On Sunday February 10th 2008, I had the honor of meeting up with an exception gentleman name Otis Sallid. Otis Sallid is well known in his field and beyond. He is a choreographer and much more thus hence the name “Creative Otis”. As a choreographer, a director and an inspiring author, Otis demands excellence and integrity in everything he does. I conducted an interview with Mr. Sallid to gain some insight into his creative world. We met up on 125th street with his public relations specialist Alicia Evens and from there were headed to “Native” a nice little restaurant on the corner of 118th street. Otis and I both ordered the Salmon dish, which really was very delicious and from there I began a string of questions into Otis’ creative world. During the interview Otis gave me a booklet which contains his bio and resume and it also contained accomplishments such as music for television shows he choreographed and shows he directed from television to Broadway to the super bowl and more. It also contained his education information and awards that he won. He mentioned this booklet stemmed from people always asking him what is it that he does.
“It’s my calling card, my resume, if you want to know what I do this is what I do. It grew out or people saying well what do you do. They call me a slasher. Director slash writer slash choreographer ya know all slashes. Instead of trying to get them to under all that I do I just put the book together and you get a real sense of, what it ends of being is that I’m what they call a creative. I come out of the dance world, I don’t come out of the dramatic world or the writing world I come out of the dance world as a creative so that’s what I do, I do creative.”
Otis Sallid’s entire family is originally from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Otis is the first of his family to be born in America. Before his career even started Otis was intrigued by the art of dance. A major inspiration was when he saw Shenequa Baker Scott performing at the Kennedy Community Center. Otis describes the initial feeling when he saw Sheneque performing:
“Indian woman, black Indian woman and you know I walk in one day and she was looking so beautiful. I had to be eight and she was like Oh my God, she’s a goddess and I umm, the next thing I knew when I stopped looking at her, had to be 3 or 4 years later and I was dancing on stage.”
I then asked him what was it that he saw in her that was so amazing and his response was:
“I’d never seen a black woman who danced and moved like that, I’ve never seen that. When you see a muse you recognize it, when you see what you want to do, it comes at you. I mean it was my destiny. I saw my destiny in front of me. I mean anybody who sees their destiny and don’t recognized it, they’ve got a problem. And that’s a problem with a lot of people they don’t recognize their destiny when it’s sitting right in front of them and I knew this was what I needed to do and of course my parents encouraged it. That always helps, to have good parents”
Otis participated as a student in the anti-poverty program that bought in a lot of professionals to help teach the youth about the arts. The anti-poverty programmed was called Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU). Professionals such as Thelma Hill, Jeffery Holder, Alvin Ailey ,Willis Johnson, Katherine Dunham and a few others were all involved in teaching these youths about the art of dance. While studying dance Otis was encouraged to pursue his education at the “High School of Performing Arts” located in New York City. Among others that were attending school at HSOPA were the late great Ben Vereen and violinist Pinkus Zuckerman and Michael Peters who also choreographed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Beat It” videos. Otis says that he has some ideas and would love to work with Michael Jackson, so if you’re reading Michael give Otis a call. Otis attended the Kennedy Community Center and he gives praise to all the community centers because he feels a lot of great black and spanish dancers as well as others will come from the community centers. He states that when he goes out to find dancers he would go to the mom and pop schools because a lot of great dancers will come out of there.
After Juilliard School, Otis went looking for a job on Broadway. It wasn’t easy trying to land a role. He worked odd jobs to pay the bills and also receive help from his friend Gregory Hines. I asked him how much of a role financial did Gregory play in his stay on Broadway, Otis answered with this:
Gregory is a very very dear friend of mine. We stayed friends for a very long time until he passed away. Gregory is always in my pocket when I’m working he’s right here in my pocket it’s really deep, really deep, its right there. I mean so I can’t believe that Gregory passed and no one has given homage to, that there’s not the Gregory Hines theater Gregory Hines Verrazano Bridge. You know how can that be, so I’ve been working on doing something for Gregory cause he’s such a spirit, when I was doing the Oscars he came to me and said I coming here for you Otis I want to come here to support you oh and by the way this is Glenn Close. (The three of us Laugh)
Eventually Otis did land roles in the Broadway shows “Purlie”, “The Wiz” and a few others. His public relations specialist Alicia Evens mentioned she found an old play bill from the Wiz showing Otis as a cast member. During Otis’ time on Broadway he met and became friends with up and coming celebrities such as Sherman Hemsley, Morgan freeman, Raul Julia, Jeff Goldblum, Melba Moore and Gregory Hines. After Broadway he worked with Spike Lee in the 1987 movie School Daze. This is where is also met his wife Kyme. Kyme played opposite of Tisha Campell as Rachel Meadows the leader of the Jigga Boos. Otis joked and said he had to chase her all over the world because she was warned not to date him because he was a bad boy.
In the discussion, Otis points out how his work is not so choreographic. His work is centered in story telling with an emphasis on business. He notes there are a lot of choreographers out there and it’s a great thing to dance but how do you pay for that dream and how do you bring that dream to market.
“Its very hard for me to just go into the studio and have a dream, I meant it takes a little more than that. how do we bring that dream to market? How do you, umm, budget it contract it, find the artist? Who’s gonna pay for it, umm put it on the stage, light it. How do you put all those comments together so you can put it in front of a large audience? That’s what my work is, that’s what Creative Otis does now. Its does new ideas it does big events. It shows umm, it puts the whole platform together and when I say platform ya know choreographers go out there and choreograph, they think its about steps, yeah its about steps but not really, how do you take those steps and get it to television, get it to film get it to stage?”
Otis went on to explain a little further that it is all about staging and the little things that count. An example would be when in 1996 he choreographed the 69th Annual Academy Awards show and he showed Billy Crystal where on the stage to make some announcements or tell his jokes. Through his career Otis worked in Spike Lee's movies called “School Daze”, “Do The Right Thing” and “Malcolm X”. He also did the opening titles for the television shows “Living Single” and “Suddenly Susan”, Disney's “Sister Act II” and Thomas Carter's “Swing Kids” and that is when he won the BOB FOSSE L.A. CHOREOGRAPHERS DANCE AWARD. He formed his theater company called The New Art Ensemble while he was working on Broadway and when he first began his commercial directing career he organized his production company PICTURE OTIS VISUALS and in that first year Otis directed and produced many notable commercials for clients such as FORD, COCA COLA, GENERAL MOTORS, SPRITE, McDONALD'S and the GEORGIA STATE LOTTERY. This enabled him to receive several commercial awards as well as appearing on the reels of such major corporations as PROCTER AND GAMBLE and MCDONALD'S. In the world of music videos Otis won the M.T.V. and MUSIC VIDEO PRODUCERS ASSOCIATIONS AWARD. As a television director he has directed several episodes of LIVING SINGLE, FOR YOUR LOVE and the dance sequences for THE NIKKI COX SHOW he also directed, choreographed and produced the opening titles for SUDDENLY SUSAN, THE JEFF FOXWORTHY SHOW, LIVING SINGLE and the end credits for the film SISTER ACT II. Otis also created the title song for SHOWTIME AT THE APOLLO and SUDDENLY SUSAN. In Otis writing career he wrote his first book of short stories called Harlem Stories. These stories derived from his childhood years and his life growing up in Harlem, New York. He then began writing a dance musical entitled MANCINI featuring the music of Henry Man
lass Theater and directed the opera gala for Opera Noire at The Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Another recognition I was surprised to find out is that he also produced, directed and choreographed the 2006 opening live event of Super Bowl XL which featured the talents of the living legend Stevie Wonder, India Arie, Josh Stone and John Legend.
I asked Otis how he is able to get such work and is reply is that he thinks outside of the box as much as possible even to the point of begging. His thought is that he comes off as a salesman trying to sell his self, Creative Otis. He does it through his website http://www.creativeotis.com and through indirect mail. He would solicite himself for instance standing next to people he would say hi to anyone and strike up a conversation. Otis also talked about having a creative home for instance when he worked on the set of the television show “Fame” it was a home to him, a big home that lasted 5 – 6 years on NBC and also working with Spike Lee for 6 years was another home. He says he is looking for another place to call home where he can put his creative to work for years.
In closing, I asked him if he was at a point where people know him by just seeing him when he walks down the street or walks into a room. He says “Some people think I’m Emit Smith”. (Laugh) He mentions that when he goes to a lot of dance studio and theaters and some places in Los Angeles he is recognized. The final question was what are your likes and dislikes and what advised do you have to give to those that are up and coming?
“I always love excellence. I always try to give 250% so that all my clients feel like I’ve delivered beyond their expectations. I dislike slop fullness people who are slop full so that when they, they don’t have passion for what they do. I don’t tolerate it, I don’t want to see it, I am arrogant about it, when people come late don’t come at all, people come unprepared don’t come at all. I am only as strong as my weakest link when I’m doing a project. I hate liars, the truth is easier than I lie and it affects your work. When you look at a choreographers work, is it telling the truth? And that’s what we respond to, we respond to the truth in peoples work. So lying, lie on one side and then come choreograph and come try to tell the truth, so those are my likes and dislikes.”
“Get there on time the rest will take care of itself. Get there before time, if you get there on time you’re late. If you get there late, go home. If you get there before time your right on time” Just show up, all you have to do is get there, the rest will take care of itself. Do your home work, be brilliant, tell the truth.”