"Our mission is to change the dance industry to ensure that dancers and performers are paid their worth"
Everything we do has an impact, a domino effect, everything we buy, every place we go, everything we eat, every show we see. Analysis paralysis is real, especially so if you want to be intentional/make a difference in how you spend your money and time. CURA exists to be the filter, to make it easier on you. If we do our jobs right, we'll become a trusted editor leading you to the best art, design, and intentional living experiences out there. It’s the reason why I "virtually" tackled Annya Pin and Shay Simone of Simone Pin Productions just hours after I first learned about their mission. A little background, this fall we both participated in a small business competition (and both won awards I might add), but we didn't actually meet that evening, so I did what any shameless, mission driven entrepreneur does, I Facebook messaged and begged them to collaborate. Luckily, Annya and Shay agreed to be featured in our winter editorial and "Women We Love" series despite my perhaps overly eager DMs. So yes, they’re not only visionary and gorgeous, but generous and kindly tolerant of virtual tackles...
Annya and Shay, I'm so grateful you agreed to collaborate. It’s been an honor and delight getting to know your world of art, dance, music, production and theatre. You co-founded Simone Pin Productions, a women of color owned production company whose mission is to create and produce performance art that celebrates the beauty, strength and sex appeal of performers of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities. Utilizing elements of burlesque modern, contemporary and hip hop SP creates original content inspired by themes of female empowerment. Could we go deeper into your creative point of view and learn how the mission of SP applies to your team and the greater world of dance?
Shay: Our shows are created with intention from top to bottom. Our aesthetic is the fusion of technical dancing, singing and editorial costume design wrapped into a provocative live performance. We test viewer perception by evoking all human senses and emotions. Each show is vastly different in theme, but holds a place for a loose narrative.
Annya: Our mission is to change the dance industry. To ensure that dancers and performers are paid their worth. Being a dancer is a short-lived career and very hard on the body. Many jobs are low-paying and as a freelance performer you’re responsible for purchasing your own health insurance. We aim to lead the way and provide the same benefits to our dancers as they would have in any other career path.
When I first saw you and learned about your business model, no question it was love at first sight, but when I saw your original performance piece "Dollhouse" I fell head over heels. The performance was stunning- the costumes, the choreography, the cast WERE. ALL. AMAZING. And it was, so much fun, diverse, provocative, I didn't want it to end. Tell us about your process. How does the creation come to life? How much collaboration is there, between you both and the dancers and cast? Is the journey to the final performance as fun as it looks?
Shay: The collaborative process is fun and rewarding. As the Founding Artistic Director I believe it’s important to come with a solid idea and intention for the show before bringing it to the cast to insure we use their time wisely. Annya and I like to collaborate on this together. A successful brainstorming session ends with a show name, recurring theme, and loose setlist. From there I finalize the music edits, creating choreography and costume design while Annya focuses on organizing and scheduling. As a team we get the core of the show planned out before we start rehearsal. This puts us on a steady work flow which gives us more time to test new ideas with our cast. Although Annya and I take the lead in show creation and operation our Simone Pin babes know they have a voice that’s valued. Often times we like to pull them into show decisions or task them with a project. The journey to the final performance is filled with smart work, laughter, tears of joy, sweat, and a lot of pasty tape!
Taking a stand as a POC artistic production company means people will be looking to you to be a leader in equity and inclusion in the arts. How does this responsibility feel to you now that you're all in?
Annya: It’s exciting and scary at the same time. We know personally the struggles of being a woman of color and dancer of color, and we’re in this business not just to produce shows, but to also make a difference in our community. It’s exciting that we have a space where we use art to tell thought provoking narratives and stories about what it’s like to be a woman of color, to navigate this world. It’s scary because it’s a lot of vulnerability, but it’s important…it is our time to tell our story, our way.
What attracted you to the Seattle Burlesque community and how has the reception been thus far? Do you think Burlesque struggles with equity as much as the other dance disciplines?
Shay:It was a truly a serendipitous occurrence being sucked into the Seattle burlesque scene. Being new to Washington I had no clue what to expect from the artist community. All I had was my prior knowledge and experience from training in New York City and Los Angeles. So, it was a lovely surprise to find a community of unique and witty performers oozing with potential. I’m forever grateful.
The burlesque world struggles with equity, but not more than the general dance community. Simone Pin has been graciously accepted by many seasoned burlesque performers and artists in the community; I believe it’s because we have high production value and are working hard to raise industry standards for all performers.
Annya: I think like any industry that is white dominant, burlesque struggles with racial equity, but in the Seattle scene we’re starting to see more dancers of color have the platform they deserve. Many are producing their own shows, creating POC friendly spaces and getting booked to perform in a variety of venues.
You both spent years in contemporary dance worlds - what were you doing in your previous roles before Simone Pin?
Shay: I’m originally from LA and I’ve been dancing professionally since 2013. Before SP I worked at a cabaret theatre in Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle both as a performer and and costume designer. I also taught at a youth dance studio in Poulsbo, Washington and taught an class in Seattle called “Burlesque Heels”. Annya took this class and it was actually post class coffee dates with Annya where Simone Pin was born!
Annya: Before Simone Pin, I was performing at a cabaret theatre in Pike Place Market where I originally met Shay. Besides performing, I have a Masters in Social Work from the UW. For 7 years, I’ve been working in King County in both the non-profit and public sector applying community solutions for basic needs inequities like healthcare and social services.
Why is it important to you to do this now, at this point in your careers and lives?
Shay: It’s been 2 years since I left the most toxic work environment I have ever experienced in my professional career. While working there I experienced two pivotal thoughts that led me to our Simone Pin destiny ; I realized the power of ideas which I have an endless supply and two, I realized I could start my own production company and create great company culture. And now, with Annya by my side we're doing it.
Annya: For me, I’ve learned a lot through my “day career”. I’ve been tested a lot lately regarding what I value and need to have in a workplace environment. What I love about Simone Pin is the amount of supportive energy I receive from Shay, the cast, production team and audience members. I feel valued as a woman of color, free to be myself and to be able to create something with people that I adore.
What do you dream SP productions will be in 5 years?
Shay: In 5 Years Simone Pin will be a women of color operated empire generating several streams of revenue that employ and provide professional development to predominantly POC artists and people interested in show business. Our dream is to take over the west coast and become the leading pioneers in performance art.
Well, I'm counting down the days to see what Annya and Shay come up with next. West Coast domination is imminent, it's just a matter of when. Until then we'll continue to shout from the rooftops about their works of art, entertainment and progressive mission. The future is female.