Ep. 4 :: Sheena LaShay is Making Conversation

Feb 13, 2014 by

Welcome

To episode four of

Making Conversation!

(click on the media player above left to listen to or download the full audio of this interview)

Thanks for joining me again for Making Conversation, where every week I interview an artist in his or her 30s, who is doing work I find important, and has something illuminating to say about what it means to do what we do as we are now.  My name is Chelsea Marcantel, and my guest this week is Sheena LaShay.

Sheena is the creator of SheenaLaShay.com, a blog, brand, lifestyle network and production company focused on expression, freedom and enlightenment.  Through her work, she explores transformation and empowerment through PASSION, SENSUALITY and EROTICISM.  Sheena also works as a portrait & boudoir photographer, keynote speaker, and theatrical stage manager. She uses her special mix of creativity, industry expertise, exposure, & experience to provide amazing services to her clients. She has been hired as a business consultant, brand ambassador, videographer, performer, stage manager, event planner, workshop leader, writer, and much more.  Currently living and working in New York City, Sheena is the host and creator of the Wild Magical Woman workshops, the yearly CREATE retreat for women artists, and the hugely popular Crafts + Cupcakes DIY parties.  You can learn more about Sheena, read her writing, and check out her videos at www.SheenaLaShay.com.

Sheena is hugely inspiring to me in many ways, and you’re going to hear me get really gushy about how much I love her in this interview.

Sheena LaShay by Glen Graham Photography

Sheena LaShay by Glen Graham Photography

Chelsea:  Hi, Sheena, how are you?

Sheena:  I’m doing well today.  How are you doing?

Chelsea:  I’m doing okay.  The weather’s not great, but it’s a good day for staying inside and talking to you on the phone.

Sheena:  Yay!

Chelsea:  So we’re going to go right into it – what labels do you use to describe yourself as an artist?

Sheena:  Because I do so many different kinds of artistic things, the main thing that I just tell people is that I’m a Creative Artist.  Because I’m a photographer and a videographer, and a stage manager, and a writer, and a dancer—I do lots of things, so it’s just easier to say “Creative Artist.”

Chelsea:  Yeah, and then you open up a conversation, too, I feel like.  Because then it’s like, “Oooh, I want to know more.”

Sheena:  Exactly.  And then, it depends on who I’m talking to.  It may be relevant to talk more about myself as a photographer, and my experience stage managing has nothing to do with that particular conversation.  So I feel like I can’t go wrong with Creative Artist.

Chelsea:  We—You and I met working on a show in Chicago.  But for the last several years, you’ve lived and worked in New York.  So tell me about the cities that you’ve lived and worked in, and how they’ve affected your work.

Sheena:  Um, I’m excited in that I just celebrated my four-year anniversary of living in New York, so…

Chelsea:  Congratulations!

Sheena:  …I’m very happy.  Thank you!  I don’t know necessarily that the places I work affect the work.  My experience has just been that I create whatever kind of work I want wherever I am.  And maybe that’s different—like if you’re an actress and you want to work on TV, maybe you’re going to go to LA and maybe New York, instead of Chicago.  Or, I don’t know.  I think there are some industries where the location heavily influences the work.  For the type of stuff I do, however, it doesn’t.  It’s just good for me to be in a city with lots going on.

Photographs of New York City by Sheena LaShay

Photographs of New York City by Sheena LaShay

Chelsea:  You’ve worked a couple of other places, too.  Just places that clients have hired you: Seattle, Washington.  Austin.

Sheena:  Yes, those also, I mean, I love—my clients can fly me wherever they want.  If they want to fly me to a volcano to take some pictures of them, I’ll do it.  So I did—I was flown to Austin, Texas as a videographer, photographer, and keynote speaker for an event.  I was flown to Seattle, Washington to film the promotional videos for a dance company.  Or even, I mean, it’s not far—even though in my mind it’s far—I have a client in New Jersey who comes to pick me up and film her and all of her projects, too.  So I go where my clients want me to go.

Chelsea:  It’s one of the best parts of being a creative artist, I would think.

Sheena:  Mm-hmm.  Yes.  They can keep flying me wherever they want.

Chelsea:  {laughs} So how does the work that you’re making today, apart from the fact that you’re in a different city, how does it differ from the work you were making five or ten years ago?

Sheena:  I think, for one, depending on the time… Like five years ago and ten years ago my focus was different things.  Five years ago I was mainly stage managing, whereas now I’m doing other things.  So sometimes the specific time means that something else is a higher priority.  But also, I feel like I have more, um, direction towards my work.  Like I understand it more.  And it means even more to me.  Because, I don’t know, in the past it was just like, “I’m going to stage manage a fun play, and I get to work with great people.”  And I feel like I understand my mission even more, regarding why I’m doing the work I’m doing.  And then also, as I have evolved and matured as a person, that starts to reflect in my work.  So, the past ten years of what I’ve experienced in career, or family, or relationships—all those things give my work more depth as time goes on.

Chelsea:  You are actually one of the people I most admire for using your art for advocacy.  It seems to be a real drive in what you do, and I respect that so much about you.  Um, can you talk a little bit about that?  About being an advocate with your art?

Sheena:  Yeah.  You know, I think my first experience in seeing this, it was in college.  I took a… what was it… it was like ‘Theatre and Culture’ class.  And in that class, we were studying plays like Nickel and Dimed, and whatever different hot topic issues and advocacy issues there were.  And before that I just thought, “Oh, theatre is fun.”  I didn’t know there was a thing called ‘socio-political theatre.’  And so realizing that I could use art to critique culture, or to talk about some kind of advocacy, really opened my eyes.  And so whether I was stage managing or blogging—which is where a lot of what I do goes toward, blogging—I realized I could do it to tell people about my life, or to work on a new project, but I could also tell deeper stories of, like, my own personal experiences.  Whether I was doing a YouTube video on anti-bullying, or suicide prevention, I really saw that that was possible because of what I learned in that Theatre and Culture class.  And because it happened to me.  The best examples of where I really understood an issue someone was facing,  happened through art for me.  Like, I could read someone’s story in the newspaper, or I could, I don’t know, read a book, or hear some impassioned speech, but the times when something really connected to my core was when, like, I heard it in a song.  Or, I saw it in a play.  Or I read it in a poem.  And so I wanted to do that same thing with my work and advocacy.

Chelsea:  Right.  Like somehow the interpretation of it, or the presentation of it, through the filter of art makes the truth of it even truer.

Sheena:  Yeah.

Chelsea:  I know exactly what you mean.  And I know that you’ve—I mean I’ve just witnessed, from kind of a distance through your blog, how many people you’ve helped.  Who’ve reached out to you and said, “You know, you really said something that changed my life, or made me feel like I wasn’t alone, or I could get through this.”

Sheena:  Yeah.  And that’s just, I mean, that’s so crazy to me because again, years ago when I was doing my art, or doing my blog, it was just like, “I’m just going to do whatever I want and whatever I feel.”  And I really had nothing in mind.  I just wanted to say stuff.  And to see how sharing my story—the good and bad, the advocacy things, all those things—to hear someone say, “I feel like I’m not alone” or… Even, like, I have a friend who, she hasn’t gone through the things I’ve gone through, but she says she just understands it more.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Sheena:  And that’s so powerful to me.

Boudoir Photography by Sheena LaShay

Boudoir Photography by Sheena LaShay

Chelsea:  There’s a great quote that I love—I’m going to butcher it, but, uh, Bill English in an article about theatre for young audiences that came out maybe in 2012—that “Theatre is a gym where we practice empathy.” (to link to the article by Lauren Gunderson click here).  And I thought, “Oh, that’s great.  That’s exactly where you learn to feel for people who aren’t exactly like you.”  I thought that was a great aim for art.  For theatre, and for art in general.

Sheena:  Yeah.

Chelsea:  You were actually one of my inspirations for this project, because you do so much conversing and interviewing with other artists.  And it’s amazing to see how many different kinds of artists you know and are in contact with.

Sheena:  Right.

Chelsea:  So what is behind that drive to converse?  And what have you learned through these conversations?

Sheena:  Um, so, as you mentioned, I know so many different kinds of artists.  By working as a stage manager, I meet sound designers, and actors, and playwrights.  And working as a photographer, I meet dancers and models and… I was just like, “I am connected to a ridiculous amount of talent.”  And one, all I really know is that specific project.  You know, I might photograph a model, and I hear them say, “Oh, and I have this other project coming up.”  And I just wanted to know, like, more of their story beyond the current project we were working on.  And I wanted to know, like, all the… I mean, I myself am a photographer and videographer and all these other things.  I was like, “I’m pretty sure these other artists have all kinds of other interests, too.  And I want to know more of that.”  I also just have a very curious personality, and I like to know how things work.

Chelsea:  Uh-huh.

Sheena:  People’s life philosophies, and why they think the way they do, and so that was part of what drove me to start.  I have an interview series on my blog as well. (click here to read that one time Sheena interviewed me)  I just wanted to know how they thought.  And the third part—and it goes back to theatre and culture and socio-political theatre—I believe that art is transformational, and that it just has the power to really change people’s lives.  And I wanted to see what other artists had to say about that. 

Chelsea:  Mm-hmm.  And you’re also inspirational to me in another way, which is that you are one of the best artists I know at getting compensated for your work.  And I don’t want to say, like, ‘fighting,’ because that sounds combative, but being very aware of what your time is worth.  And not letting people take advantage of your good nature.  So, I want to talk a little bit about how you’ve structured all of your creative art financially.

Sheena:  Yeah.  So, there are different parts to this.  One of the ways that I structure myself financially is that I don’t just pick art because it’s fun and great.  It also has to have a part of it that is practical, because I do have to pay my rent.  Right?  So there’s just, like, the basis of “I need money to live.”  And then also, because I find there is value in art—just like if I’m going to go to Starbucks, I have to pay for coffee because there’s an exchange of things—it’s the same with art.  Even if I didn’t have to pay my rent, there’s still this exchange in goods and services.  So I don’t apologize for wanting money, or abundance, for the work that I produce and services I give.  And then also, I happen to do artistic things that actually pay.  So, like, as a stage manager, at least years ago, stage managers in the hierarchy of pay in a theatre production, they get paid.  And even now that I’m a photographer and videographer, in that industry there are all different roles that one could be.  But a videographer gets paid a good amount of money, because, again, it’s just more labor-intensive than other parts of it.  So there’s that.  The other part is that I have, like… I’ve worked full-time as an artist, and then I go back and forth with also having a part-time or full-time corporate job.  And, you know, for some people that’s hard for them.  Or they feel like they’re not being completely authentic to their art.  Or I don’t know.  I don’t see anything wrong with having multiple sources of income.  With getting paid for a certain corporate project, as well as getting paid to perform, or whatever it may be.  So, I think it’s that, too.  We have to find multiple sources of income.  If you like to write poetry but you’re really not making money on that, maybe you also need to write freelance articles, or a newsletter, or something.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Still with Bernadette Pleasant from a video by Sheena LaShay

Still with Bernadette Pleasant from a video by Sheena LaShay

Sheena:  And then the last part—it also goes back to understanding the value in yourself and in your art.  And because I understand that value and I make no apologies for it, it gives me more confidence to negotiate on my behalf when I am meeting with clients.  And in that negotiation I’m also educating my clients on my value.  I’m not just, like, taking what people are giving me.  Or feeling like I’m being taken advantage of.  I hardly ever feel like that, because I won’t allow that.  Because I fully understand my value and I will vocalize that.

Chelsea:  Yeah.  And I think that educating your clients—I think that is the thing that makes it a negotiation and not an argument.  Because if everybody understands the value of what’s being exchanged, then, um, the rate of compensation is not like a guessing game.  It becomes very clear.

Sheena:  Exactly.  And then when I have that—when I have someone who makes an inquiry to me, for instance, for videography services, and once we get to discussing the prices and things like that.  If I find that their budget isn’t aligned with my quote, one, I’m not going to fight with them.  But I’m also not going to be like, “Okay, well, maybe I can do it for half.”  Because then I feel like that’s diluting my value. So I may also—maybe there’s a videographer that I know that doesn’t have as much experience, or their prices are just structured differently.  So I recommend them.

Chelsea:  And that goes back to the idea of “abundance,” which is a word that I love.

Sheena:  I love that word.

Chelsea:  The idea that there’s enough, that it’s not wrong to want financial stability, it’s not wrong to want monetary and, sort of like, physical comfort.  And there’s enough of it to go around.  If you don’t have a scarcity mentality, then we can all share the wealth.  Once you get to a certain point in your life, you realize that you don’t have to take every job, and that the karmic benefits of passing on jobs to other people that know and trust come back to you tenfold.

Sheena:  Exactly.  We’re on the same page.

Chelsea:  You and I have a different kind of relationship than I have with a lot of the other artists I know, and we talk about these kinds of things, so I wanted to do it on the podcast.  I want to talk about spirit a little bit, because you’re so fascinating to me in the way that you seem to balance your energies: artist/businesswoman, youth/wisdom, male/female.  All of these energies, you balance so well.  So I don’t want to act like this is something that you can take notes on or really break down, but I just want to talk about it a little bit.

Sheena:  {chuckles} Yeah.  In the past, I always struggled with the fact that I, like, consider myself a “dark artist.”  In that I write about darker and heavier subject matter than like, rainbows and unicorns or whatever.

Chelsea:  {laughing}  Yeah.

Sheena:  And I remember for years it was something that I struggled with, this part of me, and I was like, “I could never be truly successful, because I’m too much of this.”  And, um, I don’t even remember the chapter or the quote, but there was something I’d read in The Artist’s Way, that really just set me free from feeling so bogged down by that part of my personality.  And as the years progressed, it was something I realized at least for myself: I’m not one particular thing.  I’m a whole human being.  And I experience every single emotion, and that’s part of being human.  And sometimes I’m more artistic, and I want to dance, and the world is amazing and creative!  And other times, I am shrewd and I’m going to negotiate and it’s about business, it’s not about rainbows and pretty things.  I don’t even think about, “Am I balancing it?  Am I being too childish today,” or, “Do I need to be more business-minded today?”  I work on being present.  And whatever’s happening in the moment is what’s going to pull something out of me.  And if I’m present, I know, “in this moment it’s about business.”

Chelsea:  Yeah.  And I think that that kind of goes back to, about how you make your art.  You put the pieces of what you do together in this cohesive artistic identity.  But, I’m curious, do you consider any of the things you’re doing right now to be your primary art form?

Sheena:  The primary thing is that, in everything that I do, I want to inspire people to live powerful and authentic lives.  That’s my primary mission in life.  And I express that mission in different ways.  Like, it always goes back to that.  And that’s why I don’t feel like, “Okay, do I need to just focus on pole dancing right now?   Or do I need to just focus on stage managing right now?”  That just differs because of the timing of my life, or what my schedule is, or the pitches I’ve made or people have made them to me.  But no matter what’s going on, or what client has sent an inquiry my way, or what I may be interested in, I go back to: What does this have to do with authenticity, empowerment, inspiration, or creativity.  Or that kind of thing.  That’s my primary art form. 

Photography of Fly Fitness NYC by Sheena LaShay

Photography for Fly Fitness NYC by Sheena LaShay

Chelsea:  That’s so wonderful.  And I think, um, honestly I think that if people don’t know you and they’re listening to this, they might think, “How do you… how does that become a concrete life?”  But you really do.  That is your life.  That is how it’s led.  And I would encourage anybody who is listening to this to go check out Sheena’s blog, and I’m going to put a link to it.  (here’s the link)  I’ll put several.

Sheena:  Thank you.

Chelsea:  It should be easy to find.  Um, so.  What is your biggest artistic goal for the next year, or the next decade?

Sheena:  I want to finish editing a book that I wrote.

Chelsea:  Mm-hmm.

Sheena:  And by ‘finish,’ I guess I would need to start the editing process.

Chelsea:  {laughs}

Sheena:  {laughing}  Because I wrote the first draft of the book, but now I need to go back and make sure, you know, that it’s not just me blabbing.  And that’s a big thing for me this year. And I also, one of my clients—I work with her on many different things, but—one of the bigger projects that I want to do with her this year, is to produce a short film with her company.

Chelsea:  Oh!

Sheena:  So that’s another thing.  And a huge part of my time right now goes toward being a co-president and the editor of The Pole Dancing Blogger’s Association (click here).  And, you know, it’s a blogger’s association and kind of a creative media agency.  And we just have a lot of things we’re working on this year: awareness, building up our accounts, and all that kind of stuff.  It’s become such a huge part of my life!  Like, every day I’m doing something for this group.  So, there are those goals.  And then the last thing is that I myself, I formed an LLC a few years ago: Sheena LaShay, LLC.  And, you know, even though I do a billion different kinds of artistic things, it goes back to that one mission of mine.  And one of the things I want to work on this year is really starting to transition my work from being a freelancer to an actually full-fledged company.  I want an actual legacy, and I want a company that exists 100 years after me.  500 years after me!

Chelsea:  Mm-hmm.

Sheena:  And in order to that, I also have to restructure how I work.  And that restructuring, just figuring that out, is also happening this year for me.

Chelsea:  Part of that, um, that brand, that company, is the CREATE retreat that you’ve been doing for the last several years.  And I went to it last year, and it was amazing.  So I just want to talk a little bit about that.

Sheena:  I go on lots of different retreats and do different workshops, and they have their pros and cons, but I was like, “I want a retreat with creative people, but they’re also my friends.  And I want us to relax and enjoy each other’s company, but I also want us to teach each other.  And to lead each other.”  Because, again, it goes back to, “I know Chelsea is a playwright, but I know she knows a billion other things, too, and I want her to teach me something.”  And I didn’t know the first thing about planning a retreat, uh, I knew nothing.  But, I don’t let that stop me from doing anything.

Chelsea:  {laughs}

Sheena:  I sent an email to my friends and was like,”Hey, I’m thinking of doing this.  Who wants to do it with me?”  And as it evolved, I learned more about event planning, and retreats, and budgeting, and all these different things.  And it’s become a thing.  I love it.  I love it.

Portrait of Sheena by Glen Graham  Photography

Portrait of Sheena by Glen Graham Photography

Chelsea:  Yeah, it was wonderful.  I think it ties back into, you know, your drive to converse with other artists, and to make a cohesive whole out of a lot of different components. It was really great to relax and enjoy each other’s company, like you said, but then to be able to skill-share and learn different things from different people.  And I hadn’t met anyone… I didn’t know any of the other girls except for you, when I got there.

Sheena:  No?

Chelsea:  No, I’m thinking about it now.  I hadn’t met any of them.  And it was just a wonderful—not just a bonding experience, but um, creatively fulfilling as well.  I think sometimes it can be hard to carve out time, not just carve out time in your life, but carve out time in your day, to be creative or to work on your art.  Especially if you take clients and you get paid for art, sometimes it’s harder to work on the things that no one’s paying you to do.  Just to find time to do those things that are just for you.  So to say: We’re going to rent this big house on Long Island, and we’re gonna be there for three days, and this is all you have to do for three days.  And you’re not allowed to, like, be on your phone.  And you’re not allowed to be… there’s no TV-watching.  Which was a bit contentious when we first got there.  {laughing}

Sheena:  {laughing} Yes it was!

Chelsea:  You remember?  Because everyone was like, “Scandal!  We’re gonna miss Scandal!”  But, uh, even the meal were like skill-shares.  Because people cooked things that were, you know like, family recipes, or culturally significant, and we all learned from each others.

Sheena:  I love the meals.

Chelsea:  Yeah, it was great.  So, do you have any upcoming or ongoing projects that you want to talk about and plug?

Sheena:  Well, one, just to always stay up to date on things would be to go to my website, because that’s where I just, I post everything.  (click here for Sheena’s website) Whoever knows what my next upcoming project will be, because of how my life works?  But, you know, along with doing the CREATE retreats, every other month I do a DIY workshop and craft party.  And our next Crafts + Cupcakes Party is going to be in March, and I’m excited for that.

Crafts + Cupcakes event by Sheena LaShay

Crafts + Cupcakes event by Sheena LaShay

Chelsea:  Fantastic.

Sheena:  And I also have, in addition to the workshops and retreats, I have this other thing called the Wild Magical Woman.  And those are more in-depth workshops. They’re like two days, eight hours each.  And I have another one coming up called Wild Magical Woman: In the Spirit of Love. And I’m excited.  We’re still putting together the curriculum for that, but I’m excited for it.  And then, you know, I’ll mention again that I work with this group called the Pole Dancing Blogger’s Association, and whether someone’s a pole dancer or not, our website (click here) is all about providing business information, and social media and marketing tips, or photography tips, whether you’re a dancer or an artist or an everyday person.  So we are also always looking for people to be featured on that, or to be guest writers, or anything involved with it, whether they’re in the pole dance community or not.  So if anyone’s interested in that, they should also reach out to us.

Chelsea:  Yeah, again, I would direct you to SheenaLaShay.com (click here).  And you can check out Sheena’s portfolio, and her blog, which is amazing, and all of the different things she has coming up.  If you’re in the New York area, the Wild Magical Woman workshops and the Crafts + Cupcakes workshops are fantastic, fantastic events.  Sheena, I have so enjoyed talking to you today, as I always do, it’s always wonderful to spend any time with you.  And I just want to thank you for making conversation.

Sheena:  Thank you!  For just even inviting me and asking me these questions.  I love to talk about art, and it’s great to talk about it with like-minded individuals, but, people who also have a different perspective than me.  And that’s why I value our conversations so much.  It’s like I’m speaking with a kindred spirit, but also someone who will critique and teach me as well, and I appreciate that.

Chelsea:  Aw, thank you.  Thank you for saying that.

Sheena:  You’re welcome.  Aw, I have so much love for you!

Chelsea:  Aww!  It’s a mutual admiration society. It’s kind of, it’s adorable, but also I think, like maybe a little saccharine for people outside the circle. {laughs}

Sheena:  {laughing} Yes.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Making Conversation. I hope you’ll join me again soon for another chat about making art in our thirties.  You can download and read transcripts of past episodes at www.ChelseaDays.com.  You can also find this podcast on iTunes.

My guest today was Sheena LaShay, and you can find out more about her at www.SheenaLaShay.com.  Our music is composed by Miles Polaski, and my name is Chelsea Marcantel.

1 Comment

  1. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love this interview! I love that Sheena shares a little insight in how she frames herself–she’s a Creative Artist, not “Oh I do a lot of videography, I blog, I do a million amazing artistic projects.” Then comes the explanation of all those amazing projects. I love that you highlighted how well Sheena presents herself and the wonderful conceptualization of self-value. Artistic work is so hard to frame and to attribute value to so this is great inspiration.

    You guys are adorable, I loved the end–definitely not too saccharine for me! I believe that if you look up to someone, adore them, whatever positive emotion you have for them it can be so great to plain old gush.

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