We had the good fortune of connecting with Rachel Dolan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rachel, other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
Other than working for myself, the most important decision I’ve made is to say “no” to projects that don’t align with my mission. I’ve decided to turn down jobs over the years for many reasons, but mostly importantly, I am committed to not accepting free gigs. On the flip side of that, as the founder of an artist project and organization, I am also committed to offering a wage to every artist with whom I work. As creatives, we have to know our worth. We are worth more than a free gig. If you want me to lend my expertise, then I deserve to be paid a fair wage.
As artists and freelancers, it is easy to say “yes” to opportunities as they come up whether they align with our brand or not. We are programmed to capitalize on any professional offering that comes our way, and early on my career I said “yes” to everything. It caused burnout, and a lot of personal effort without much return. Learning to say “no” when you simply don’t have the space in your calendar is a game changer! I’ve also decided I can turn down a project because it isn’t something at which I excel. Knowing the difference between wanting to do something versus just doing it because it’s available has been incredibly empowering to me.
Say “yes” to the things that set your soul on fire or offer financial stability. Say “no” to work without pay and projects that don’t excite you!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I got my start as a choreographer while living in Washington, DC, and quickly fell in love with creating for the stage. I knew it was my vocation and where I belonged. After a successful start in DC, including being a two-time recipient of the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Choreography, I knew I wanted to be back in New York City where I lived previously. New York proved to be as inspiring and intimidating as I thought it would be, and three years later, I have made my creative home at Broadway Dance Center as a guest teacher, in studios with my mentor Denis Jones in pre-production for his shows, and as the founder of best8.
best8 is a fiscally sponsored artist project that is creating theatrical works for digital media and features intersectional artists in every aspect of production. best8 was born from the Black Lives Matter marches of Summer 2020 in Brooklyn. I felt helpless; like there was nothing I could do the be part of the cause. The loss of creative gigs caused by the pandemic made me crave making art again. I decided to combine my desire to create with my desire to uplift underrepresented artists. There have been many ups and downs along the way. Building a brand is a lot of work, and to be honest, without COVID I would have not had the time to commit to building my brand. There is a silver lining in every cloud. best8 is still an infant. Everyday it grows and changes and challenges me. Somedays it keeps me up all night, other days it has to take a back seat to my other work. Balancing my career and personal life has always been difficult for me. When you spend your whole life working towards something, it can be almost impossible to create boundaries. I work on it everyday!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In New York (during a global pandemic) it is vital to start the day with a walk. I live by Brooklyn Bridge Park, so a stroll along the promenade and a stop for coffee at Vineapple is a must! I have to admit I’m a sucker for sitting outside for a meal, and love brunch. Walters and Sisters in Brooklyn have awesome outdoor vibes and food. They have been a go-to during COVID. Anytime I can support local, I do. This year has been so hard on the restaurant industry. Finally, I’m all about a little shopping the finish any day in the city. Marche Rue Dix is the most divine black owned shop and nail saloon in Bed-Stuy. You can shop everything from their branded skin products to clothing items from local designers.
When we aren’t in a pandemic, I would add to this seeing a Broadway show. I love to check out TKTS for day-of discount tickets or entering the ticket lottery. I love the thrill of not knowing what show I’ll see in the evening when I set out for the day. It is one of those distinctly New York feelings! The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am only as a good as the people with whom I surround myself professionally and personally. I am indebted to my mentor Michael J. Bobbitt for teaching me early on in my career the importance of diversity and equity in a rehearsal room. I am encouraged by my creative mentor Denis Jones, who has given me a space to create in New York City upon moving here; and I am inspired everyday by Victor Vazquez, Broadway for Racial Justice, and every organization that is on the front line of antiracism in the theater and performing arts industry.
Instagram: @best8bk and @therizdiz
Jonathan Taylor, Israel Andrade, Logan Floyd