Friday, January 22, 2016

Let It Snow: What Is Your Inclement Weather Policy?

I'm stranded in Virginia at my parent's house. assures me I will be here until Monday at the very least.

I guess if you must be stranded, it might as well be with people you love.

Well, it seems the perfect time to break out an inclement weather post!

Businesses, little league, and other types of groups that require people to gather in order to do something communally usually have some kind of inclement weather policy.

If you were ever involved in the PTA or a church leadership, this set up will not be shocking to you!

Then there are the groups where a single person makes a decision, and everyone else just has to wait and see what it is.

Someone (usually the superintendent of schools) decides which schools will be open on any particular day, and they often let everyone know at about five in the morning. You just go to the website!

Does your artist business have an inclement weather policy?

DLW Storyteller Inc., my company, has one.

We instituted this after a particularly bad year where we lost about six thousand dollars in revenue during one horrifyingly snowy week in February.

Our inclement weather policy dovetails right into our regular policy, so it is neither elaborate, nor needlessly complicated. Here are the steps.

1. A week before a show, the company contacts the venues to confirm times and dates. (this is standard procedure)

2. If there is some sort of inclement weather, a plan is put into place. One of four things could happen.

                a. We will consider the situation as we get a little closer to the date. (This requires a follow up phone call to see if action needs to be taken, or if we plan to attempt the show as scheduled.)

                b. We move the show to another day. (This avoids headaches...unless we run into more weather, and then you just go back to step one.

               c. We roll the dice, and just wait and see. (Sometimes this works, and our optimism is rewarded. Sometimes Mother Nature laughs heartily, and we discover at about five in the morning that the school is closed, and we need to think about another date.)

               d. If the show is cancelled on the day in question, and we have not picked another date because of our rose colored glasses, then we offer the school the next available dates. We usually follow up with them if they don't pick one after about a week, but most venues get back to us within about forty-eight hours.

3. If the venue has trouble finding a date to reschedule, we work to accommodate them even if it means rescheduling for the coming year. Some places decide to cancel the event altogether. Eight years ago we instituted a deposit policy that is non-refundable. If an organization decides not to book the show, that is their prerogative, but we do not offer refunds. The only way a group would see that deposit again is if my company was responsible for the cancelation.

It is very simple, but it makes the snowy season much less stressful. It also makes venues feel better when they know you are thinking about how to make the show work. We also make sure we instigate the contact and the rescheduling so they are not running around after us.

So, there you have it.

As for me, I'm going to curl up here at my mother's house, and have a nice cup of tea with honey.

The school I was supposed to visit this afternoon in North Carolina was closed last night, and probably won't even be open Monday, but that's okay since the show was rescheduled for next Thursday last Wednesday.

Happy Snow Day!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Packaging and Selling the African American Experience: Working While Black between MLK and Feb. 28th

On January 17th of this year, I was asked to do a twenty minute presentation at a Synagogue with a Jewish Reform congregation. This was not such an unusual request.

I often joke that between MLK Jr. day and the end of February, even people who didn't know they wanted any kind of performer discover they desperately need a black one.

When I first started performing, October and February would pay for the entire year. I could make about fifteen to twenty thousand dollars in each of those months.

Now, the folks at this synagogue are local to my home, so a goodly number of the adults and children have encountered me in our community at the schools, at author presentations, or at local festivals. I am not an unknown quantity to them, and they only thought of having me come because they were trying to figure out a way to cap their day of mitzvahs.

I was honored to be considered, but the request for what type of program I was to do was both typical and a little frustrating.

They wanted me to come and do 20 minutes on the African American experience.

This is typical, because apparently that is what is supposed to happen between MLK Jr. Day and February 28th in our country. For those who don't know, February is Black History Month.

I have no beef with black history month. In fact, I'm all for it. When I went to school, I didn't know anybody but old white guys had a hand in building our nation. Talking about slavery was uncomfortable. We learned statistics about slaves, and I think somebody mentioned something about Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver, but that was about it. Oh, Martin Luther King, we heard about him too.

Madam CJ Walker
First African American
Millionaire. Inventor
These days, kids in America spend an entire month learning about black engineers, doctors, inventors, politicians, pioneers, soldiers, and such like.

I occasionally encounter bitter people who lament that there is a women's history month, Native American Month, Hispanic History Month, African American History month, and so on, but there is no white history month. For anyone who has ever expressed this sentiment I humbly submit to you that pretty much every month is white male history month, it's just that on special months kids are encouraged to learn about some of the other people who also had a hand in creating our country.

That is neither here nor there. No, the big question is how do you present the African American experience in America?

I have no idea.

First of all, I didn't actually grow up in America. I grew up in South Korea.

I didn't grow up on 'the economy' - which is what we army brats call anything that isn't on a military base.

I grew up on military bases until I was in seventh grade.

I grew up in majorly multicultural, multi-ethnic neighborhoods, schools, and communities.

The first time I ever witnessed kids separating themselves by color in a lunch room was on my first day of seventh grade in Lawton, Oklahoma. Talk about culture shock!

I grew up on military bases in four different states and three countries.

I grew up with a high ranking military father on military bases where rank was important.

I grew up with a really diverse group of friends. At no point were all of them the same general color or from the same general part of the world...even in Lawton, Ok!

I grew up in a family with three adopted Amerasian siblings

From left to Right: My nephew John, slightly behind and above him is my brother Joseph, (Jaslyn's dad) slightly below him, my mother, next to her my sister,Annie (John and Jeremy's mom), my brother Don, my sister Duyen, My dad, my brother Milton, my brother Darren. The little guy in the black and white sweater is Jeremy, my new husband David is on his left, I am seated, and I have Jaslyn on my lap. (This was twenty years ago, we've added quite a few folks to our family since then)

I spent a big chunk of my childhood surrounded by heavily armed men.

I spent a big chunk of my childhood living in countries where I could just barely communicate with a majority of the people around me.

I was in the first integrated class to graduate from my high school in Indiana in 1984.

I was the first person of color to win a small scholarship from the Optimist club in 1983 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

I lived near Indianapolis when its motto was, 'Keep Indianapolis Lily White'. It was what they called their beautification program back in the '80s, and they justified the slogan by pointing out that Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals has their national headquarters in Indy.

The seeds of the Klan run deep in Indiana, and it is a touchy subject.

I attended Northwestern University.

I was in the first integrated international tour of Wiley and The Hairy Man in 1990. (Linked to a recent production, not the one where I played mammy.)
Depaul University

I married a Jewish man.

I am a Unitarian Universalist.

When my daughter was little she looked Asian, and people often asked me who she actually belonged to or if I were her nanny or babysitter.

My son is attending university for graphic design.

My daughter is currently in a boarding school for kids gifted in science and math.

I'm a professional storyteller and author.

My husband is my business manager/agent.

That is my African American Experience.

Being black does not mean you are having some kind of monolithic experience that all black people have. It might mean that you are more in tune with random, difficult, morale sapping, injustice that takes a toll on African Americans in general. Luckily, lots more voices are beginning to speak out against these cultural and social soul killers.

Being pulled over by the police.

Being followed around in a nice store by someone because they aren't sure black people should be shopping in nice stores.

Being give a harsher sentence or punishment than a white counterpart for the same infraction because...that's just how it is.

Being steered into a higher risk loan.

Being turned down for a job interview because of your name.

I was once discriminated against in a housing situation. It happened to David and I when we lived in Chicago. I went with David to look at an apartment he and his friends were trying to rent. The renters took one look at me and made some excuse about why the couldn't rent the apartment to Dave and his friends. They filed a complaint, the city checked on the complaint, found that the couple was indeed discriminating and Dave and his friends were given a small settlement. First and last time that ever happened to me...though it didn't actually happen to me, just because of me.

My daughter and her new
favorite sweatshirt
My mother always told me that if I wanted to succeed in life I would have to be twenty times better than any white person just to be given a shot at what 'they' take for granted as a given. Is that true? I don't know, but I try really hard not to have to find out by putting my best foot forward as often as I can.

When I am asked to give presentations on the African American Experience, I suppose I could stand up and rant and rave about how many things are still wrong in this country, and that it shouldn't be this hard to just go about your life while black, but I don't, because to tell you the truth, my life has been pretty remarkable, fun, and exciting, and wouldn't I be some kind of hypocrite or ungrateful fool to pretend it hasn't. No, I end up giving the history of the stories I'm telling, and explain how the choices made in our country shaped the way African Americans told and shared stories in the oral tradition.  I make allusions to the fact that if we understand our history, it helps put in context why we are still struggling with the biases and injustices that still plague our country, but I don't bring my soap box to a show.

That's pretty much all I've got when it comes to presenting the African American Experience in America.

As we go into the future, it would be cool if the 'othering' of our neighbors was not such a given. We each have our own experiences. Those experiences shape us, mold us, determine who we are, but they don't give any of us the right to speak for every African American, Hispanic American, Muslim American, Sikh American, middle class American, poor American, Caucasian American, Japanese American...the list goes on and the country.

So, if you happen to be black during the next month and a half, share stories, start conversations, spread knowledge, and don't let anyone tell you what is true of all African Americans, or anybody else for that matter.

If you don't happen to be black during the next month and a half, share stories, start conversations, spread knowledge, and don't let anyone tell you what is true of all African Americans, or anybody else for that matter.

Happy Sharing!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Who Is Looking For You? What Will They Find?

I realized I needed a website a long time ago. I was really pleased when I had the first one designed, and we actually put a bid out on a tech site to get my latest one done by a real live graphic arts studio.

In fact, that company did all of the PR so that my press packet, stationary, and website all had the same graphic quality and images.

Well worth the expense. I thought that was all I'd need to do. Heaven's above but I was wrong!

That did not make me excited to do anything else!

 I had zero interest in writing a blog.

In fact, When Sue O'halloran first suggested that I do it, I thought, 'no way'.

I didn't want a Facebook Page, and put off getting one until a few years ago.

I didn't want a You Tube Channel, but I have one...I don't post much there, but that will change this year.

I don't want to do an original 'show' for my YouTube Channel, but I will be putting the thing together, and if it goes well, I will be marketing the heck out of it by fall.

I didn't want to have a Twitter account. I have one all the same. You can follow me  on Twitter @dlwstoryteller. I still don't really get tweeting, and I'm not one hundred percent sure how the whole thing works, but I'm in there like everybody else!

I even joined Linkedin, but I'm not one hundred percent sure what to do with that either. Though, I'm happy to connect with you over there!

There are, in fact, a whole host of things that I don't find particularly lovely about the maintenance of my on-line persona, but, if I want to work, these are important things.

All of this on-line stuff started because of an epiphany I had some years ago.

There was lots of footage on youtube and in other places of me, but I didn't put any of it on-line, had no way to encourage or discourage people from finding it, and none of it was catalogued in any way shape or form.

Then, there are all of the random pictures, the on purpose pictures, and the 'Good Heavens I hope nobody ever sees that one' pictures.

 I wanted to make sure that if someone were looking for me, they found the information I wanted most prominent, and not the work of someone who was standing a quarter mile from the event while recording the backs of half the audiences' heads.

I decided that the only way to make sure I was putting my best foot forwards was to take control of my various on-line bits, and combine them into something that helped me funnel people and traffic to things that helped my career.

In the last couple of years I've realized I need to get into some more video posting online. My learning curve for this is horrible, but, I will figure it out with tutorials and the occasional mocking laughter of my children as they say things like, 'Just click this, mom'.

Luckily, there are new videos coming online all of the time, and that helps, but I still need to get my own stuff out there.

This newest piece is from Kentucky and is part of their PBS Learning Media. It is called A World of Stories.  I'm doing Anansi and the Hat Shaking Dance.

Those stories are going to become part of my marketing strategy going forward into the year. There are some good ones by Megan Hicks, Carrie Sue Ayvar, Dan Kedding and Mary Hamilton, so, if you have a moment, go and give it a look!

So, here is the question: When someone is looking for you...what do they see? What sites come up first? What links will they encounter? Where does Google send them? What is the overall impression people get of you when they search for you online?

That's why I write the blog.
That's why I have a Youtube Channel.
That's why I tweet.
That's why I'm on Linkedin.
That's why I'm working on a short video series.
That's why I post on Facebook.
That's why I market all of my preferred links to schools in my online marketing material.

Driving traffic to my favorite sites instead of hoping for the best is my on-line marketing strategy.

It requires constant upkeep.

What is your on-line marketing strategy?

What are your potential employers and/or fans seeing when they look for you?

Are you leading that search, or are you being carried along by it like a cork in a river?

Let 2016 be the year you take control if you are still being moved by the current.

Happy Marketing!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A New Look: Publicity Photos

It's a brand new year!

Time to re-set my life!

Time to rethink my choices!

Time to redo my publicity!

Time to submit new material for publication!

Time to figure out if I'm changing careers!

Time to decide if I'm going to do festivals or not!

Time to....well, you get the idea.

For the first time in ten years, I have gotten some new publicity photos taken. I like my old ones, and my face hasn't changed too much, but my hair has gotten grayer and longer.

I've blogged about publicity pics before, and I will no doubt do it again. This year, as I begin to re-craft my public image, I'm going to be talking about some of the process on the blog.

I asked a friend of mine who is an amateur photographer to take some new pictures for me.

Now when I say 'amateur', I do not mean he got a camera for Christmas and thought, 'who do I know I could convince to pose for some pictures?'

He's been at this for some time. He just doesn't get paid. He has one of them real jobs.

He's also seen my work for years. He knows what I look like in performance, what a storyteller does, and he had ideas for the kinds of shots he thought would work.

We spent over an hour and a half taking pictures. I liked lots of them.

Then, I posted them on my Facebook page to get feedback from everyone and their sister.

For some things this is a bad idea, but for photos that are essentially taken so that the public can interact with them, this is perfect.

My Facebook friends include people I've never met, my family and friends, people who know me really well, people who've known of me for many years, people who only know me in print, a handful of people who were fans of my work who snuck onto the personal Facebook page before I opened my professional page, storytellers who've seen my work, storytellers who have never seen my work, and a number of artists who do a hoard of other things that do not include live, oral performance.

What I was seeking:

How do people react to these pictures?

Do people find me either approachable, or scary?

Do people find some of these pictures odd?

Do people like the photos? If so, why or why not?

Does this look creepy?

Does this make someone uncomfortable?

Do I look like a character of some kind?

So, I put them out there and sat back to see what I could see.

When you mine for information on Facebook you get three kinds of reactions.

1. Neutral

2. Interesting

3. Critical

The neutral response is to hit the 'like' button.

The interesting responses range from people commenting on my level or lack thereof of attractiveness, what I am wearing,  the choice of hairstyle, describing my facial expressions or gesture, or saying something that has so many different meanings it is impossible to tell what they mean.

The critical responses go into detail about why they like, don't like, are attracted to or are not attracted to a particular image.

All of this information is useful on some level. As I decide which images to use and which to put in my storage of 'images I don't use for whatever reason' it is good to know how people react when they first see them. What is my plan for these pics? Easy.

These are images I will no doubt be using for the next decade barring some huge change in my face before that.

I want to use these pictures with captions for my own Facebook page, Pinterest account and twitter feed.

I need a variety of different looks to cover a variety of different hats that I either already wear, or need to appear to wear.

Respected Educator

Children's Picture Book Author

Animated Storyteller

Public Speaker



Pictures that allow me to make posters, come up with a variety of different captions, show different sides of my personality, and make me look fun, serious, scary, inviting, and just plain interesting are a must. That's what I'm after. Yes, there is a mole on the side of my nose. If someone judges me for that and decides they can't spend an evening with me, well, that will just have to be as it is!

The shoot was fun.

Still, I didn't get everything I needed. As you will notice, I am wearing the same outfit in all of these pictures. This is because of all the shots we took, the ones in this outfit were the best.

That's great except for the fact that these photos all get a serious cast to them because of the pattern and the color.

I need some photos that are fun that don't have me dressed like I want to invite small children into my home and have them for supper.

Actually, the photo below is supposed to suggest that, but I didn't mean for all of them to look so dark!

Then there is my Serious Writer pose.

I also did a few with books. I plan to use these photos for posters which I will give away to volunteers who accept the random challenges I pose at schools. These will go to teachers who decide to join me on stage for various storyteller necessities. 

I have a variety of photos to choose from, and the ones I like will eventually replace the photo page that is currently available on my website where most people get the photos they use for the various publicity choices they make when I am on my way to their organization.

I'll have to go back into session with my friend and get some photos with me in a colorful outfit or two, but I think these photos are a great start to my new year!

What do I like most about these photos? Well, that's an easy one.

When I was a kid, my great grandmother had beautiful, silvery hair. She wore it in a coil, like a silver crown on her head. 

When I was six, I asked:

"Grandma Topsy?"

"Yes, baby?"

"Why is your hair silver?"

"I got wisdom locks, honey."

"Wisdom locks?"


"Will I ever have wisdom locks?"

"Oh, yes, child, you will, but you got to wait for 'em. Someday, when you have lots of wisdom, your wisdom locks will come in nice and strong."

"Will they be as silvery as yours?" I was admiring the way the light caught them.

"Oh, I expect so."

My great grandmother was right. In my new photos, my wisdom locks are catching the light just like hers used to do. I've got a long way to go before I have as much silver as she did, but I am on my way!

Happy New Year!