Please state your name, your position, and a bit of your Business.
Elizabeth Broghanne Jessamine, Co-Founder and Managing Artistic Director of Elemental Women Productions. EWP is a New York City-based production company focused on developing and sharing work for and by womxn
How did the business start?
Elemental Women Productions began after working in the Entertainment industry and getting fed by always being valued for looks rather than substance. The roles available were the damsel in distress or the cold-hearted b*tch. It was November 2018, and I had just done two productions in a row that used sexual assault as a plot point to advance the male stars storyline that was claiming to be drawing attention to the issue that I had had enough. I am a survivor, and this was the last straw for me. It felt like they were exploiting something that shouldn’t be exploited in that way, to be edgy or to say that they had.
I went to my friend and co-founder, Mikayla Orrson, and vented. I had had enough, and I wanted her to write a play about womxn. About solving their problems, and it couldn’t be all about a love interest. It had to be about what womxn actually experience. I told her I would take care of the rest. One that day, we shook hands in a crowded bar watching election results and decided to be business partners. From there, I came up with a business name, built a website, found a space, and we produced our first staged reading a month later. Elemental Women Productions was born, and I haven’t looked back.
What are the challenges you met, and how did you manage to cope up with these challenges and reach your current status?
First challenge was I went to acting school. I didn’t learn anything about building a website or how to run a business. I had luckily been a part of numerous productions of different scales and so knew what we would need for the bare bones of an operation to get started for the production itself, but everything behind the scenes not so much.
There were finding and booking spaces, for rehearsals, for the event itself and making sure we had enough time to set up and break down. The acting portion of this in NYC meant I knew a lot of rehearsal spaces and so searched around to find one we could afford. I cold emailed so many areas to rent out for a reading, a production, screening.
There was managing a budget and figuring out how to create one, keep to one, and then do accounts afterward. I hadn’t done anything to do with mathematics since I dropped the class when I was 16. I was suddenly figuring out how much we could spend on each thing, how many tickets we would have to sell to break even and what would profit look like. Google was my savior for so many of these problems.
I was writing contracts for the first time for those we were hiring. Trying to make it fair but not have loopholes. As we have gone on, my contract writing has improved, they are still basic, but we are getting there.
I learned how to build a website. Again we were very new at the time, and the website and blog have grown, but I was figuring out where things would go how it would look on a mobile and computer screen.
That doesn’t even get to the actual production challenges, casting, scheduling, communicating with space, confirming shipments, buying props, storing said props, setting up ticketing pages, event pages, contacting companies for brand sponsorship, finding panelists, learning and implanting technical lighting and sound for plays, editing films and recording audio: managing freelance workers, cast, crew. Every day I learn a new skill, and I meet a new challenge to overcome. So far there hasn’t been any too hard that I can’t do it, but I’m sure we will get there.
Who influenced you in this industry and how did he/she influence you?
In the industry itself, the entertainment industry, I’m not sure if I can pinpoint an exact influence. But in entrepreneurship, I would definitely say that there are many small business owners that have influenced me to do the work that I do, there is Caitlin Nystrom owner of Stylenmotion and Pamela founder of Rawly Bold, Lisa Rosado, founder of We Are Women Owned. There are countless others that inspired me to start this company that encouraged me and created community strength for me to draw on. They influenced me because they did it, they started a business where they didn’t know it was going to work, they worked on a product or a service and continue working on it. The women I have met through communities like them each celebrate each other wins. They show up, cheer you on and create. That is what I want. I don’t want to be exclusive. I want to be accessible. I want people to be inspired to create and to do their own thing, much like how these women influenced me.
How did you manage to market your business and compete with other agencies in your niche?
We are a small production company in NYC, and there are countless of us. I would say most of our marketing is word of mouth. We talk to people. We do work that excites us, that we care about, and that shows. We use social media, Instagram mostly to market and also online communities we are a part of through Facebook. We are looking to expand our marketing strategy this coming year and see where it goes. We also don’t see ourselves competing with other agencies or companies. Each company has its values, its mission, we promote people who inspire us, and we want to collaborate with everyone we can. In a city as big as New York, there is room for all of us. Collaboration over Competition is our strategy.
What Best Practice/s can you share to our startup readers?
Be willing to learn, the only way for this to work is to be excited about what you are doing, be ready to get your hands dirty, and to learn all aspects of your company. That way, you can understand what someone is saying. You know when something may be taking longer or isn’t quite working, and you can help in a knowledgeable way.
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