Daniel Stokes - Conversations with Artists
What is the art of what you do?
Transforming a space that people see almost every day and turning it into something completely different, something they've never seen before - something that gives them a whole different feeling than the last time they were there. We do everything internally so there are built-in limitations and we have to use the same spaces all the time which makes it the exciting and challenging part. Transforming the space and giving people a completely different vibe and feeling every time they come into any of our events - that's the art.
So how do you do that?
Through lighting. Decor. Music. Different types of food, Creating a mood in their stomachs in their ears, in their eyes. All those different elements.
When you're visualizing an event how do you approach it?
I always start with the decor, the furniture. It really can literally make such a difference. If you have a boring couch in a space and replace it with something crisp and modern it changes the entire room. I always go to decor first. And then the lighting. They say lighting is everything and it's so true. Even though we don't have the best lighting system I try to do what I can in that regard.
What makes your approach unique?
I always put a lot of joy and excitement in everything that I do, whether it's at work or just hanging out with my friends. It's always me enjoying me-time. People say that I'm always 'on' and it's true -- I'm all in - 110 percent, bringing joy and happiness to everything I do. Also, I like to push the envelope and bring change. Some people want to do the same old same old and I like to mix it up. I have crazy ideas and I never hold back. Some of them work, some of them don't. I bring Daniel's bag to the picture and throw everything at it. There's no hurt in trying.
How deep is Daniel's bag?
You think Mary Poppins' bag is deep? Mine is endless. I'm full of tricks!
What role does art play in your life?
Music is my go-to. I'm always listening to music. It can heighten my mood, it can make me sad if I'm in a low place. It can make me happy if I need to come out of that sad mood. I don't really listen to the lyrics -- I analyze the beats and the background vocals and riffs. People ask me what words are to specific songs and I have no idea. I just listen to the melody. I like it loud. The louder the better.
What inspires you other than music?
It sounds cheesy, but life itself. The first thing I say to myself every day is, "I woke up today. Someone else didn't." I woke up so I have to really take advantage of the next 24 hours because I don't know when I'm going to get another chance. Yes, sometimes there's stress, but if you take a moment and look around you, everything is inspiring. Whether it's a friend walking down the street, or a plant in a window. Thre are so many different elements around you every day. The first thought of your day should be "I'm thankful."
When you first came to NYC what was your goal? What did you want?
My dream was to find an apartment.
The bigger dream.
To be able to say that I made it. Growing up in a small town in Ohio, everyone had lofty goals "I'm going to get out, I'm going to do this and that." I always said I was going to move to NY and be an actor. But after I got here I realized I don't like acting. I'd rather play myself which is more exciting than playing a character. So "making it" was my dream. I bought a one-way ticket three days after graduation and told my parents 'after graduation I'm not coming home.' They were shocked! They said 'but you don't have a job, you don't have money!' and I said 'I'm going to do it.' I've been here 5 years now and I think I'm doing it. I've made it. I may not be a millionaire but the fact that I can walk the streets and push tourists out of the way -- I'm a New Yorker. That's making it for me.
How much money did you come here with?
700 dollars. No job. No apartment.
Did you know people?
Yes. I slept in my old roommate's living room for a month. I'd go on job interviews - and first go to H&M, buy a suit, tuck the tags, go on the interview and as soon as the interview was over I would return the suit. I had no money. One time I actually spilled coffee on the jacket and I freaked out. So I returned it and I was like 'yeah, dont look at that stain.' It's stories like that, thinking of that realizing what I came from and where I am now -- it's awesome.
How did you step in to what you're doing now?
Honestly, I really love planning things. Even in my everyday life. I have parties all the time in my apartment. I love having game night and cooking for my friends. So it felt natural. I wanted to go into PR, but I hate writing so why would I want to do that? Someone said you love throwing parties, go into event planning. I thought event planning was just planning someone's wedding or bar mitzvah and I really don't want to go in that direction. But I realize that it's not just that. I want to make people have fun and see the joy in life. That's why I do what I do.
If you could go back to a 10-year-old Daniel and give him advice, what advice would you whisper in his ear?
LIfe's going to get a lot cooler. It's going to be a lot more exciting. And you're going to be happy. So don't stress out.
Were you always on board with who you are? Because you stand out.
No. Daniel was ok being Daniel finally when I was around 21, 22. I'm 27 now. So I spent a lot of time being not ok. When I finally accepted myself I found out that I love life 110 percent. There are so many times I'll have conversations and people say 'wow you really are so sure of yourself and you're so young.' But I needed to find my happiness and it came through not caving into what society tells me I'm supposed to do and be. If you can learn to march to the beat of your own drum, it's the best feeling ever! You can be totally happy.
There's a big difference between being sure of yourself and simply being comfortable with who you are. People say you're so sure of yourself, which kind of requires a stance of 'yes I'm sure.' But being comfortable with yourself -- you just are you. You're not "trying." That's the difference.
Where do you find your strength?
My family. We are awkwardly close. I tell my parents everything. My friends are always amazed. They say: 'you told them that?' And I'm always like, 'yeah, why not!?' Growing up, when I came out, it wasn't the greatest experience, and when it was at it's worst I decided they were either going to accept me or not. So I shoved the gay in their face and my parents were like 'why are you telling us this stuff?!' Now when they come visit me in the city we go to drag shows. It's awesome.
Is your Dad ok with it?
I am my father, my father is me. When I graduated college they took all my friends out to a drag show. And when they visited me last November they took us out to another drag show and my dad got hit on. He loved it. My friends and I were like, 'why is my 57-year-old father getting hit on and we are sitting here all single?!' That's why I love my family. We are all so open and honest. Sometimes inappropriately so. And that's how family should be.
I am. More than anything it's love that shapes things. They made me who I am, and I'm happy because of that.
Daniel is an Event Coordinator at Viacom in NYC. Follow Daniel on Instagram @Rupert_Baxter