of which have little to do with the reality of the human spirit and experience. It may have some to do with someones idea of the human experience but it does not represent the varied tapestry of human thought, desire and emotion.
None of this is Art and none of it belongs in a creative industry.
Art is about choice. Corporate America is not.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers?
My company is WABI theatre and dance. WABI comes from the Japanese term WABI SABI. This term stands for “beauty found in imperfection” “beauty of things unrefined and unique” and it heralds the “process” and not the “final product.” I chose this name for my company in 2001 when I lived in NYC and was becoming a choreographer and writer after being an actress for many years. I produced many dance concerts and two plays under the name.
At that time, my industry was not inclusive at all. I moved to NYC in 1990. I was 20. I was 5’3 and half Greek. I am the daughter of a Greek Immigrant that illegally entered the USA. He was a merchant marine and when he docked in Baltimore, he “jumped the ship”. He was almost deported after marrying my mother when my siblings were toddlers, I was still unborn. My point is, I was a bit of a misfit. I’m half Polish and half Greek. I didn’t have the “ideal” body type that at that time was really in fashion. I didn’t look like everyone else at auditions. I had blonde curly hair, was short, not thin and my last name was Liadakis, which no one could say and confused everyone because I was blonde with white skin and had this crazy Greek name.
I got all of the funny, character parts. The “short” girl parts. I could never audition for the tall showgirl dance shows, as there was always a height stipulation in the audition posts.
Then Disney rolled into NYC in the 90s and things got worse in my opinion, Disney’s squeaky clean reputation was taking over what had once been the more edgy, homegrown NY shows for slick adaptations of films, like Beauty and the Beast. I still managed to work a lot but it felt very suffocating and many times.We would walk Into auditions and we would get “typed” which meant that if the casting team didn’t like the way you “looked” you got “cut”. “Cut” means you leave.
It was very embarrassing and shameful at times. It was hard to grapple with being judged for your appearance on a weekly sometimes daily basis. It was all about what you looked like.
I started to question all of this. I started to think, why is the”funny” character always short? Why is the ingenue always tall and brunette and thin? I knew none of this had any truth regarding what people were really like on the inside. People who were “imperfect” weren’t being represented on the stage of Broadway but they were part of society. I felt trapped and I felt sadness and pain for all of the beauty that wasn’t being acknowledged in this world. How many people with disabilities weren’t even able to audition for shows? Why couldn’t anyone audition and people be cast instead for an essence. I dreamt of casting productions from that lens.
I had read about the term WABI and it had stuck in my brain and the more I noticed the casting trap, the more I thought about WABI. I dreamt of contributing to making a shift within the business. The first showcase I did under the name WABI was a presentation of dances with rock music and photography. I set out to find dancers that were all different. Different looks, different bodies. The piece was well received, but one of my friends commented that he had heard from others, that my dancers bodies weren’t “ideal”, he said they were overweight. I was disgusted. I had beautiful young women dancing for me and just because they weren’t underweight with no boobs or hips, they were overweight. Meanwhile, they were real, healthy and beautiful. I was also upset that my so called friend felt the need to even share this with me. How negative. How unsupportive. I wanted a different kind of experience in this business.
I continued my mission and I feel in a small way I have contributed to tearing down this incredibly false and controlling mindset that has ruled the Performing Arts. I had the privilege of working for Phamaly Theatre Company in Denver as their sales manager. When I first moved west from NYC, I saw one of their productions. I was touched and blown away. Their entire roster of artists has what society deems, “disabilities”. They are inspiring and amazing and I was thrilled to get to work for them for a short time.
When I opened the Performing Arts School for teens in Denver, I knew WABI would be a good mantra for them. Teenagers are dealing with so much peer pressure and pressure regarding what and who to be, and with the internet blasting images at them, I knew what WABI stands for would gently remind them that it’s OK to be different, in fact it is really very powerful. Within WABI I use a lot of new age, metaphysical, as well as natural and holistic tools like crystals, meditation, organic products and really teach from a place of sustainability not flash in the pain ego driven success. The company also represents the importance of healthy eating, limited use of technology, respecting the earths resources and being an individual and following your heart.
Currently, WABI is in a workshop format. We are offering Musical Theatre Workshops for teens all over the country. Our next workshop is August 6 and 7th in Charlotte, NC with Kevin Covert, the head of Musical Theatre at Shenandoah Conservatory. The workshop is for young students pursuing Musical Theatre ages 12-18. They can expect a thorough, technical training ground with classes in dance, song interpretation, acting and auditioning, that is also nurturing, inclusive and allows them to expand what they uniquely bring to this industry. For more information on the workshop, www.wabitheatre-dance.rocks/wabi-the-workshop-college-prep
How’d you build such a strong reputation within your market?
I feel the proof is always in the pudding. In my case, the students I teach become more confident within not just their craft but themselves. When my Colorado students that were primarily singer/actors starting aceing their dance auditions and getting noticed for their movement prowess, I knew how I was doing things was working. When my Colorado students staring getting into strong BFA Musical Theatre Programs, I knew how myself and my faculty were training the students successfully and the positive energy we were bestowing on them was working. Class is about training and improving physically but it’s also about working through what might be holding you back. I feel the space WABI creates for the students is encouraging and allows them to fail, make mistakes and be truthful about how they can become stronger. All of this then helps them at their auditions, as they have created a strong foundation that they feel confident in navigating for themselves.
I’m also very forthright about how WABI works and what we believe in. We believe in the craft, hard work, respect, being kind, and a non competitive attitude. I think being myself helped me build my reputation.
Any advice for growing your clientele? What’s been most effective for you?
I feel as a business owner, I have to be honest that things are going to ebb and flow. At one point, my classes and studio were so packed, I had a waitlist. Yes, it was successful but in the back of my head, I didn’t know if it was sustainable for me. I saw the trap. I had created a model that was working and I would just keep ramping it up, taking on more students, and doing the same classes year after year. But I was getting tired and I didn’t feel the work had the same value as it initially did.
I didn’t feel right about this. I felt like suddenly, the joy and the spark that I had initially created was dimming. I feel as a teacher, you have to know when you aren’t serving your students any longer. At that point, my clientele was growing fast due to word of mouth. I didn’t really have a strategy, it was organic. I did make sure I used social media to get the information out, and I did have contacts at high schools that were circulating my information.
The bottom line however is, you have to do good work, have integrity and help others. I’m not sure if that is a “strategy” but those are my intentions when I consider growing ciientele. I also think it is a natural progression that sometimes business dips and then it comes back again. It’s like a garden, you nurture it and it grows, sometimes it gets hit by a rainstorm or hail but you have to trust it will come back stronger.
- Website: www.wabitheatre-dance.rocks