If, like us, you are working in live events and performance, it seems like a bleak year. COVID-19 made it clear that the essence of performance as we understand it in a common tradition, gathering closely in a space with your community in real time, is not advised in the same ways. An artist I greatly admire, Ping Chong, once said at a talk, “Theatre is what happens when you set up chairs to watch.” And it’s not just the front-of-house operations that are impacted. The essence of creativity that exists for artists from garage bands to Broadway musical casts to make their work happen requires closeness for collaboration. Sure, some of that essence can happen digitally, but there’s a lot that falls in the cracks – just look at the frustration in every Zoom classroom.
We light up our stages with stars. Whether it is the thrill of John Berry crooning a holiday family tradition straight from Nashville, the breathtaking dancing of Diavolo from Los Angeles, or the excitement of triple-threat Broadway stars beautifully narrating from The Great White Way, The Grand’s identity has relied on making the best talent in the nation available to Macon. As the performing arts presenter of Mercer University, we are proud to widen the cultural offerings available to Central Georgians.
Like all venues, our routine has changed in the pandemic. Our executive director’s phone is no longer ringing off the hook with agents trying to sell him on the phone. Our director of rentals is no longer wondering whether a certain set piece will fit onto our historic stage. Our technical director is not coordinating load-outs with a dozen plus crew members late at night. The kinds of shows that we “normally” do, even beloved community productions like The Nutcracker, just aren’t available.
It’s National Arts & Humanities Month (NAHM)—a coast-to-coast collective recognition of the importance of culture in America—which asks how #ArtsCreateHope. In this environment, how do we hold onto this hope?
For us, presenting the stories that are all around us – the people who are the stars in our grocery store lines as we still smile under masks six feet apart – are the way that we continue to provide the best of arts and culture in this turbulent time. If we can’t bring the stars to you, we can shine a spotlight on the ones living in your neighborhood. And with “Kings and Queens” our next event with Storytellers Macon: Live at The Grand Opera House, we certainly have a regal presence. Enjoy the incredible local faces that will be gracing our stage November 7th:
- Ansley Booker, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at Mercer University, Macon Magazine 5 Under 40. Dr. Booker is a native of Eatonton (her story talks about being the first Dairy Queen of Eatonton!) and here is her TEDx talk about Unhidden Figures: Uncovering Cultural Biases in STEM, a topic where Dr. Booker has long been an advocate and storyteller.
- Elliot James-Fernandez, Web Media Manager of Visit Macon, Elliot is also a writer, journalist and performing artist. As a Southern storyteller, his multimedia and journalistic work is committed to telling stories with a focus on depicting the American South in an accurate and historical manner. Here’s a story he wrote about a person utilizing Daybreak’s services. Elliot recently hosted the Historic Macon Foundation’s Hidden History video series about LGBTQ+ Macon History.
- Charvis Harrell, visual artist. “”My art comes from a desire to talk about the little know people that sacrifice to make the world a better place, and to give a deeper understanding of what it means to be Black in a society where race is rarely talked about but the disparity between them are overwhelming and devastating.” He is a Macon native who began painting in 2004 and has been exhibited around the country. He tells stories of Black history and identity through portraiture, cartooning, and more.
- Angie Coggins, who served as Chief Assistant in the Houston County Public Defender’s Office for over 20 years and is recently retired. Other attorneys have described Angie as a killer storyteller in the courtroom. Angie is also a Macon Pickleball star and a Macon-Bibb Citizen Advocate. Here’s an interview Mercer Law School did with Angie about being a public defender.
- DeMarcus Beckham, Southern Field organizer for Georgia Equality and also the Executive Director for Reach to Impact Group and a Board member of Macon Pride. DeMarcus grew up in Zebulon, Georgia in Pike County and attended Middle Georgia State University. He is passionate about telling stories to advance LGBT rights, Voting Rights, Criminal Justice Reform, and working with advocates within the HIV/AIDS community.
- Angel Colquitt, a senior Journalism major with a minor in Southern Studies at Mercer. They are a Macon native who recently interned with Macon Newsroom. After graduating, they hope to pursue a Masters Degree in Public Health so that they can tell the stories that are currently facing Georgians living in rural areas as a reporter. Here’s an article they wrote about telehealth access in rural Georgia.
- Erin Keller, Vice President for Development, NewTown Macon. Erin is a proud graduate of Mercer University where she played basketball and later worked as a staff member. As a passionate community member, Erin serves on the Workforce Development Board and is a member of the Downtown Macon Rotary Club. In all these activities, Erin tells the stories of Macon as the city she grew to love.
- Sarah Gerwig-Moore, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law at Mercer Law School. With the Habeas Project, Gerwig-Moore told forgotten stories of pro-se litigants, providing assistance to non-capital, post-conviction cases on a strictly pro bono basis. Here’s an article she wrote about the history and fiction of indigent defense in the Deep South.