Friday Fiver: Jo Ellen Aspinwall

Jo Ellen AspinwallJo Ellen Aspinwall is the embodiment of following your dreams. After 15 years as a high school teacher, Jo Ellen decided to chase her passion: theatre. After earning her MFA in Directing from the University of Southern Mississippi, she moved to Charleston to dive into the full-time world of theatre.

Jo Ellen has directed and designed three dozen productions, including multiple Piccolo Spoleto entries. In 2010, Jo Ellen received the Bob Knowles Award for Outstanding Artistic Integrity and Professional Discipline for The Lost Colony. She is also the co-founder of Storytree Theatre.

Her current show, Dorothy in Wonderland, opens this weekend and runs through March 13 at Footlight Players. We sat down with Jo Ellen for this week’s Friday Fiver.

Your upcoming play features two of the most iconic fictional worlds of all time. As a director, how do you balance the two to ensure neither overshadows the other?

Most of the story takes place in Wonderland, so it’s a little out of balance naturally. But it’s a lot of fun to watch the Ozian heroes encounter such completely different rules and expectations in this new, topsy turvy world. One of my favorite moments is when Dorothy throws a glass of water on the Queen of Hearts (spoiler alert—she doesn’t melt!).

Once we’ve seen the worlds of Dorothy and Alice collide, suppose you could direct a sequel. What two fictional characters would you love to see come together next?

Hmmmm…this is a tough one! How about Hermione Granger and Anne of Green Gables? Or a sudden outbreak of zombies in a Dr. Seuss world? On a more adult level, the boys from Supernatural getting a visit from The Doctor!

What was your favorite fantasy book when you were a child?

I was a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle and the Wrinkle in Time trilogy definitely started my life-long fascination with fantasy stories.

Most recently you directed “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Footlight. How does your directing differ from a serious drama to a children’s fantasy?

Ultimately, every show is about telling a story. That’s where the work always starts, regardless of the specifics. The differences will come in style and scale of choices, in the focus of our energy in rehearsal—I find myself becoming much “bigger” when working on a children’s show, louder, faster, goofier.

You have an extensive theater resume, with many stage classics under your belt. That said, what is your guilty pleasure TV show or movie? 

Oh dear—I have a number of them! Probably the guiltiest is America’s Got Talent. There is something I just can’t resist about all those people every season fighting to live out their dream; I especially love watching acts who have been honing a particular skill for decades get the chance to perform for a huge and enthusiastic audience. I get ridiculously mushy about it…


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