We had the good fortune of connecting with Madison Montgomery and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Madison, why did you pursue a creative career?
The answer to this is honestly because it truly would have been impossible not to. I believe that our passions drive us through our lives; as performing artists especially, creating is like air or water – we need it to survive. I have actually taken a few detours away from the pursuit of a career in the arts, only to be guided right back to that path each time. When I’m creating, I feel closest to God; I resonate at a frequency that connects me with the Universe. For as long as I can remember, being immersed in music, drama, lyrics and dance, and helping others connect to the arts, is what has made me, me.
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.
I have been involved in some form of art and performance since I was old enough to sing and dance, which in my case, was a little before age 2. I have music in my DNA – my grandfather played drums for Elvis and my grandmother and her sisters sang on the radio as kids – , and I grew up around artists. Another grandfather was a visual artist who taught me to paint; my mom writes poems, songs, and stories; I have aunts on both sides, an uncle, and a cousin who are performers (you may know some of them). And most importantly, I was always around music, from Patsy Cline to Led Zeppelin and everything in between. My first stage was the unfinished balcony at my grandfather’s cabin, where I gave concerts to anyone who would listen, sometimes featuring original music. I started taking dance lessons at age three, piano at age four, and constantly sang with my entire family. I started doing theatre in elementary school (my first role was Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast at age 7), sang in the school chorus and church choirs, and became involved in Odyssey of the Mind which is where I truly learned to love creating alongside performing. (If you’re unfamiliar with O.M.,it’s creative problem solving through the use of drama, music, and STEM, and it competes on a world level). I learned my first string instrument, violin, at age 11, and continued to participate in chorus, orchestra, and drama in school and choir and praise band at church, while also co-founding and playing in my first rock band and writing all of our original songs. Around that time I also taught myself to play any string instrument I could get my hands on, ranging from guitar to dulcimer. I worked two jobs and lettered in eleven different clubs in high school and I’m certain that my ability to survive was due to my incredible chorus teacher who would sometimes let me nap behind her piano; Mrs G was seriously amazing. I had dreams to pursue vocal performance, but was often told that there was no money or security in it, and was otherwise persuaded to study something “more realistic”, which turned out to be Public Relations. In college I joined another band and we played around Atlanta and recorded an EP; being on stage in any capacity has always given me such a rush. When that band broke up, my heart was shattered, and unfortunately so was my voice for a period of time, and I took a break from performing, and instead worked a lot, occasionally played coffee house open-mic nights, auditioned for a few musicals, and continued to write. Toward the end of college, I started a new band with some friends and my former lead guitarist who is, no lie, a prodigy. That band split due to scheduling conflicts, and by 2011 I found myself working a soul-sucking job with no inspiration and no artistic outlet of any kind. It was exhausting and led to something I’d never experienced before: very real depression. I started seeing a therapist who encouraged me to try to recenter, but without any artistic outlet, without music and theatre, I felt like a shell of myself. Then, at the end of 2012, I heard that New York Film Academy was holding auditions in Atlanta, and I thought – what do I have to lose? I auditioned for their musical theatre program and got in on the spot, which meant a potential move to New York. I had no idea how to pitch it to my family who I knew wouldn’t love the idea of me living 1000 miles away, but I also knew it was my best chance of getting back to who I was. So I met up with a dear friend (who is now my agent) who had a ton of experience in the field, and asked her what I needed to do to make New York happen; I am forever grateful for her advice because it changed my life. 6 months later I was driving to New York with new headshots, an amateur resume, a suitcase full of clothes, 500 books (I have a problem), and nine instruments, after relinquishing the rest of my worldly possessions. And when my feet hit the ground in New York City, I felt at home. At NYFA, I absorbed every note I was given from every single instructor. I was singing, dancing, acting with amazing people from around the world, being coached by performers, directors, musicians, and choreographers who were actively in the business – my voice teacher was on Broadway ten times; what world was I living in? I had never felt more connected to my sense of purpose in my entire life. I spent four years in New York, and during that time I performed anywhere I could and did some amazing shows, even working with a renowned playwright to originate a role. I met my husband in 2014, and in 2017, three months before we were married, we relocated (back) to Atlanta. Atlanta had changed a lot in the four years I was gone, and that also meant a transition to film and TV, represented by Stewart Talent and the woman whose advice had helped me take that leap of faith. I also began to choreograph and direct professionally, and teach voice; I loved what I did and the students I was working with, but the company I worked for was a toxic place, and it became evident that I was going to need to break out on my own. Fast forward to December of 2019 when I started my production company and community theatre: Creative Artists Theatrical Studios (CATS) … 3 months before a pandemic that would effectively wipe out the entire performing arts field. Theatre suddenly did not exist, and trying to put up a show was impossible. And in June of 2020, after navigating a lawsuit, once again in therapy – this time recovering from trauma in a harmful work environment -, and separated from my craft, I found myself again feeling like a shell of myself, but this time I wasn’t alone. Thousands of my fellow performers were experiencing some form of depression and helplessness as we watched the thing we all loved most, the thing that made us “us’, disappear. I needed to do something, and that’s where my podcast, “The Art of Performers”was born from. The podcast features performers, comedians, directors, voice actors, and artists in the field and explores their experiences during the pandemic; it has been so cathartic, refreshing, and unifying, and it has allowed us to support each other, while sharing the importance of supporting the arts with my listeners. I just wrapped up season 1, and am preparing for season 2 which will focus on rebuilding and the necessary changes we need to see in diversification, accessibility, and representation in our field. It is honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I hope it helps other artists who have experienced the loss that came with 2020. My mantra is, and always will be: “prepare for the worst; expect the best” and that is what I hope is to come to the arts in the upcoming months: the best. We are all going to heal together, and when we do, it’s going to be beautiful. In the meantime, CATS is working on an upcoming performance of Into the Woods, and I’m excited to be using some “out of the box” ideas to make it come to life, even – and especially – in an unconventional way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
One of the first memories I have is sitting backstage at the Fox Theatre with the ballerinas, before they went on. I practically grew up at the Fox so that is an absolute must, whether it’s a musical or a ballet. Of course we’re frequenting Atlanta’s theatre scene, everywhere from City Springs and the Alliance to Shakespeare Tavern. Nothing beats the food in Atlanta, and some of my favorite places are Bone Garden Cantina, South City Kitchen, SOHO, and Cafe Intermezzo. But my family is from Marietta which means I’m not letting any friends leave the state without popping into Brandi’s World Famous Hot Dogs. When the weather’s nice, definitely Little Five Points for some shopping (and tattoos!), Inman Park during the art festivals, and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens at night. I also love the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center, especially in the spring when the flowers are in bloom.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I could not do what I do without the love and support of the people around me: I am so thankful to have a wonderful husband who believes in me, even when I don’t. I have a caring and creative family who exposed me to incredible music at an early age, and encouraged my tendencies to stand on any available flat surface and give concerts to complete strangers as a child. I have good friends who have sung, played, and acted with me, and others who made me breakfast at 5 AM and put me on the train to Manhattan on audition days. I’m also lucky enough to have wonderful agents at Stewart Talent; an amazing and growing artist collective in Atlanta; and the performers who I get to direct, instruct, and mentor and who I hope I inspire as much as they inspire me.
Other: The Art of Performers Podcast: https://anchor.fm/madison-montgomery Patreon: patreon.com/join/madykat
(Headshots) Anna Ritch