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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Behind the Scenes at BAM–Stacey Dinner, Artist Services Manager

Stacey Dinner (standing, 3rd from left) with friends including DanceAfrica artist directors Abdel Salaam to her left,
and Chuck Davis, seated, at right. Photo courtesy Stacey Dinner.
By David Hsieh

Stacey Dinner is hard to miss, even in a crowd of dancers. Her dark, shoulder-length hair flies in every direction. She keeps in sync with the most complicated African drum rhythms. She is also part of the four-people artist services team at BAM, which takes care of visiting artists' every need. She and her colleagues—Mary Reilly, Britney Polites, and Jeannine Baca—are the "frontline” between BAM and the artists it presents. We ask her what the job is like and her personal connection to DanceAfrica.

Q: Who are you? 

A: My name is Stacey Dinner and I am the BAM artist services manager. My background is in dance and arts administration. I first studied West African dance in college and then studied abroad in Mali, West Africa. I then traveled six more times to Africa, visiting 13 countries in total, and I ended up working at a world dance and music studio in Colorado, where I’m from, and also co-leading a study abroad trip to Senegal. These experiences made a significant impact on my life, and I continue to study West African dance to this day.

Q: How did you wind up at BAM? 

A: A friend who worked in general management at BAM recommended me to assist artist services with the African company, Ceesay Kujabi and the Bachinab from the Gambia, for DanceAfrica 2008. Since this was this company’s first time to the US, I would be their dedicated support person to help them acclimate to BAM and Brooklyn, and fulfill the busy and demanding DanceAfrica schedule. And I have stayed ever since!

Q: What does the job of artist services entail? 

A: Artist services organizes the logistics and provide company management and offstage support for the visiting companies who perform at BAM. We fulfill the parts of a BAM contract including visas, travel, hotel, transportation, per diem, tickets, and hospitality. There are other things that fall under our purview such as hiring translators when needed, responding to medical needs.

Photo courtesy Stacey Dinner.
Q: Let’s take DanceAfrica as an example, since this is probably one of the biggest project for you every year.

A: DanceAfrica involves a lot of people including the artistic director, staff and crew, the Council of Elders, Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation, Weeksville Heritage Center, and American and foreign companies. Every year, artist services works with over 150 people preparing details including security lists, backstage passes, opening night gifts, and providing daily company management support. For a foreign company from Africa, there are a lot of logistics and details involved. We need to start months in advance getting their visas, buying flights, making hotel and bus reservations, etc. Artist services staff are the BAM ambassadors for the visiting company who greet the company upon arrival at the airport, get them into buses and settled into the hotel, organize a welcome meal, walk them over to BAM for their first day, orient them to BAM and Brooklyn, and are on-site with the artists every day through their rehearsals and performances. We’re literally the first ones to greet them at the airports with a big smile on behalf of BAM and Joe [Joseph Melillo, BAM Executive Producer].

Q: The job requires long hours and great attention to details. How do you keep motivated? 

A: To work in artist services you have to first be committed to the idea of services. We are people people. We like helping people. We want to take away all the worries and concerns from artists so they can put on the best show for our audiences. And to be on the frontline of all the works this institution does, and to represent everyone behind the scene, is a great honor.

Q: And DanceAfrica has particular personal meaning for you? 

A: It’s hard to believe this year will be my 10th DanceAfrica Festival! DanceAfrica brought me to BAM and it’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed. I feel a part of the larger DanceAfrica community year round. I take Senegalese and Guinean dance classes on a regular basis.

Baba Chuck was like family. He called me "daughter," and my son Micah "grandson," which is such an honor. I’m really sorry that he passed away and Micah will not know him personally. But the memory will stay forever.

David Hsieh is a publicity manager at BAM.

DanceAfrica 2017 comes to BAM this Memorial Day weekend. For more information, visit our website.

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