As an artist in this community I have found it so warming to hear the personal stories of others in this town. When I have had breakdowns, not knowing where I will end up in my career, I call upon my friends and mentors to pull me back together. Through their stories, I have found agency, renewed passion and the will to go on. In a career path that has no definite stability, it is the community that keeps me grounded. It is my honor to bring to you the stories of artists in our very own Minneapolis/St. Paul. Let’s get inspired by each other, our resiliency, our grit, our hustles!
~ Ashawnti Sakina Ford
celebrating the grind of our community and highlighting individual aritsts.
Let me tell you of the talented, intelligent and beautiful Joy Dolo! I’ve known Joy for about two years as we are in the same Improv Troupe “BLACKOUT”. I auditioned for the group in the summer of 2016. Joy has been a friend and a mentor for me since.
We sat in the cutest Tea house in St. Paul called Heritage Tea House. We met for tea. We talked business, meetings and then got down to the nitty gritty.
Name: JOY DOLO
Age: Newly 31!
How Long Working In the Twin Cities? 9 years! (Whoa! She exclaims as she realizes the time)
When you started out I’m assuming people weren’t throwing all the jobs your way. . .
Oh, not all. Actually, my first job was at Park Square Theatre. I was one of the ensemble members for The Odyssey. I got that job because there was another black woman that dropped out and they said, “we need another one” (laughs). My professor at the time was in it and he said to them, “I know this great woman, she is hard working and fun” and they just gave it to me! I tried so hard to impress because it was my first gig! An equity house theatre! I was ready. I made a really great friend who became my mentor during the show. She was always checking in, seeing how school was, seeing if I was okay. It was a really great first experience.
When you had that job were you nervous about being in a big equity house?
Absolutely! It was very nerve reckoning. You don’t want to be the person who doesn’t know what’s going on! We did a lot of physical things, like creating a whole ship with ten people. I didn’t know much about physical theatre. They had this giant puppet and I had no puppeteering experience and I was [puppeting] the head and it was so much! We had a few lines and I learned them before rehearsal because I wanted to be off book! But when you are working with people who know what’s going on in the ensemble you feel okay. Because as long as they know what’s going on, you can figure it out.
I have this fun little question, you’re not just an actor you’re a...?
Nothing! (laughs). But I guess I shouldn’t say that. I like doing a lot of things, I like acting and I like working. I think that is the main thing that contributes to my success is that I am always working. Whether it’s on the stage or searching for the next big thing or reading plays or seeking out people or figuring out gigs for BLACKOUT. I do that for fun it’s probably not healthy (laughs) but I am always working and hustling and figuring out what the next thing is. When I am not doing that then umm, I like gardening! I got into gardening two years ago but it makes me mad because I can’t understand it!
Is there a science to gardening?
There has to be because I am failing!! One year we had beautiful Zucchini’s but the squirrels and rabbits ate them and there was one left. I was so excited about it but it had the BIGGEST worm inside of it! It was like a back hand from Jesus saying, “you can’t do this!”.
I like that question (#3) because as an artist we get so wrapped up in what we do as a profession, like for me I like to color...
I think that is part of the artist world.We aren’t just artists in one way some people write or play music. I think that’s part of what else I do, I do other artistic things.
And you don’t hold your value to “I have an acting job right now!”
Well it’s hard. I’m still figuring that out because so much of my identity is that (being an artist). There was a point when I was like 25/26 that I didn’t realize that a lot of what I do is acting. Like it was all that I was. So, it came to the point that I tried to branch off and do other things and not take every gig that came my way. I’d be like “Okay me and Graeme are going to Iceland (that’s my husband). We’re going to tour the Grand Canyon and do things I’m not familiar with”. I think that’s really important. Not only for being an artist but for being a human, making sure you get the experiences that make you a complete human being.
What jobs have you had or do you have to supplement your artist income OR how do you make a decent living just doing art?
Well I can answer that three-fold! (laughs). Well, when I first started I worked a Bruegger’s bagels. I woke up at like 4am, had to be at work at 5! it was disgusting! I worked from 5am-10am, it was the worst. Then I had school and class. I also worked at a bistro cashiering and I would just go to rehearsals at night if I was in a show. I also was a karaoke DJ late nights Fridays and Saturdays. I was doing all kinds of stuff. There was the random voice over thing or reading thing, this was before things were picking up for me so it was really random and really in between. And you know some of these non-union theatres around here sometimes don’t have the money to pay you much. So, you do like a three month show but you get like 100 bucks you know. So, I had to do these other jobs.
I also lived in a one bedroom apartment with my best friend. And me and my husband were dating at the time and while we dated his house burned down so he had to move in with us. So, it was three of us in a one bedroom apartment while I’m working and doing shows and going to school.
But after we moved in with each other, it was a big break for me because he would help with rent so I could focus more on the things I needed to do. (Oh yea I also worked at red lobster which was dumb, I hated every moment of it) I was just tired all the time and I couldn’t focus on what I was trying to do which was be a successful actress.
I like to solve puzzles so I tried to fix the puzzle. I said, okay, I’m living with my boyfriend and he has a good job. I have four jobs and If he is okay supporting for a while I am going to drop three jobs. So, I dropped all my jobs except for red lobster and I just went on auditions. I went on every fucking thing I could. I went to all my on-camera stuff, all the stuff on Minnesota Playlist. I went to things that didn’t call for black women, I’d go to things that called for old white men cause they don’t fuckin know (laughs) they don’t know what I can do! But I’d make friends in the audition room and network so people could get to know who I am and say “yea! I remember you”.
My last job was Pro-Metric. (Testing center). My job was to make sure people didn’t cheat. They’d come in nervous all the time. It was really extra. I did that for two and a half years until we bought our house. I told my husband If we buy a house I am not doing this job anymore I’m going to act full time. I was able to contribute to the household because I was making decent money. I said, “let me just quit this bullshit and see if this acting thing will work because if it isn’t then I need to figure out something else to do with my life” (laughs) And as soon as I dropped that job I started landing every frickin thing. Because working there I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t perfect that audition I would just read lines at work and hope for the best. Because I had time to focus I could feel relaxed and prepared and talk to the director really chill.
Say you weren’t married (or didn’t have your husband support), would you have the success you had?
I think I would, it would have been a longer process. I think I would be because I naturally have the stubbornness and passion. You need that because you will have so many people telling you it’s not going to work or why don’t you get a regular job. You need to be sure of yourself to have a career as an artist.
How can you fulfill artistic needs when you are not doing art!?
I always look for the next gig, read new plays and monologues so when an opportunity comes along I’m not scrambling.
When you are not performing/working in the arts, what keeps you passionate?
Seeing plays! I love watching people work and seeing the choices they make. Even if it’s not a play even if they are movies. And the younger people coming up doing incredible things. Just new ways of seeing things and creating things really keeps me going. I’m also a speech coach at Fridley high school, they are so young and hopeful and full of passion!
What was the lowest point in your career and what kept you going?
I guess in the very beginning it was hard because I was trying to get things done. I was working a job I didn’t want to work at and I did a show I didn’t really care about. I wondered about calling a temp agency and just finding some office job. Those low points, it’s just best to let them be. You shouldn’t try to talk yourself out of your feelings. You don’t have to fucking explain it to anyone just feel it. That’s another thing in Minnesota with the winter, or seeing other people get success and moving far ahead and comparing yourself. It’s okay to just feel your feelings and get through that so the next day you can start again. I’m really into nature and camping, that helps me refocus and keep cool. Yoga helps too just finding my center and my core.
You said something interesting we all deal with, comparing ourselves, so you still do that with all the success you have?
Oh yea. And I do that with people I shouldn’t be comparing myself to, like gay Mexican men! And we all do it. It’s one thing to do it and feel bad and another to do it and recognize that this isn’t a realistic feeling. Austene Vann said to me once, that when someone you know gets a job there’s no sense in feeling bad. That just means that that gig wasn’t meant for you. There’s another gig out there for you. You have to be patient and trust the craft, trust the work, and that you are doing everything you possibly can to be successful.
What advice do you have for those who are close to giving up or can't see the light at the end of the tunnel?
Somebody told me while I was in college, that if you want to be an actress or artist in any city, you have to be there for seven years. A minimum of seven years because it takes that long to connect and network. Create relationships and have people see you on stage. Along with networking, this career is your job so you have to put in time and effort. I also try to have an eight-hour day. Part of that is working out, because I need my body and my mind to be okay. Part of that is working on lines. I put in five to six hours every day just doing what I am doing. If you are thinking about giving up ask yourself am I doing everything in my power to get to where I need to be and if not what do you need to do to get to the next step.