Lauren Ellis assumed the role of programs and public relations coordinator at Piedmont Arts in September, armed with a vision to bring out the best in people through the arts.
With a bachelors in theatre from University of South Carolina – Aiken, Ellis has always been a theatre person at heart.
“My background is almost primarily in theatre, I am an artist, but I am a theatre artist at the core of my being,” she said.
Ellis then moved to Detroit and started working with a theatre company before deciding to attend grad school at Hollins University in Roanoke. After getting her masters in playwriting and a certificate in new play directing and beginning to do freelance theatre and new works, she began teaching at Hollins in spring of 2020.
Ellis’s position now is one that sometimes has her wearing many hats and bridging many gaps at once. She expects that as Piedmont Arts approaches the time to select programming for a new season, her duties will shift.
“What I have found is I’m kind of the Venn diagram, or kind of the middle part between our marketing and also education,” she said. “The events and stuff that we do that are kind of at that intersection are kind of where I have sort of taken over.”
She also is the one who does most of the “forward-facing publicity” such as newspaper and TV interviews. In addition, she helps with programming and bringing events to fruition, whether as setting up equipment, helping speakers know all of the details, managing the checklists, or making sure everything gets done. Every day, she said, is a new adventure.
“I have never had a day that has repeated itself in any way, shape, or form. Every time I come in, I am doing something new,” she said.
Ellis believes that her background in theatre, primarily with her focus on directing and stage managing, has helped to give her a mindset that is beneficial in her position at Piedmont Arts.
“In theatre, because you know primarily, I’m a director and a stage manager, so it’s all about that big picture vision and all the teeny-tiny little details that have to go into making that thing possible. My brain is programmed to look at things like, ‘Okay, I know this is my end goal. What are all the teeny-tiny little steps that need to happen and when do they need to happen to make that thing happen,” she said.
One of her goals is to continue rotating the kinds of programming that local residents enjoy.
“This is kind of a shift for me. Like I said, I’m from South Carolina, live in Roanoke, and now working in Martinsville. So, I’m trying to kind of get a grasp of what people here want and like, and there are so many events that we do that are just beloved by our community, by our public, so I don’t want to come in and just uproot those things,” she said.
However, her primary goal is to look at programming from a different angle: One that puts art in the hands of people in the community and brings out their inner artists.
“Because I’m an educator and an artist, I think my primary focus is also in this. I feel that art is for everybody, and I feel that everyone is an artist,” Ellis said. “I think that sometimes that gets stamped out of us at an early age for a lot of reasons.
“In addition to, yes let’s do programming that we know people love, but let’s also do programming that kind of flips that narrative and gets more people involved with actually making art themselves,” Ellis said.
She said she loves that the art helps people to bring out and embrace their emotions, and added that art is part of the “human experience,” and intends to ensure that events offered at Piedmont Arts continue to accomplish that.
“I think what art does is (that) through these events, we are helping people recognize (their) emotions in ways that normally we don’t, or we don’t feel them to the scope or scale that we can or should,” she said.