By Rhea Riley
This pandemic has caused many people to lose work opportunities or major forms of income. According to the BBC, the unemployment rate has increased 4.5% leaving 2.7 million Americans unemployed between the months of June and August this year. Young people and artists are amongst those hit hardest.
As a 23-year-old Black artist and business owner, Wanyah Frazier has seen firsthand the effects of the pandemic. It’s been a year since Frazier first founded his company, Wolf Studios, and in that time, he’s dealt with terminated contracts and residencies and cancelled teaching opportunities – all due to the pandemic.
However, the lack of opportunities to work and perform for BIPOC was something Frazier noticed well before the coronavirus outbreak.
“For me personally, I don’t expect white organizations or white people to change for us,” Frazier said about the limited options he has experienced as a working BIPOC artist in Milwaukee.
Although pioneers such as Michaela DePrince and Misty Copeland have led the way in integrating the ballet world, there is still a disparity for those in other professional dance communities. Some BIPOC artists have been working to challenge and close the gap, but for local artists with limited means it’s harder to do.
In light of the pandemic, Frazier was forced to reevaluate and reflect. He posed himself the question, “How can I transition my company to adapt to the times?”
Pre-pandemic, most professional dancers found work as company members or through commercial projects such as backup dancing. But, with grants becoming scarce and professional gigs halted, many professionals have turned to social media and have continued their work digitally. Others have converted their companies to meet social distancing guidelines or created online classes.
“I am not a protestor, I am not a marcher, but I can create,” Frazier said. “I believe it is more important that we create our own spaces where we feel comfortable and build outward.”
Using his company as a platform, Frazier created a bi-monthly performance series called “ReVibe.”
A “ReVibe” performance was recently held at the Black owned, No Studios, 1037 W. McKinley Ave., on Saturday, Oct. 24. It featured seven different two-to-three-minute performances composed of dance solos and spoken word.
Kenza Dawn and Debrasha Greye, performed poetry centered around dance and relationships. While Kavon Cortez-Jones recited a touching “Letter to Milwaukee.” Dance performances incorporated new talent, including Milwaukee High School of the Arts senior Salvador Sandoval as well as Chicago dancer JonQis Fillyaw. They were joined by John Crim, Kimi Evelyn and Joshua Yang.
The swanky studios created a comfortable lounge vibe as the performers displayed their talent. The event had limited seating and a live stream for those practicing social distancing.
One driving component of this entire production was paying performers.
“A big thing that I’ve noticed in my own career in Milwaukee, is that people do not like to pay,” Frazier said.
Having experienced little to no compensation for his services, Frazier found it important to advocate for proper pay in these hard times. Through “ReVibe,” he was able to provide wages along with career development to those involved. Each performer was given professional headshots and action shots. Along with bios and the live stream to further boost their career development for each dancer portfolio.
“Once you reach a certain level as a performer, you shouldn’t be showing up for $50,” Frazier said. “I want it to represent a certain level of my respect for your craft and I want the pay to reflect that.”
“ReVibe” will continue its bi-monthly run with its second show on Saturday, Dec. 19. If you are interested in performing or want to know more about Wolf Studios MKE call 414-378-1070 or email Wanyah Frazier at email@example.com