Today we begin our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.
Our spotlight today is on Lynne Childress, owner of Building Better People Productions. Here’s what she told us.
What is your company?
Building Better People Productions, a theater for young audiences company based in Annapolis, Maryland. Everything that we do is for young audiences, and it’s all based in kindness and understanding. Our kid shows feature adult professional actors, and our classes are for kid students.
When was your company founded?
2015 in name, but we started programming in 2016.
What inspired you to form your own company?
I had known for awhile that I wanted to do shows for schools under my own shingle. I had been working with other amazing companies, but it was becoming apparent that I had my own things to say that could be said best by me, produced by me.
What is the best part of your job?
I love creating, and I love watching kids create, and I love watching audiences enjoy what we put out. It is quite the best feeling.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Getting our message seen by people and having people know that we exist.
Have you found that being a minority business owner has helped your business?
Interesting question! I think it has helped over the last year in terms of awareness because after the death of George Floyd, there is renewed interest in hearing diverse voices, specifically Black ones.
What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?
Another interesting question. So in most ways, I have had students and audience members of all races, and I know that my race has not been a factor for them. In fact, for some families, and this is an answer to your question above, I know Black families who have said that they brought their kids to my classes because they saw my picture, and knew that their kids would be welcome. I DO wonder if there have been people who saw my picture and DID NOT come because they made assumptions about who I am based on race. But I don’t know because they haven’t come :).
What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.
To decide if this was a business or an expensive hobby. That was a gut-punch, but REALLY helpful. As small business owners, we often pay ourselves last, and often make decisions out of wanting to help people that aren’t the best for our bottom line. I feel like 5 years in, I am getting a hang of this. And that it is unfair to me and my family to not make sure that we are solvent as much as we can.
What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?
DO IT. Do your research, and know what’s out there. But if you feel this in your bones, do it. There is always going to be one more project you can do for who you work for now, and if you wait until there’s not, you will never do your own.
What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?
I would not base my offerings on what other people with more financial backing are doing. I lost money on shows that I thought I should do because I thought I needed to keep up with other people. Don’t do that. Be realistic about what your financial commitment can be.
What is one future goal that you have for the business?
To have an official assistant. I have great contractors, but I want to be able to afford regular employees at some help. It is very easy to stretch yourself thin.
Who has inspired you the most in your business?
Our first costume and props designer, Renee Vergauwen. She believed in me from the very beginning, and her ideas for how to make our shows come to literal physical life gave us life. She has since moved but we still do some of the shows that she designed and I get to see her brilliance still.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
We lost a bunch of show bookings last year, and did not earn anywhere near what we usually do for in-person classes. What we did gain was money in donations and we got a big grant from Anne Arundel County and the Anne Arundel County Arts Council. We have also moved our shows and classes online, and have reached students and audience members from around the country (and Canada) and we would have never been able to do that before. I have also been a part of panels and workshops online and again, I would not have had those opportunities before.
On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?
The giggles of the kids that show up, every week, who love being in class.
If you were not a theatre artist, what would you be?
I was planning on being a social worker. I had done theater through school, and sang in a band, but was not considering this as a career. I could not find a social services job after I got my BA in Psychology because I had moved to Miami and was not fully fluent in Spanish. I did retail and customer service, then got my very first acting job, which was doing shows with social messages that toured to schools. I thought that sounded like good outreach, and applied for grad school for Social Work during this period, but then realized I was doing what I love. I feel like theater is another way to reach and affect lives in positive ways.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
I want to do a more regular season of shows. I would love to have our own space at some point.
What would you like people to know about your business?
That we care about your kids, and about the quality of what we put out. We do good work.
What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?
I keep coming back to this question. I think one thing is that it has to take you away from your family, and I have been very, very blessed to be able to mostly work at hours that don’t disrupt family life. Now, that has changed a bit since we have been home because all life now is family life, but I think that we have all adapted well.
Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?
They were, mostly.
What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?
Again, most people were supportive, but I did have some people who didn’t know that I could do something like this. New doesn’t mean bad quality. I have been in professional theater a long time at that point. I had friends say, “Wow, that was good.” People don’t always have great expectations of theater for kids. But it has a heart. Kids see through phony. We want to be real and entertaining, even if it is a show about talking sheep.
How would your co-workers/staff/cast describe you?
I think exuberant. And that I send a lot of emails. But that this comes from making sure people are clear about what I am saying. But it is a lot of emails. But also that I am fair and want to honor their artistry and encourage them.
What has been your most favorite project to date?
I think “We Got It!: A Show About Empathy”. It’s the first show I wrote, and the first thing that we produced. It captures different sides of us understanding each other and seeing the value in ourselves and other people, even if they are completely different from us. It is a piece I am very, very proud of.
Where do you find inspiration to write a new scene, play, etc?
Sometimes it’s current events, like how “We Got It!” was written in response to our racial and political divide, and the last part of it is specifically inspired by the deaths of several black teenagers and how reactions from some people that saw them as less than human, and not children. It made me angry, and sad, and instead of railing about it on Facebook, I wrote about it. In the show, it’s about stuffed animals and not kids, but that was the inspiration. I have written one piece, and am writing another, about the pandemic and the need to try to make it either solely positive or solely negative. And I am also writing a show about counting sheep, inspired by a night that I had a crazy dream about magic dust bunnies. It will make more sense when it’s done :).
What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?
I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the early 80s when my dad worked as a consultant for the bus company there. Went to half of 6th grade and all of 7th at an international school there.
You can find Lynne and Building Better People Productions here: