Award-winning media production boutique in New Jersey
Author: Jessica Robles
Jessica R. Robles is the founder of the Stories & Films, Co., a boutique media production studio in New Jersey. In addition to serving as an independent features journalist, and film director and producer, Jessica Robles studies and researches health disparities among and trauma to African-Americans.
I’ve had the privilege of having a conversation with my new friend, Gillian from the podcast, MomCampLife. While she and I didn’t meet face-to-face (thanks Coronavirus), there was an instant connection as we discussed many topics related to motherhood, building careers and businesses, finding ways to balance it all, and thriving in this thing we call life.
This is what Gillian about our episode: “Jessica is a story teller by trade and by nature. She drops some serious wisdom that rocked me, right near the end of the episode, when she said ‘This is our one shot at this. This life, right here, right now, this is our one shot. Let’s make the best of it. Let’s be examples for others. Let’s have stories worth telling. Let’s have stories worth learning from.’ Mic drop.” Yup. I said that and I totally believe that.
You can listen to our episode anywhere podcasts are available, or go to this link to listen now on Spotify.
About a month ago, Claudia-Sam Cataford Sauvé approached me about a project she wanted me to be a part of. She wanted to “shed light on the different acts of racism that black women have experienced of which white women are probably not aware of, so that more awareness can spread, and acts of racism can stop.”
Hmm… I quickly thought to myself, ‘Nope. Racism will never end.’
That June morning, I was exhausted… because of racism. There were just too many thoughts and viral videos playing on repeat in my head. For instance, there were images of:
George Floyd was being killed by a white police officer. That officer sat on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes and he wasn’t moved by a grown man crying out for his mother.
Minneapolis residents protesting to an extreme that surprised and scared the hell out of me.
The head the U.S. posing for the camera in front of a DC church, distressing members of the Church I belong to on social media. It takes a lot to piss off Episcopalians: Peaceful protesters tear-gassed for an unnecessary photo-op, would be one of those things.
A young, Black EMT with a gorgeous smile named Breonna Taylor in her uniform. She was shot and killed in her home in Kentucky by officers in the middle of the night. The accompanying police report was practically blank but stated that Taylor had no injuries. They practically mocked an essential worker during a pandemic.
Ahmaud Arbery was stalked, harassed, and killed in Georgia in broad daylight. I kept comparing his murder to that of Trayvon Martin’s killing: A black male, does some sort of movement like walking, jogging, or breathing, outside of his house, and some random white guy (not a cop) couldn’t mind his own damn business but was determined to end the life of that black male because of nonexistent threats. Speaking of nonexistent threats…
A white woman called then lied to NYPD officers about a black birdwatcher because he confronted her for not following rules he did not put in place. And finally,
A black woman recorded and posted her 18-minute rant that circulated social media. She stated that black people were the only group in the U.S. to uphold our “worst” and throughout the video, she spoke ill of the dead. I noticed who liked that video; who agreed with the quickly spewed-out statistics that could’ve been easily debunked with a quick Google search on the same device they were watching that video. I read the comments. Most of those people didn’t look like the ranter in the video. They didn’t look like me.
I cleared my head and promised Claudia-Sam an answer before the end of that June day. She wanted to have a conversation about how white women, like her can help black women like me in this current race-tense environment.
At first, I didn’t want to discuss this. Not with her, or anyone else. I’m no expert. There isn’t a Ph.D. attached to my name, nor am I a gender studies or ethnic studies major. I’m not even sure if I’ve taken a course in a related subject.
However, what I knew was that black people were being gunned down and snuffed out on video. The prevalence of the above and other related incidents kept me up at night.
I wondered if I was too angry to talk about racism. I was posting #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName (and/or #SayHisName) on a near-daily basis, and not caring if I was losing friends in the process. Then I worried if perhaps I wasn’t angry enough. In the midst of an ever-changing epidemic/pandemic, I wasn’t out and about and protesting in my neighborhood.
I have had thoughts and ideas about minimizing racial discrimination. I have had experiences where I was racially discriminated against. Were these thoughts and experiences enough to warrant a systemic change? Probably not… Maybe… At the very least, they were enough to start and have a positive, yet serious conversation about racism with someone who genuinely wanted to listen and help.
After downing a cup of strong coffee, mentally contrasting pros vs cons on why I should or should not have this conversation, and after a long meditation session, I reached out to Claudia-Sam, and I agreed to have a conversation.
Tuesday is #BlackOutDay2020, when Black Americans will showcase combined economic might by not spending money, and if money must be spent, it’s encouraged to spend at black-owned businesses. Activist Calvin Martyr first promoted the campaign in a video on May 8th that has been shared thousands of times on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He encourages all, not just Black Americans, to participate and support this boycott.
What is BlackoutDay2020?
The objective of #BlackoutDay2020 is to force politicians and the business world to end institutionally racist policies and practices that have led to the deaths and marginalization of Black Americans.Black Americans spent more than $1 trillion on consumer goods in 2018 alone, according to Nielsen.
How to Participate in the Blackout Day Boycott
While organizers said on the website that Blackout Day 2020 is aimed at empowering and uplifting Black people, the movement welcomes allies. “We welcome ALL people of color to stand with us in solidarity,” a statement on BlackoutDay.org explains. “While we welcome allies who choose to stand with us, we make absolutely no apology for the fact this movement is FOR US & BY US.”
Participants can commit to taking action via the Blackout Day 2020 website. If you want to participate, the main guideline is simple: don’t spend money on July 7, 2020. And if you must spend money, buy from Black-owned businesses.
More than 40% of Black business owners said they weren’t working in April 2020, while only 17% of white business owners said the same, according to a report from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
How to Support Black-Owned Businesses
Social media is a good place to start your search for Black-owned businesses. Hashtags like #SupportBlackBusiness and #BlackOwnedBusiness on Instagram and Twitter will help you find tons of places to purchase things you might be buying everyday, from food to clothes to beauty products.
There are websites and apps specifically made to help you find and support Black-owned businesses. Support Black Owned can help you find businesses in your specific area by searching for your city and the type of purchase you’re looking to make. If you’re into online shopping, We Buy Black is an online marketplace with items from Black-owned businesses. Etsy is also highlighting Black-owned Etsy shops. If you’re looking to grab some grub, you can locate Black-owned restaurants with the app EatOkra. The Blackout Coalition also created a directory to help you find Black-owned businesses near you.
With a little research, there are likely more resources available for your location specifically. This Google Sheet, for example, shines a light on Black-owned businesses in the state of New Jersey.
This is not just about boycotting or black economic might, it is about standing up to institutionalized racism.
Looking for entertaining and enlightening activities you can enjoy from the safety of home? Look no further than here.
With in-person theatre out of commission for the foreseeable future, many performers from Broadway and beyond are sharing their talents online. Below are performances you can watch today, Thursday, April 16, from the comfort of your couch for free (or at very low cost).
At 2 p.m. EST, London’s National Theatre shares a recording of its dynamic stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Olivier winner Patsy Ferran (a celebrated actress across the pond who was scheduled to make her Broadway debut in the now-cancelled Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Dr. Who‘s Arthur Darvill star in the play, which was recorded for the National’s NT Live series. Watch it for free on the theatre’s YouTube page through Thursday, April 23.
At 2 p.m. EST, Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley host a live variety show on Stars in the House. The lineup includes Tony-nominated singer-actress Liz Larsen and her husband, Broadway vet Sal Viviano; drag diva Varla Jean Merman, who’s got a wicked set of pipes and a wicked sense of humor; and stand-up comics Michelle Collins and Harrison Greenbaum. This twice daily series supports The Actors Fund, and you can watch for free on the organization’s YouTube channel.
At 4 p.m. EST, catch Peter Michael Marino’s Show Up, Kids!, a live-streamed interactive family romp aimed at stir-crazy youngins. The solo artist has been performing this comedy for years in cities around the globe, and he’s spent weeks figuring out how it will work online. The show can’t go on without the kids, since they help determine everything from the story to the set design. Tickets are available online but TDF members get a discount.
At 5 p.m. EST, groundbreaking trans artist and activist Justin Vivian Bond shares their wit, wisdom and singular song stylings in their weekly “live-screamed” show Auntie Glam’s Happy Hour. It’s sure to be an entertaining and insightful time. Watch on their website for free, though tips are encouraged.
At 6 p.m. EST, Classic Stage Company kicks off Classic Conversations with a chat between artistic director John Doyle and three-time Tony nominee Brandon Uranowitz, who was set to star in the theatre’s highly anticipated revival of Assassins, which has been indefinitely postponed. While this is billed as an interview series, the theatre promises “occasional” singing, and we’re hoping they’ll up that to frequent. Watch on Classic Stage Company’s Facebook page. Assassins bonus: Watch Uranowitz’s costar Ethan Slatercroon “The Ballad of Czolgosz” with fellow cast members. It gives you a tantalizing taste of what could have been—and hopefully one day will be.
At 6:30 p.m. EST, cabaret haven Feinstein’s/54 Below continues its #54BelowatHome series with a recording of The Jonathan Larson Project, an evening of unknown songs by the late writer of Rent. Broadway vets including Nick Blaemire, Andy Mientus, Krysta Rodriguez and George Salazar perform numbers from his never-produced shows 1984 and Superbia, as well as outtakes from Tick, Tick… Boom! and Rent. Watch for free on Feinstein’s/54 Below’s YouTube channel. Note: this performance won’t be available after-the-fact so you have one chance to watch.
At 7 p.m. EST, the invaluable Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater shares a recording of Rennie Harris’ Lazarus, his 2018 hip-hop-infused work inspired by the life and legacy of the troupe’s namesake dancer-choreographer. Watch it for free on the troupe’s YouTube channel through Sunday, April 19.
At 7 p.m. EST, see a show that was specifically written to be performed remotely as regional troupe Penn State Centre Stage presents Streaming Passion, a comedic show within a show about the Passion Play being rehearsed via Zoom because of COVID-19. The brainchild of NYC-based playwright Marc Palmieri (whom we’ve interviewed multipletimes in the past), the play just may be the first full-length work written for our new surreality. Watch the live-stream for free on Penn State’s website.
At 8 p.m. EST, ABC airs The Disney Family Sing-Along, a one-hour special featuring a cavalcade of stars crooning Disney tunes from their homes alongside their families. The lineup of talent is jaw-dropping, including many Broadway folks: Josh Groban, Darren Criss, Corbin Bleu, Kristin Chenoweth, Jordan Fisher, Alan Menken, Josh Gad, James Monroe Iglehart and the Broadway company of Aladdin, plus pop stars such as Ariana Grande (who’s actually been on Broadway), Michael Bublé and Demi Lovato. Watch for free on ABC. If you don’t have a TV, it will be uploaded to YouTube after-the-fact.
At 8 p.m. EST, Beautiful Tony winner Jessie Mueller joins Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley on Stars in the House. The musical veteran was in the midst of making her dramatic Broadway debut in Tracy Letts’ play The Minutes when the shutdown hit, so she’ll undoubtedly have a lot to talk (and hopefully sing) about. This twice daily series supports The Actors Fund, and you can watch for free on the organization’s YouTube channel.
At 8 p.m. EST, one of Brooklyn’s most adventurous theatres, The Brick, launches its Archival Streaming Series with a recording of Sleeping Car Porters, a dark psychedelic comedy that earned a rave review from The New York Times last December. This is your chance to see boundary-pushing, outer-borough theatre without having to take the subway! Watch it on The Brick’s YouTube channel for free, though donations are encouraged.
At 8 p.m. EST, one of the most acclaimed regional theatres in the country, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, shares a recording of Where the Mountain Meets the Sea by lauded playwright Jeff Augustin (Little Children Dream of God at Roundabout Theatre Company, The New Englanders at Manhattan Theatre Club) with songs by The Bengsons (Hundred Days). An exploration of the complicated relationship between a Haitian immigrant and his American-born son, the show was commissioned by the theatre for its Humana Festival of New American Plays. Tickets are available to purchase from the theatre but TDF members get a discount.
A few weeks ago Dave Malloy, the Tony-nominated creator of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, posted a full-length recording of the 2015 mounting of his musical Ghost Quartet on YouTube. Now he’s sharing another one from his archives, the original 2011 Shotgun Players production of Beardo, which he describes as “a surreal retelling of the Rasputin myth.” Clearly Russia is his muse. Watch it for free on Vimeo.
London’s Hampstead Theatre continues its #HampsteadTheatreAtHome series with a recording of its 2013 production of Drawing the Line, Harold Brenton’s historical epic about the behind-the-scenes drama leading to the world-changing Partition of India in 1947. Watch it for free anytime on the company’s website through Sunday, April 19.
A few days ago, I joined a private Facebook group led by Submittable called #Rejection100. It was probably the quickest I joined a Facebook group even before researching it. I saw the hashtag and I instantly knew what it meant and why I needed to be a part of it.
#Rejection100 is for creatives who are striving to obtain 100 rejection (letters) in 2020. The tagline is: “Complete failures hellbent on collecting and celebrating 100 rejections during 2020.”
The point of this hashtag is to show that we’re not sitting on our behinds. We’re getting out there and pitching with the expectation of getting rejected. There is a number attached to it to keep us from giving up at the first rejection.
I saw the number associated with the hashtag and I (and probably other members) calculated how many pitches I would need on a monthly, or weekly basis in order to be rejected at least 100 times in a year. There’s no scientific formula to determine the ratio of rejections vs acceptances for every pitch made.
I’m aware that some pitches can “not be seen”. They can be ignored. Forgotten. A rejection for me is much better than a “wait and see.. a “wait to not be contacted”.
Rejections are hard. Actually, they suck. The first rejection may sting a little, but after the 7th, after the 15th, after the 37th, you start to question yourself and wonder, “Damn, is this for me? Maybe I really do suck.”
And that’s why this Facebook group is so important to me. I need rejections as evidence that I tried.
I’m pitching relentlessly.
I’m testing new ideas.
I’m putting myself out there.
I’m taking risks.
I’m pitching an idea for associates and colleagues to laugh at how unrealistic my idea is.
I’m selling products and services so a door can be slammed in my face.
I’m posting my vulnerabilities so complete strangers can criticize from afar.
I’m figuring out who my accountability partners are. Who my mentors ought to be.
I look forward to getting back up. Over and over and over again.
#Rejection100 means that I and my band of sisters don’t stop at being told once, twice, thrice, not dozens, nor scores or even hundreds of times that our ideas suck, our products suck, that we suck.
“You’ll never make it in this town… this neighborhood… this school…. this company… this industry… this world…”
Despite being told you’re not good/tall/pretty/smart/talented enough, you’ll keep getting up despite it all.
Read my post about Submittable to learn more about it, then head over there and sign up. Interested in becoming a “complete failure hellbent on collecting and celebrating 100 rejections in 2020”, head over to the private Facebook group, and sign up. I’ve already seen it mentioned in a “Binders full of…” group.
Finally, please come along and follow my journey as I too become a complete failure hellbent on collecting and celebrating rejections over and over in 2020. I was going to post about trying to create a drop-down in Excel as I follow in the footsteps of my more spreadsheet-savvy sisters and brothers, but I abandoned that idea. I’m a Agilist/Certfied Scrum Master. I’ll just use a Project Management app instead.
Head over to the Facebook group and see what my fellow failures have created.