We had the good fortune of connecting with Shelby Hofer and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Shelby, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking

As an individual artist who wants to stay connected to a deeper meaning, artistic risk has been a huge factor in my development. It’s all about making mistakes. You have to make a ton of them to really get anywhere. I’ve humiliated myself a ton. It’s also quite relevant in my business. My partner and I run an organization that serves artists, PushPush Arts, and risk-taking is embedded in our purpose. That doesn’t mean it is easy. It’s not. It requires failure, and it’s hard to fail. Who wants to fail?! But it’s the only way to get to the really good stuff. Sometimes it is so hard that you simply have to force yourself to do it. In my business, it is a little bit easier because we offer resources to artists that help them take more calculated risks, which so many artists feel like they can’t afford. And they often can’t. Especially here in Atlanta where arts support is so low. So we try to maintain an environment for experimentation. 

But for me personally, it’s a constant practice. And risk-taking can sometimes be a benefit of privilege. By the same token, there are artists out there that just organically keep going, and when they fall, they get back up again and again, and don’t even think about it. I love that. Maybe they don’t even think of it as failing. But at the end of a phase of failing, of all those ups and downs, you can usually look back and clearly see the progress. The more you risk and fail, the better you get.

Even though I run an arts organization and encourage risk, there’s only been a handful of times that I allowed my myself to fail in public. I encourage it in others and in all of our collaborations, but I’ve always got three fingers pointed back at myself. One big one was when I started doing stand-up in 2017. At the time, it felt like I was losing myself, and I really needed to do something solo and terrifying. At first, I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it, I just tried it on my own. And slowly I let friends and family know. I did it for about 3 years, and each time I felt that fear and went out anyway. It felt like a muscle I was keeping alive.

The other time was this last spring when I finally performed a play I’d been writing/devising for more than two years. It was my first time taking a chance on my own work, for a full 75 minutes. It was not until the 3rd night in front of an actual audience that I was relaxed enough to say “You got this. Have fun.” Even though I try to never get too comfy, because that danger keeps things interesting, it is nice when you reach the point of any risky thing where you know you are not gonna die. Funny enough, the play wrote and performed (with a puppeteer and an off-stage voice) is called “High Risk, Baby!” about a big chance I took to solve my infertility problem. And if I hadn’t taken that risk, my life would be very different. Not bad or worse, I just wouldn’t have achieved that particular goal. But that’s for another story.

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’ve been running PushPush for a long time, and always helping artists do their most creative work. This new show (also to be performed with Essential Theater in November), was a first for me – my own writing and something I’ve imagined doing for over a decade. It’s all about gumption and moving things forward no matter what. I play an 8-year-old and a grown woman all at the same time. And while I know this makes some people cringe, (me included) I wanted to create a performance where I could have an actual dialogue with the audience. There’s a point in the show when, as the 8-year-old, I ask someone to explain a camel toe. And when their answer is, inevitably, too confusing, I ask them to come draw it on the chalkboard (“for those of us with different learning needs”). And while they’re always a bit hesitant, they do it every time, and it was wonderful and hilarious every time. It was my favorite moment. I’d ultimately have to take control of the scene because I could have let that moment go on forever. But I did things in this new show that I’d only ever dreamt of. To be honest, I created something that I wanted to see myself. I actually really dislike audience interaction, so it’s odd that I made a piece that leans on that. But I crave authentic, weird moments with people, so I’m always striving for that on stage too. And I’d never seen it done like I was imagining it. So I made it for myself, to be able to play in that specific way, and also to tell a story that I had been too scared to tell for years. I also created it for my son too. It’s a kind of love letter to him.  It also helps to know that others benefit from hearing the truth as well. There is a lot of unnecessary shame and guilt around infertility and motherhood. 

Another risk – I wrote a song and sang it. I’d never done that before. I collaborated with my director (Ellen McQueen) and my brother, a producer in Bozeman, Montana. And once we finished the song, I memorized it and sang it a thousand times during the pandemic, so it would be in my bones. I was scared about that part, but I also feel like I’ve been writing the song forever. Some of the lyrics were from my stand up. I’m not a musical theater person, per se. But I kept it real, and I think it paid off. I didn’t really “perform” the song, as much as I sang to myself and to a baby that I create out of a blanket at the end of the show. It’s hard to describe, and as I’m writing this it sounds weird. I wouldn’t go see it based on that description. But it was a neat and unexpected moment. And something I always knew I could do, but needed to push myself to make it happen. At one point I also stand on the table and yodel from my lady parts about starting my period. So that was fun. Maybe that’s my brand: yodeling from my lady parts.

Oh, and back to the main question, how did I get to where I am today professionally? I’d say mostly by pretending like I know what I am doing. To where I eventually DID know what I was doing. And also by humiliating myself. If I humiliate myself, no one else can. But that means I’m always trying to bury my imposter syndrome.

And even though I wrote and performed this particular play, I love collaborating with other artists. I worked with twelve artists on High Risk, Baby! And while you do need to work solo sometimes, creating with others on something original is extremely fulfilling. 

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?

I won’t divulge my favorite spot, because it’s a well-kept secret, and the only place I can still go in this town where I can hear myself think and have a conversation. Now I love music, dancing, and the sound of ice shakers. But sometimes you just want to catch up with a friend.

One cool place that I really dig is a new place on DeKalb Avenue, Candler Rail Brewery & Taqueria. But my favorite watering hole is Corner Pub (pubalicious.com) in Decatur, good people, great owner, EXCELLENT food, and super cozy.

I also highly recommend Waller’s Coffee Shop, with the coolest little stage where they do comedy and music.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?

A person that comes to mind immediately is my friend and colleague, a fellow artist, Aimee McCoy. I’ve known her for 20 years. And like me, she took a risk to start an arts company, went through a ton of ups and downs along the way, and is now enjoying some of the fruits of her labor. You just don’t know when you’re young that everything, or anything, is adding up, and that if you keep going – if you just simply keep moving forward and trying – that all those things will connect you up to where you are now. I’ve watched her “stick-to-itiveness” over the years and I’m  glad that I’ve been able to witness her stride. And the little joys here and there that we women can sometimes enjoy in realizing that…oh yeah, I got this. In fact, I super-duper got this! She’s smart and honest and keeps at her game no matter what, and now she has some valuable things to pass on to others. And while this may not be the exact groove she stays in, she’s come to a place that’s nice to see. She owns it. She also helped me a lot in my own work, including the show I just did. She was there from the beginning, in small and big ways she probably doesn’t realize. 

I also want to give a shout out to visual artist Rob Nixon and Helen DeMoura of Casa Forte Publishing.  

Websites: www.pushpusharts.com; www.shelbyhofer.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pushpusharts/?hl=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pushpusharts

Link about High Risk, Baby!: https://casafortepress.com/scenes-from-the-mayflower-ii-launch/ 

Image Credits: Stacey Bode

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutAtlanta is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.