“It’s not like you’re Tyler Perry.”
They said it with such vitriol dissonance.
It didn’t matter that I had spent weeks compiling the necessary information or that it was at their specific request.
At that moment, they felt it was necessary for me to know.
Silence followed. How was I supposed to respond?
I guess this is the moment where, in classic Danita fashion, I rewind a bit of the story for context.
About eight years ago, my “day job” successfully debuted one of the biggest shows I have ever written, directed, and produced. And true to form, “boat euphoria” immediately set in.
“We have to bring this to [location redacted…so I won’t come across as petty.]” the person said.
Then, I was quite optimistic when people would approach me about foreshadowed bookings. The person asking wasn’t a stranger and I was truly excited about the idea that I was finally about to set out on the path that I had always hoped for when it came to my production company.
And in the initial follow-up phone call, the person requested numbers, assuring me that even though the production was massive, this play was worth it. “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need,” they said. “We know your work.”
I hung up excited. Poor “eight-years-ago” me.
It’s funny when real “numbers” show up in a budget report for a creative project. Usually, such things in writing obliterate what a person had in their head.
They had asked for the whole show… two performances.
With the full cast…
the full set…
And (despite my suggestion to the contrary)…. requested that no tickets were sold
The price tag was in the thousands (not as high as you’re thinking)…and rightfully so.
The next phone call that I received from them was with riddled with tones of utter shock at my “audacity.”
“It does not take this much to put on a show!” they said into the phone. Because, of course, they were a “money person,” so they knew more than me, a person that had been in this business since age 5, about Theatre budgets. (insert side eye)
I mean…how dare I demand that the cast stay in a hotel…and eat. And how dare I mandate that our transportation, at the very least, be subsidized by the host location, which was over 400 miles away. How rude of me to stipulate that certain types of microphones and lighting be used and then to require a flat fee to actually perform it. I should be ashamed….rephrased…I was meant to feel ashamed.
“This is ridiculous!” they said. Which was immediately followed by a “request” to redo the entire budget….for much less…for a show that they asked for.
When no matter how many adjustments were made, it could only be changed by a mere few hundred dollars, they threw in my face that I’d never charged them before. My comment that this was a different circumstance because of the nature of what they were asking for was immediately rebuffed.
They wanted a “Louboutin” presentation for a PayLess price tag.
I had/have become weary of such requests.
And then….when it seemed to them that I was unyielding and unreasonable in my ridiculous requisition…that’s when they said it:
“It’s not like you’re Tyler Perry.”
I honestly can’t tell you how the conversation ended. They said what they said. At the time, it was the greatest insult to me that people could muster up. In this instance, it was the fourth time I’d heard it…but definitely not the last.
Such an insult came from a list of greatest hits. Hits like:
“You’re not Tyler Perry.”
“Your name is not Oprah Winfrey.”
“C’mon now, this ain’t Alvin Ailey.”
And one of my personal favorites…
“Maybe when you become Debbie Allen…but you’re not.”
Every single time, it would come from people trying to remind me that I wasn’t worth what I was asking for.
“You’re not worth it.”
Such a declaration usually brings a Creative to tears in their quiet moments.
What I didn’t realize then is that “they” were right.
The brilliant Antoinette S. Wilson didn’t almost die during 8 hours of hard labor to give birth to Debbie, Oprah, Alvin or Tyler…She gave birth to Danita LaShelle.
The funny thing about “D.O.T.A” (let me be great with the acronym) is that they were once “nots.”
They were not dancers..
Not made for television…
But they used their “one more moment,” their “one more try,” their “one more application”…just one more…until finally, that hard work and perseverance paid off.
Being called a “not” used to tear me apart. It would cause me to question if I was in the right field of work. It would delay my progress only because I would stop and consider that maybe I would never amount to…well…the “ares.”
I became so consumed with being a “not” that I didn’t actually rejoice that I wasn’t. Being a “not them” means that I’m me. I have a particular design. I have a specific calling. I have a plan created just for me so that I will prosper. (cue the organ music.)
So, here’s to all the Nots (and bear with me…there’s a lot of us.)
To the not Micheal Jordans
The not Peyton Mannings
The not David Beckhams
The not Alex Rodriguezes
The not Lisa Leslies
The not Muhammad Alis
The not Florence Griffith Joyners
The not Michael Phelps
To the not Marvin Sapps
Or the not Take 6’s
The not Kirk Franklins
The not Mary Marys
The not Yolanda Adams
The not Judith McCalisters
The not Fred Hammonds
Or The not the Clark Sisters
To the not Luther Vandrosses
To the not Patti LaBelles
The Not Aretha Franklins
The Not Gladys Knights
Or the Not Stevie Wonders
To the not Will Smiths
The not Denzel Washingtons
The not Tom Hankses
The not Robert Downey Jrs.
The not Daniel Day Lewises
The not Angela Bassetts
The not Meryl Streeps
And the not Mahershala Alis
To the not Anne Geddes
And the not Annie Leibovitzes
To the not Steven Kings
The not Toni Morrisons
The not J.K. Rowlings
The not Maya Angelous
The not Langston Hugheses
Or the not Henry Dumases
To the not Pearl Cleages
The not Ntozake Shanges
The not John-Henry Redwoods
And the not August Wilsons
To the not Jay-Zs
The not Beyoncés
The not Pharrell Williams
Or the not Timbalands
To the not Audra McDonalds
The not Patti LuPones
The not Bob Fosses
The not Christin Chenoweths
The not Lin-Manuel Mirandas
To the not T.D. Jakeses
The not Joel Osteens
To the not Martin Luther Kings
And the not Malcolm Xs
To the not Baracks
and the not Michelles
And the not Yo Yo Mas
Or Leontyne Prices
The not Renée Flemings
The not Denyce Graveses
Or the not Luciano Pavarottis
Or the not Kevin Clashes
Or the not Jim Hensons
To the not Shondas
Or the not Spike Lees
“They” are absolutely right. You may not be them…
But you “are” you.
You “are” worth it.
Keep working as the “are” you are…
Because one day, the “theys” who think they have a say-so in who you are…will not.
You know I’m right.
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