Performing in the touring one-woman show about Emily Dickinson, in Emily Dickinson: Her Poetry and Her Life as part of the Amcor Education Series on April 18, Ginger Grace returns to the Center. Visiting your Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in 2008, Ginger also portrayed Emily Dickinson in a one-woman show, but at that time it was The Belle of Amherst by William Luce. Ginger and I had a wonderful conversation that covered the impact of the arts at an early age, historical women, theater, poetry and more.
Reflecting on her prior experience at your Fox Cities P.A.C., Ginger shared how much she enjoyed learning from the students she worked with and the unfiltered energy they had. “From the workshops to the show, they had such an intense connection to Emily Dickinson,” she remarked. “I think part of that is because of the brevity with which she speaks. In the workshops, they appreciated the succinctness of her words. There is a great childlikeness to Emily; when she wrote, the world went away and there was a poem. And that’s what kids are like. No one gets in the way of that creativity.”
From firsthand experience, Ginger knows the value of the arts and the strong impression they can make on children. Growing up in Beaumont, Texas where there was limited access to the arts, Ginger was six years old when she formed a connection to the arts. This connection took root during a trip to New Orleans with her parents to visit her Aunt Virginia. In her aunt’s home, there was a beautiful grand piano surrounded by paintings that her aunt’s father had created. Ginger was transfixed by the piano and begged her aunt to play it due to her level of shyness and not knowing what to say. Her aunt obliged, mesmerizing Ginger by playing “Ave Maria.” This momentous experience allowed Ginger to become closer to her Aunt Virginia as well as creating the realization that she wanted to make a life in the arts that would transport people.
Ginger studied at the University of Texas and engaged with various facets of theater. Her experience with theater extended to being a part of the props and costume department and even taking notes for a director, learning to “never take for granted what people gift you on the stage.” By being a part of the various crews and experiencing the vital role they play in bringing a stage production to life, Ginger gained a deeper perspective and appreciation for each moving part.
Continuing to follow her passion of theater, Ginger worked as a Teaching Artist with the CASA after school theater program – where inner city school students created their own show. In a 10-week period, the students would write their own play and perform it for their school, and then on the main stage at Queens Theatre in the Park (now Queens Theater) with a full professional crew. Some had more expansive roles, but everyone had an opportunity to have an important cameo – so that shy students quite often created stand-out moments in the production. Ginger was able to watch these students come alive through the arts and experience unforgettable moments. “It’s life-changing to work with kids because you open up windows,” she shared. Ginger witnessed a correlation between the students’ success in the theater program and the improvement in other classes.
From behind the stage to on it, Ginger Grace has been a part of many stage productions that range from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams and everything in between. Some of these productions allowed Ginger to represent great women of history including all the First Ladies from Jackie Kennedy to Hilary Clinton in The Presidents and of course, Emily Dickinson. Ginger shared that while she has many favorite poems of Emily Dickinson, “Hope is The Thing With Feathers” is one that resonates strongly with her. “It’s such a gift to share Emily Dickinson. She has an impact that cuts across all ages. You see her work everywhere, inspiring so many people through other forms of art,” Ginger commented. “You do something that matters to you and people pick up on it.”
Ginger also wrote and performed her own play that brought four First Ladies together in The First Ladies Coalition: Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Mary Todd Lincoln. “We all have this stereotypical version of Emily Dickinson, Eleanor Roosevelt or Jackie Kennedy that they’re all perfect. But then, you start reading about them and realize that you have so many connections about what they cherished most and the challenges they faced. It’s the challenges by which they get their strength. I think everyone can be empowered by that,” Ginger reflected. As a strong champion for women on and off the stage, Ginger also is a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, Stage Struck, Playwrights Gallery and Women Stage the World, organizations which advocate for the power of women’s voices to be heard in the theater and the world.
Taking on a variety of roles, Ginger compared the acting process and experience to performing in a one-woman show versus acting with cast members. She explained, “In a one-woman show, you focus on the people closest to your heart or those who have been your biggest obstacles. They become very vivid in your imagination and drive the scene. When you’re performing with other actors, you’re translating them into the person they remind you of so it’s more a combination, which is extremely exciting.” Ginger elaborated on the energy she feels from the audience, directly or indirectly. “With interactive shows, the input you receive from the audience is so intrinsic to what is happening on stage; they become people in the world of that character. The more intense the connection with the audience is, the more exciting it is to bring that play to life.” Ginger is eager to connect with the students and educators in the upcoming performance and hope they learn from this performance to forge their own path as Emily Dickinson did.