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Life & Work with Ann James

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ann James.

Ann, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I like to tell people my childhood was planted in water instead of earth. As an Army brat (military kid) my family had to move every two years or so and I never really had a place to call home. So instead of being grounded in a home, my foundations were more like a moving, living liquid of life experiences. The one constant I did have in my life was the Performing Arts. Everywhere we landed, my mother would begin the process of subscribing to all the prominent performing arts organizations in the city. We would go to The Nutcracker, visit museum exhibits of celebrated African-American artists and visit the opera on occasion. These incredibly fortunate and brilliant moments curated by my mother were the beginning of my love for the stage and my passion for history and science. My parents divorced in my early teens and while the moving stopped (my brother and I lived with my mother), my passion for The Arts continued to grow. I was again fortunate to be enrolled in a private high school in Ft. Worth, Texas. The drama teacher there, Mr. Blackstone saw a potential that had been growing in me since my hard days of discipline and craft as a ballet dancer in a professional company. I was cast as Titania in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream during my junior year and I never looked back. That play led to me earning a BFA in Theatre at a tiny school that is now one of the best schools for Musical Theatre in the country, Sam Houston State University. My cohort built that program and we were fierce with one another about the value of our word, about the craft of making excellent theatre and about caring for one another during this thing called AIDS that took 14 of my classmates in the short span of eighteen months. That was 1988. That is when my journey to intimacy began.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I think every life holds struggle. It is what we do to achieve through that struggle that evolves us into adulthood. I really believe I live a remarkable life. I think my biggest struggle is trying to surpass my most recent success. I really do love people but I think If I’m being most honest, a secondary struggle has been with relationships. My ambition has gotten me into many a sticky place when it comes to achieving what others may think impossible or radical or just plain insane. I think people who do not really know me look at me with their heads cocked to the side and are confused by the fact that when I say I am going to do something, I actually do it. Like 95% of the time. But what they don’t know is that any idea I have has been churning in my brain leaping through the gauntlet that is all my past mistakes and difficulties in order to rise like cream to the top of my mental steeplechase. They don’t witness the huge struggle to excel I go through when most people are sleeping. In addition, I think my ambition makes me impatient. That impacts friendships and I have had to learn to be okay with the loss of connection with friends I truly miss. I will say I am blessed to be surrounded by incredible people who share a myriad of affections (even in a pandemic) and their value to me is above all else in my life besides my parents. I know this thing I call life is so worth the times of struggle and that the thousands upon thousands of moments of joy I have experienced with the people who fully accept me are worth that struggle.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am an Intimacy Choreographer/Coordinator/Advocate/Trainer/Specialist. Intimacy is a new field in the entertainment industry. we are hired to facilitate a production in a few ways: we can come in to choreograph scenes of charged content such as racial conflict, gender abuse or sexual content, we can advise actors on consent and boundaries around material they are expected to perform in theatre of tv/film environments, and we can consult an organization about including intimacy specialists in their season’s work that has questions of content that might affect their actors in regard to intersectionality or identity. I specialize in training Black, Indigenous and people of color in intimacy choreography and advocacy. I am proud of being a Black queer woman voice in a new field that was once dominated by privileged white women. I think what sets me apart from others is my Afrocentric approach to intimacy training. I deliver the training in a mentored holistic manner that includes the whole person who I am teaching. I promote the understanding of intimacy being an inclusive area for the entertainment industry to grow.

Do you any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
Wow. That is a tall order indeed. I think out of a slew of good memories, one that is coming up now is the time I was a member of the children’s corps of The Peninsula Civic Ballet in Newport News Virginia when I was eight or nine years old. As the only professional ballet company in town, we were often asked to perform at galas and events of the richety-rich. This time we were performing at this beautiful venue and I can remember how they made this island, or peninsula out in the middle of a lake and that is where we danced. The stage was covered in live flora that made it look like a fairyland. I think we were fairies? Anyway, the prima ballerina was so gorgeous and she wore a very long tutu and it had flowers all over it and fresh flowers were in her hair as well. She mesmerized me. I thought it was magical then, and I still do. Whoever that set designer was, they changed my life in regard to how magic can be created for the stage.

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Image Credits:

Cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Shanghai Cast of Hamlet, Shanghai Ship of Dreams, Shanghai Who’s Afraid again feature film, Northern Shade.

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