by Becs Richards
Simone Pin Productions is much more than a dance company; they are dreaming of a new world. They are in the work of visioning for a more inclusive, sexy, editorial, and equitable creative space. Their upcoming performance, Queens, is a technical burlesque-based showcase of POC dancers, singers, and entrepreneurs premiering at Northwest Film Forum June 20.
I met with the co-founders of Simone Pin Productions (director of operations Annya Pin and artistic director Shay Simone) on a Saturday morning in May.
“We are creating a cocoon for Annya to emerge from, like a queen being born” Simone said when I asked how their day is going. I was instantly a fan, and grew to deeply appreciate their work as they shared their story.
In 2017, Pin walked into Simone’s burlesque heels class at Westlake Dance Center. Simone had recently moved to Seattle from Los Angeles and was relatively new to the Seattle dance world.
“I was really nervous that no one was going to come and Annya was the first person that came to my class,” Simone said.
Simone and Pin birthed the idea for Simone Pin Productions during conversations they would have over coffee after class. By the end of 2018, the two had produced two sold-out shows.
Overall, Simone Pin Production’s (SPP’s) work “stems from recognizing that communities of color have experienced a lot of oppression … and have not experience investment,” Pin said. “I am really passionate about focusing on POC [dancers] and elevating the voices of folks that don’t have these opportunities and access. We are going to create our own opportunity. We are going to create our own platform and do our own thing. There is a market for that. There is a desire to see that. People want that.”
Pin and Simone balance each other as business partners and collaborators. Simone’s extensive technical dance background and Pin’s experience with community organizing and nonprofit work have provided a strong platform for their work. Both work separate full time jobs in addition to recently investing in SPP as an official LLC.
SPP’s first show, Black Silk, showcased a diverse group of primarily POC artists and performers. The company produced everything, “from ticketing sales to marketing, costuming, choreography, choosing our cast, scheduling rehearsal; that was all on our own time and money,” Pin said.
And it was hugely successful.
“We had a lot of people within the burlesque community coming up to me saying ‘Wow, I had never seen you dance like that before,’” Pin said. “It was super eye opening… this is the first time I have ever been able to really creatively express myself to the fullest.”
Black Silk caught the eye of artistic director Rana San at Northwest Film Forum.
“I was enthralled by their effervescence, luster, and effortless sex appeal” San said. “The show was performed and produced with great care… a fully immersive experience.”
San reached out to Simone and Pin after seeing the performance to inquire about producing a residency. Having long been interested in initiating a residency “dedicated to the development and presentation of new stage works,” San knew immediately when meeting Shay and Annya that they “embodied the spirit of the residency I had conceptualized.”
“Their work celebrates diversity, community, body positivity, and instills a sense of intrigue and self-love that can only be experienced in person,” Rana said. “It’s an authentically collective experience and as a cultural space, that’s what we’re here to co-create.”
The collaboration has produced what SPP promises to be a truly immersive show, Queens. The premise of the show was inspired by something surprising — chess.
“In my room I had an old chess board and I was just staring at it,” Simone said. “We had talked about Queens being a show about us coming together and then I saw the chess board and I was like ooo that could be thought provoking.”.
What followed was an intricate storyline of two opposing queens in a land called the Board of Games. Each queen has a color story, one red and one blue.
“You can choose what you want to attach to those colors,” Shay said.
The show will begin by presenting each side of the queen’s court, with performances from each character — rooks, knights, etc. The performance will include dance solos, live singing, and a duet between the two queens. In the end, the queens meet on common ground, an important element behind the meaning of the story.
“When Shay brought up the chess piece we really reflected a lot on … the strategy of being a woman of color and dancers of color and the war and the games that we have to play to survive,” Pin said. “White supremacy and patriarchy really pit us against each other but at the end of the day we need to unify to really fight against all these systems of oppression.”
The Queen’s Court will feature local artists and performers, including TAQUEET$!, Elise, Adra Boo, Caela Bailey, and of course Simone and Pin. As the leading artistic director, Shay has choreographed the technical burlesque components of the show, a style of performance that fuses both technical dance and burlesque.
Audience members can expect a “multisensory all-encompassing experience,” including a lobby decorated like a queen’s court and a secret scenic surprise on the stage. As soon as folks walk into the space, it will be curated. Additionally, Simone’s Mom will be making homemade cupcakes for VIP ticket holders (amazing!!!).
“We really like blowing people away,” Simone said.
After Queens, Pin and Simone want to pursue their economic development vision for SPP. Specifically, they have a longterm vision to hire their dancers as employees and provide health care benefits and paid time off. Pin and Simone dream of one day expanding their company beyond Seattle and down the West Coast.
Before that, they will finish up producing 12 shows at Northwest Film Forum as a part of their residency (including another round of Queens in August, and a production called Dollhouse in the fall). The two are confident that each show will be unique and powerful.
“It comes from a very true place — from us,” Simone said.
Featured image courtesy Simon Pin Productions.