Category: Fashion

Recover and Continue

by Evelyn Rice Wells, CTFD dancer-client and Caroline H. Newhouse award recipient

Evelyn Rice WellsDuring the time when I was training in dance, shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew had not yet hit the screens. Dancers were not considered mainstream performing artists, unless they starred in a movie. The choreographers were just another name in the credits, and the fusion of Lyrical and Hip Hop was the anomaly. Throughout high school and in college, I danced because it was what I was good at and what I knew best. I choreographed because of how I felt naturally, when I heard the music. I wrote it all down because I wanted some day to share this knowledge in some form, through books, videos and pictures. All the while, I kept training, performing, choreographing, teaching, and documenting, but who knew it would be shaping me to be the woman I am today. I was building my portfolio, one project at a time, getting the exposure, experience, and knowledge I needed for my future endeavors. I was just a young lady who just liked moving to music. Now, I am a more mature woman who is finally learning the moves necessary to create a masterpiece.

I applied for and received the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship in order to move forward professionally by pursuing a Masters in Science degree for Entertainment Business. My overall career goal is to become a Creative/Artistic Director and Producer for a major production house. I strongly believe that this degree will further enhance my knowledge and experience in the industry of media and entertainment.

The field of entertainment is a competitive one, but I am up for the challenge. I know the work ethic it takes and the professionalism that is demanded, as I am living it every day. Having a Masters degree in Entertainment Business will put me in a better position to accredit the hard-working and duly trained dancers, which sometimes get overlooked because of the fame and trends of today’s mainstream television. I am in the process of finding my niche within the world of dance and film, and I am eager to be one of the many that can re-establish the proper standards for performing artists.

I’ve always loved dance in film, and I’ve always wanted to be part of the creation of classics, such as The Wiz, West Side Story, Singing in the Rain, and Mary Poppins, to name a few. The process has always fascinated me, and I especially enjoyed learning about the behind-the-scenes work. Earlier in my dance career, I started with the Chicago Honey Bears and the UIC Dancing Flames, and I would also teach at a local studio, YMCA, or school nearby. Along the way, I was fortunate to have met the right people, and I was a quick-learner, but more importantly I was focused. From there, I went on to venture both on-scene and behind-the-scenes of some of great performers, including Jennifer Holiday, Janet Jackson, and Oprah. I was getting opportunities that I could only dream about, performing at venues nationwide, getting invitations to private celebrity auditions, casting in a music video, featuring in magazines, and even going on tour.

On top of that, I never took for granted the responsibility we have as professionals in the field. Learning how to quickly adapt to different situations helped strengthen my skill set, which could only be taught through experience. Always smile. Presentation is everything. Make eye contact. Be ready and able to step up and fill-in. It was a fast- growing industry, even before social networking, and I had to be a performer, choreographer, instructor, and music editor for the total package. If only someone could have told me and showed me the right pathway when I was younger, then I could have arrived here sooner. Even so, I have no regrets. I’ve had many successes, and I’ve had many failures. The mistakes are what made me stronger. I’ve learned that it’s not about the failure, but it’s what you do after that ultimate moment. It’s about the recovery, and even when I educate at both pre-professional and professional levels, I am reminding them of this: It’s not about the mistake you make on that stage, but instead it is about what you commit to doing right after that moment. Recover and continue to tell your story.  With that, I strongly believe it is my duty to keep growing and learning in different platforms, and practicing what I preach, which is what Full Sail University is providing for me. One of my goals, alongside being a Creative Director/Producer is to have a well-established company that can educate and train artists, in etiquette and industry standards (both in front of the camera and behind the camera), and then have this company feed into the major production house projects.Evelyn Rice Wells

In 2002, I remember when I interned for WGN-TV, during the initial interview, Charlie Schumacher, news director, asked me what I could bring to the table that was different [while I attended UIC, I was developing my writing skills in media and entertainment, and seemingly I was also shaping my communication skills and business plans]. I looked at him, and at the same moment I was figuring out what script to use for my answer. I knew that one day somehow, dance, media, editing, and entertainment could be fused together and would create something amazing. 
He believed in my response, and wanted to see what I could do. Honestly, although I’ve accomplished quite a bit, I know that I still have so much more to attain, and I am determined to do so. I am looking forward to graduating with an MS degree at the end of the term next year.

I feel blessed to have had all my experiences that I have had to this day. I am appreciative and grateful for the many people I know and have worked with, as well as shared and learned from them. My goal is to share the knowledge and help both professionals and aspiring professionals learn and get hands-on experience, and opportunity to strengthen and use their crafts. From music-editing, working behind-the-scenes, choreographing, and entertaining on-stage, I consider myself a true performing artist. In this industry, people really have to wear several hats and be experienced in multimedia as well.

We are bombarded everyday with an overabundance of reality shows, contests and media frenzies, and many doors of opportunities are actually being opened for our performing artists. I want to smooth out the pathway and act as a vessel, showing the young aspiring artists how to go through these doors with the proper tools, professionally.

Interview with Bradon McDonald!

Bradon McDonaldWe have a celebrity in our midst.  In the 12th Season of Project Runway (Lifetime), Bradon McDonald, a former dancer-client of Career Transition For Dancers, came in 3rd place!  What an achievement.  We are all very proud of him and recently CTFD’s board member Caitlin Carter phoned him in L.A. for an interview:

C.C. – Tell me about your dance career and how it all started.

B.M. – Dancers usually start at a very young age and I was no exception.  At six years old, I started with tap, then jazz, clogging with an Irish fiddle band, and modern dance at the New York State Summer School of the Arts in Saratoga Springs, NY.  I studied under the tutelage of Carolyn Adams and Julie Adams Strandberg along with Graham, Taylor, and Limón teachers.  For a teenager from a small, northern NY rural dairy town (Lowville), this opportunity and access to high art in essentially my backyard was amazing.  So that’s how it all started.

C.C. – And after high school, where did you go?

B.M. – My teachers told me I should audition for the Juilliard School and I said, “Well, I don’t do ballet.”  They said, “We’ll figure it out” [laughs].  So, I figured it out and was accepted into Juilliard right after high school.  During my junior year at Juilliard, I also apprenticed with the José Limón Company.  I started performing with Limón full time just a few months before I graduated.  I stayed with Limón for three years then auditioned for the Mark Morris Dance Group and was with that company for ten years (2000-2010).

C.C. – When did you start to think about your post dance career, when did those seeds start to get planted?  I mean, you’re smart enough to know that a dance career can’t go on forever.  Also, how did you go in the direction of fashion design?

B.M. – In high school, I studied fine arts.  In this small town, we had an amazing program that taught painting, drawing, and sculpture from 7th grade on.  I loved it and thrived in that environment and kept it going wherever I was.  After that point, I always had some connection with fine art.

I knew I wanted to dance, that was never a question.  It was a matter of how I was going to get the fine arts in there.  I decided to just dive in head first with dance – I could always have a fine arts career after my dance career.  So that was always the plan.

So when I was touring, I would go to famous museums around the world and buy fabric without knowing what I was going to do with it.  I was just hoarding fabric.  I felt like fabric was affordable fine art and the fabrics were paintings.  So my fiancé, Josh, bought me a sewing machine.  I taught myself how to sew and started making bags because dancers carry bags and I was living in NYC and everyone in NYC carries bags.  It was a great way to use the fabric by making artful panels, whether it was embroidery, different textiles together, in a cut out or collage kind of way.  Whatever technique I was working with I could put handles on that painting, mount the bag, and somebody would buy it instead of it just hanging on the wall of a gallery for people to say, “oh, that’s lovely.”

C.C. – So you have a wonderful fine arts foundation and then you have your dance.  And the fine arts foundation segued into actual bag design.  How did that morph into fashion design?

B.M. – Even before that, Paul Taylor for example, mixed fine arts with athleticism and that’s how he connected with modern dance.  That’s what happened to me in high school.  I was doing competition dance and I had this fine art background and then I discovered modern dance and I thought, “Oh wow, dance is fine arts on stage.”  Then the bags happened.  And then I started making costumes for a burlesque show in NY – it was my first time constructing garments from scratch and I did a lot of shopping at Home Depot.

C.C. – That experience probably set you up for Project Runway.

B.M. – It really did.  Working with a shoestring budget and unconventional materials makes you really resourceful!

C.C. – I’m curious as to how you heard about CTFD and how were we able to guide you?

B.M. – I knew about CTFD from Juilliard.  They told us about it in school.  And I attended a meeting that Mark Morris Dance Group hosted at their headquarters while I was still performing there.  I always had the organization on my radar.  So when I went to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in L.A., I applied for a grant.

C.C. – Wonderful!  And what did that provide for you?

B.M. – Tuition.  It went directly toward tuition.  That was money that didn’t have to come out of my pocket for repaying loans or interest on loans.

C.C. – Fantastic!  Was there any moment that was challenging during the transition and how did you handle it in terms of leaving your performing career.

B.M. – It was the idea of leaving performance and dance.  It was a petrifying idea because that’s what I had done my whole life.  Still, I retired at 35 from dance.  I felt like I needed to start a second completely impractical career while I was still young and dumb enough to do it [laughs].  If I waited any longer I might get a little smarter.  So, I thought, let’s do this.  Let’s do this now.  I scheduled my last performance with MMDG and 12 hours later I started at FIDM.

C.C. – Wow, and that’s great advice for someone who is transitioning.  It doesn’t work for everybody.  For some people, that might be a little daunting to walk away from the final performance and go right to school, but dancers need to be constantly inspired and challenged.  It’s good advice for people to set those goals and plans and move forward.

Did you have an “aha” moment where you thought you were going to be okay or did you question yourself, “Am I going to make it?” “Is this the right decision?”

B.M. – When you go back to school at a later age, you work harder because you want so much out of it.  It was a very intense schedule and in my head, I was telling myself that I had to start a new career now.  I have to hit the ground running when I finish school and I have to get a job in the industry.

C.C. – What qualities as a dancer or performer helped you the most as you transitioned into a new career?

B.M. – It’s the discipline, the drive, the focus.  It is the ability to work in groups, work with other people, work on a team, work for a demanding boss like Mark Morris, which taught me so much.  It is learning how to navigate those situations to bring out what is best for the work and what is best for the audience.

C.C. – So, why did you audition for Project Runway?

B.M. – I have watched the show since the first season and I have always loved it.  Partly because it shows how much work goes into making garments and I knew that from selling all these years.  For instance, it is completely improbable for a simple white t-shirt to exist: from grilling the cotton to making the yarn to selling it to a textile mill to knitting the fabric and then that fabric gets put into another textile distributor and then a company might buy that fabric to use and a designer picks that fabric and then a store picks that fabric and then it’s shipped to that store and somebody puts in on a hanger and hangs it on a rack and then you look at it and say, “$19 for a t-shirt?  That’s crazy.”  They should be more like $10,000 a shirt for the amount of work that goes in the simple white t-shirt.  That is fascinating to me.  I don’t remember the question you just asked.

C.C. – I asked why you auditioned for Project Runway [laughs].

B.M. – Years ago people would say to me, “you should be on Project Runway, you are so great.”  And I thought, “I don’t even know how to make clothes…are you kidding me?”  So through the process of going back to school, I thought maybe Project Runway would be in my future.  I started working in the industry and I saw that Season 12 was accepting applications and I thought what the heck.  What do I have to lose?

C.C. – What are your ultimate dreams and goals for yourself in this new career?

B.M. – I would love to start a label.  I would definitely go back to bag designs which are more than a hobby now.  The dream is to have a label that has men’s, women’s, accessories, home, and fragrance…the whole thing!

C.C. – What words of advice would you give to your fellow CTFD clients as they begin their transitions from dance into the many varieties of new careers?  What would be your words of wisdom?

B.M. – I think just finding things that you love and trusting that there is going to be a job related to whatever that is.  Whether it is fine arts, or design, or anything.  Dancers dance because they love it, they have to do it.  There is no other reason to be doing it.  It was scary for me because I never thought I would find anything else that I loved as much as dance and maybe nothing else that I could be as successful at, but my confidence is slowly growing with each accomplishment.

I would also say, do it today.

C.C. – Start planting those seeds now while you are still performing.  You can start by just doing that.  Go back to school on a part-time basis.  We always say that to our clients, but to hear that from a client first-hand just helps to reinforce that.  There is nothing more powerful than hearing from someone who has gone through it.

B.M. – I love the organization and I can’t wait until I have some money to support you guys.  I don’t get paid for being on Project Runway [laughs].

C.C. – We are working on getting an alumni group together and getting our former clients to get involved and give back, so we love hearing those words from you.  Thank you!