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Hailed as a “transformational storyteller,” Echo Brown is a writer, performer, & actress from Cleveland, Ohio. Echo’s meteoric rise in the San Francisco art scene with her hit one-woman show, Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters, has been widely praised. A graduate of Dartmouth College with a B.A. in political science, Echo began her career as an investigator, investigating allegations of misconduct against members of the New York City Police Department. Echo went on to study investigative journalism at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism before moving to California to work for Challenge Day, an award winning non-profit that provides transformational workshops in high schools. While working as a facilitator for Challenge Day, Echo created and performed dynamic and moving stories for audiences across the country. Seeing the impact on audiences, Echo decided to become a full-time storyteller. Echo began developing Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters with renowned theater maven and visionary, David Ford. Theatre Bay Area Awards nominated Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters for both Outstanding Solo Production and the Will Glickman Award. The play was also named one of the top ten best shows of 2015 by Rob Hurwitt of the SF Chronicle and Sam Hurwitt of KQED. Enjoy her exclusive Business Heroine interview…
BH: How did you end up doing what you do? Tell us your story!
Echo: In 2006, after graduating from Dartmouth, I decided I was going to save the world.
So right after graduation, I moved to New York City to investigate allegations of misconduct against members of the NYC police department. I was working for an independent agency that provided civilian oversight of the NYC police department. I poured my heart and soul into my cases, combing through piles of evidence such as medical records and witness statements and working late hours to compose detailed and thoughtful reports.
I became disillusioned when I realized that the police ultimately had the final say in what happened with our cases, which meant the agency really didn’t have any real power and all of the work I was doing was in vain. This sent me into a tailspin and mental breakdown that made me question everything I thought I knew about the world.
In addition to feeling lost and jaded in the world, the trauma I had been suppressing throughout my adolescence started rising to the surface. I had fought my way tooth and nail from an impoverished neighborhood to Dartmouth. I had watched my entire family succumb to drugs and alcohol addictions. I had witnessed insane violence, like watching my mother slice my father’s hand open one morning before church. I had gone to schools that were severely lacking in resources where there was a 59% drop out rate.
Despite all of that, through hard work and persistence, I had managed to graduate valedictorian and go on to graduate from Dartmouth. And I had paid a heavy price for the resilience that allowed me to transcend those circumstances. I was emotionally shut down. I was deeply distrustful of people and I was severely depressed.
So two years into my job as an investigator, I became suicidal. I knew that I was going to have to get help and change my life and perspective or I was going to survive the despair that had eclipsed my life.
I left my job as an investigator and started going to therapy and seeing a psychiatrist. I started trying to reconnect to my creativity by reading books like The Artist’s Way. I also started exploring several spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, shamanism, and tantra. These practices completely changed my life by helping me heal a lot of the wounds I was carrying and by putting me in alignment with my true self, which meant making big life decisions that supported the new path I was pursuing.
I moved my entire life to California and started pursuing creative activities like slam poetry, writing workshops, and performance classes. Even though I felt super vulnerable and afraid of pursuing creative work because I didn’t think of myself as creative, I started developing this one-woman show called Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters with the help of renowned theater director, David Ford.
On the surface, the show is about how I lost my virginity to a hipster that I met on Craigslist. On a much deeper level, however, the show is about overcoming obstacles and traces my journey from Cleveland to Dartmouth. The strength of the show comes from its ability to combine intense pain with humor including a mesmerizing Beyoncé dance tutorial.
The show took about a year and half from start to finish to create and got a full run at the Marsh Theater in April 2015. It received unanimous critical acclaim with the San Francisco Chronicle naming it one of the top ten shows of the year. I received a full house standing ovation at every performance and even performed in Germany and Ireland.
I now consider myself a transformational storyteller, which means I use theater as a vehicle to explore controversial issues through humor and pain.
I have found that the more vulnerable I am willing to be on stage and the more free I’m willing to be in expressing both joy and pain, the more transformed and inspired the audience feels.
I feel extremely grateful to have found my way to this work and feel it is my life’s work to put transformational stories on stage. I do not think I would not have found my way to this work had I not done all of the personal growth work that allowed me to reconnect to my inner self and gave me the courage to pursue what was truly in my heart.
BH: What is your ‘Wake Up Call for the World?’ In other words, what is most of the world asleep about that you would love to wake up?
Echo: The biggest lesson I have learned in this life is there is no substitution for the work. There is no way around it or over it. Everything you are running from eventually catches up with you. My Wake Up Call for the World is to do the internal work that you might be suppressing or running from and see how doing that work transforms the whole foundation of your life. From that new foundation, new insights and paths will present themselves in the most satisfying and fulfilling ways. Go to the scariest and darkest place inside of yourself and see what lessons are waiting for you there.
BH: What are the biggest challenges or aspirations your clients come to you with, and what does your work make possible for them?
Echo: My “clients” are the audiences that come to see my shows. From my work, I hope they leave the theater inspired and enlivened about some aspect of their own life. And that they use that inspiration to make positive changes in their lives or the world in general.
BH: What words of wisdom do you have for all the emerging Business Heroines out there who are on the cusp of creating their own purpose-based business?
Echo: Trust yourself and don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t give up when the going gets tough. Use struggle and pain as motivation to take you to the next level.