Dani Berthiaume Davis (T’88) wanted to be a Broadway producer, but she didn't know where to start. So, she consulted Scarlet Pimpernel producer Pierre Cossette, who encouraged her to follow her instincts.
"I told him I had no clue how to do it, and he said, ‘None of us ever does. Just get on the phone, get on the phone, get on the phone. You know how better than you think.’”
Davis, now one of only a handful of female Broadway producers, learned a lesson that has stuck with her: “Being brave for me means take your fear with you, and reach for your goals anyway.”
At Duke, Davis worked as a performer, choreographer and producer as a member of Hoof ‘n’ Horn, a student-run musical theater group. In addition to serving as president of that organization during her senior year, she was an active student leader and a member of Tri-Delta sorority. She majored in English but took many public policy classes, discovering a passion for affecting change.
After graduation, Davis was the director of the theater program for the American International School in Vienna, Austria. When the Berlin wall fell, Davis organized the first All Europe Young People's Theater Festival; the festival culminated in a Peace Performance featuring children from every European nation.
Davis has worked as a performer and choreographer on and off Broadway, on national and international tours, and in regional and stock theater. Her performing credits include Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, And the World Goes Round, and the workshops of Fosse. She was the assistant choreographer on the Broadway production of Scarlet Pimpernel and the choreographer of Kenny Rogers’ Christmas from the Heart.
She is the co-founder and president of half-pint productions, a theatrical production and music recording company, and is currently producing the first national tour of Little Women – The Musical, in addition to being a wife and mother.
“Having my son Noah at age 30 was a true surprise to me and to everyone who knew me. It took me off of a successful professional track as a musical theater performer," she said. "Up to that point in my life, I mistakenly believed that being a mother would only limit my opportunities, and I had not attained my ‘goals’ yet. When Noah was born, I was profoundly moved by how quickly I adjusted to thinking of another person first, and my mind and heart suddenly opened up."
Davis credits Noah with helping her to leave an abusive marriage: "I realized that I had to take real responsibility for the emotional quality of my son’s life, even if, sadly, prior to that moment, I could not do it for myself. I also gained enormous confidence through single parenting. I was all he had, and I had to pull things together very quickly!”
Davis advises first-year Duke women to maintain their dignity and self-respect in the face of intense social and academic pressures.
"You must strive to remember that you really have all you need inside of you, and over the next four years, you have an opportunity to awaken all that is in you – to test your strengths, make some mistakes (go ahead and make them!) and discover new passions.”
It is natural to fear failure, Davis said, but her own failures have helped her become resilient, resourceful and ever hopeful.
"I try not to be stuck by limitations that exist only in my mind," she said. "The truth is, I cannot think of a time when a door that was closed to me could not be opened by my applying effort, ingenuity and a bit of bravado.”