To Whom It May Concern:
When my dear friend and mentor Deb Hollen asked me to write about the arts in Waynesboro and how it influenced my career in the arts, I immediately said yes. Partly because I would probably do anything for Deb Hollen, and partly because as a full time actor and playwright living in New York City I have been called upon to articulate my artistic roots many times and so I have spent time contemplating how Waynesboro lives in my work.
To be honest, when prompted about Waynesboro and the arts my first thought was “Waynesboro doesn’t really have the arts; Waynesboro has artistic people.”
I was pretty aware of this during my childhood. I went to Hagerstown to do dinner theatre, I knew I would have to go far away to train for a career in the arts, and I knew I would have some considerable catching up to do to be competitive, because most of my peers had been performing and studying from a very young age in a variety of competitive settings that were not available to me growing up in Waynesboro. I remember having a meltdown once in the car with my mother after a rough audition in Columbia when I tried out at the “big dinner theatre” and been terribly outdone by the competition—I was really panicked that I was already behind in my aim to be great at my art form.
When I think of Waynesboro arts, I think of Waynesboro’s artistic people: Deb Hollen. Jerry Kowallis (aka “Jerry K”). Phil Thorp. Mrs. Smedley. Lee Carson. Kay Yaukey. Jay Heefner. Joanne Williard. Mr. Ditato. Then because I think of them, I think of WASH musicals, show choir, Trinity Players, Glee Club, band, piano lessons, Dance Macabre at Fairview, District Chorus. And because I think of that, I remember all my friends, my first roles, many inside jokes and also many wonderful tears. And some great, great music.
Some Waynesboro arts memories, in no particular order…
Playing Shelby in Steel Magnolias. This was my first dramatic role in a straight play, and I knew for sure once I played this role that I could do it. This was through Trinity Players.
Negotiating with Deb Hollen and my basketball coach my rehearsals for the high school musical and my practice schedule for the team. I cannot even begin to describe how many times I have had this kind of conversation in my professional life! To have had teachers/mentors who supported me in negotiations like this, and who allowed me to be successful in these negotiations, allowed me the opportunity to do both commitments that were important to me, and had a HUGE impact on my confidence and communication skills.
Many, many beautiful songs that Gerry K had us learn for his concerts, as well as the beautiful musical literature for District/Regional Chorus competitions. I can still sing many of these songs, and I still remember the conversations my friends and I would have around and about that music. It affected us, we loved learning it and talking about what it made us feel. Singing together is a wonderful way to be together in school—it’s a refreshing change in the day and builds deep relationships. Gerry K was also wonderfully fun to rebel against, so we also loved making a little mischief at his expense now and then, probably because we ADORED him and knew he knew it. J
Godspell (also through Trinity Players) was a very emotional experience for me, and I think one of the first times I really linked theatre with my spiritual wellness, a connection that has lasted and driven the course of my life. Deb Hollen asking me to perform something for the musical selection during church, so I would have to find a piece and work on it. This required confidence and energy that every professional thing I’ve ever done has also required—it was good practice.
Lana Ladybug was the one of my earliest “stand out” moments/performances; this was third grade. It was a chance to (literally) strut my stuff and is a bit legendary to some of my New York friends who’ve heard the story and like to call me “Lana” now and then. J
Joanne Williard was one of the people who talked to me about writing. It took me a while to think of myself as a writer, but now that I do, I know that I was probably a writer before I was anything else.
I was accepted to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts in theatre. This was a five week scholarship program that my family never could have afforded, but was probably the most influential experience in my early artistic life. It was at Governor’s School that I discovered a play could be conceived and abstract, that I could write text to perform, that I could compete beyond the small pond of my town, and that I would train full time in college and move to New York. (Unfortunately Governor’s School funding has been cut and the program no longer exists.)
Deb Hollen Deb Hollen Deb Hollen.
I’ve been asked, particularly as a playwright, to articulate my artistic background and influences in my work, and I always talk about Waynesboro. Waynesboro is so connected to my family, and I confess that when I am stressed or isolated or discouraged in New York I like to take a little tour of Waynesboro in my mind—like a bird. I fly down Welty Road, I look for the heron in the creek there, I like Potomac Street in the summer, Clayton Avenue in the Fall, Renfrew any season… Being so close to the Mason-Dixon Line and the ghosts of the Civil War is firmly planted in my consciousness. The beauty of a fence on the edge of a field. The woods. Little creeks and back roads. Streets you can walk down the middle of after ten o’clock at night.
I also cannot talk about my current career without mentioning The Amish Project, and I cannot talk about The Amish Project without talking about Waynesboro. This was a solo show that I performed and produced myself, and it was also my playwriting debut. In my mind this play was a perfect culmination of the language and sensibility and images of my childhood in Waynesboro (which informed the texture and characters of the play). But also I literally could not have done The Amish Project without the support of Waynesboro. They came to my fundraisers, they donated money, they came to New York, they supported this play more than I could have ever hoped. In my personal experience, this is one of the greatest testaments to the arts in Waynesboro—the generosity and enthusiasm with which they supported one of their own in her personal artistic endeavor. It meant the world to me, and it changed my career. I think it also speaks to the potential for more support of the arts in Waynesboro—because Waynesboro has a culture of sincerity, there is an openness to new stories, characters and experiences.
I hope that this missive will go towards supporting MORE arts in Waynesboro; I hope this will help justify more support for the artistic people in Waynesboro. Through the effort and dedication and passion of people like Deb Hollen, talents like mine were fostered, and careers like mine were born (but I’m not alone—Katrina Yaukey is a Broadway musical performer, Mike Schmidt went on to be a professional keyboardist for Hannah Montana, Seph Ternes is a television producer, just to name a few!)… But the amazing thing about the arts is that when art is made, everyone benefits—the artists who made the work, and the community who goes to see the work! Nurturing and increasing the artistic opportunity in Waynesboro can only enhance the enrichment of the students and reward the efforts of the artistic mentors.
If I can answer more specific questions about my experience with the arts in Waynesboro please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Please visit Jessica’s website for more information! www.jessicadickey.com