We had the good fortune of connecting with Joanie McElroy and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Joanie, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk sure sounds like a scary word! And often it is! Sometimes it’s just that first step that is the scariest but it sure helps to have a team of talented, knowledge people around you who believe in that risk or in you personally. I have been very lucky that way. For whatever reason, the universe has sent me the right technical people, a kick-ass director of development, a tireless leader in our writing development. When you are surrounded with a great team and leverage their strengths, the risk becomes less scary and more of a reality. Another thing about risk is that often it comes from a place where someone approaches you with an idea and says “hey I was thinking I would like to do XYZ…” and for me, if I am in a place to say “yes I can help you with that” is a real privilege because if you can support someone in their dream the same way someone has supported you, that is a great feeling and opportunity. It may sound cliche but the saying you miss 100% of the risks you never take is … well 100% true! You never know what you can do unless you step out and test the waters. It’s easy to be afraid of the unknown but you never get anywhere standing still.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
One of the challenges we have faced is a physical space for performance and rehearsal. When we started out we were a homeless theatre and now with Covid, we are again, a homeless theatre but have found a “space” (or rather, cyberspace) in online performances. When we had to close the theatre due to Covid, we went virtual and while this may have seemed dismal (and in a lot of ways it is) it presented an opportunity for us to connect with artists we may not have had the opportunity to otherwise because of distance. Our Virtual Series has connected us without artists around the country and the world. For instance, Daniel Guyton had contacted me regarding a piece commissioned by an Indian actor Siddartha Sabryata and wanted to know if we could add it to our virtual shows. After reading his play, American Bhishma, I was blown away by the script and connected Sidd with a local director (Tamil Periasamy) who is also of Indian descent. So we were able to perform this script even though our actor was literally half a world away and it was incredibly well-received. This is just one of the examples of how our Virtual Series has allowed us to connect with other artists and provide opportunities to a variety of artists from all walks of life. Our writer’s group is another thing I am immensely proud of. Two years ago, our writers were tasked with interviewing members of the Atlanta Cuban Club where we have been the resident theatre since 2018. They took these stories and turned them into monologues. We created a production called Un Lugar Para Suenos which were a collection of these personal histories. They were intended to be staged, but due to Covid, we recorded it and live-streamed the recording. The club members were very moved and loved the production which gave us immense satisfaction; it was an honor to tell their stories. Another thing I am proud of is the opportunities we provide for new artists, original work, and artists from a variety of backgrounds. We had our first play festival in 2019 and sadly had to postpone our 2020 festival entitled AmpliFest which is based upon our mission statement to “amplify a diversity of voices”. We want to give those whose voices go unheard or marginalized or underrepresented a place and platform to be heard. These challenges have taught me that art will find a way. Just because the world has shut down and things seem to be at a stand still, creative people still need to create and have a venue in which to share their work. It’s like poetry – it’s beautiful to read, but it’s a form that must be heard. The same with drama. On the page is one thing but when those words come out of an actor’s mouth it takes on new life. And when audiences can hear well-crafted words that resonate with them (those – yeah that’s exactly how I feel moments) or a nod of recognition or a chuckle – it’s those human connections that keep artists and audiences coming back. So we keep creating new content; creating new formats; creating new venues for art to find its way.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Gee that’s a hard one because I am a Georgia Studies teacher by day and am enamored with the history of the city of Atlanta and the State of Georgia. The state has pretty much anything you could want from the beaches to the mountains to the big city to antiquing in small towns. But here are my suggestions: For getting outside and people-watching: The Beltline, Piedmont Park, and Stone Mountain. For some history, the Martin Luther King Center and Ebeneezer Baptist Church and Oakland Cemetery. For great places to eat and drink, Ponce City Market; for live music Eddie’s Attic and City Winery, and of course the High Museum and the beautiful Fox theatre. Too much to do in one week!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
For me, my biggest supporter and cheerleader is my husband, Steve. I started auditioning and directing when our children were little and he kept the home fires burning while I played at the theatre. He has seen me at my best and my worst when struggling to juggle family, work, and theatre and continued to encourage me throughout. He never doubted my ability to be successful in anything I put my mind to and is without a doubt my biggest cheerleader. He assuages my self-doubts and fears. He helps me flesh out my ideas and vision for a show and gives me suggestions when needed. Without question, he is my rock.