Q#1: Are you a Bay Area Native? and if not, how long have you lived in the Bay? Ellen: I was born in Seattle, Washington. And my “wonder bread” years were spent in a small farming community in Eastern Washington called Pasco. I moved to the Bay in 1970… so I guess by now I am almost “native”. I have always lived here in the East Bay. I have seen the Bay go through some amazing changes over the past 41 years.. some of them break my heart but I am not a nostalgic person for the good old days.
Q#2: When did you start on the creative path you are currently on? Ellen: I think it is interesting that you pose the path as currently on — I started my creative path as a teenager and the course of that path has been long for me. That path included a love of poetry; an obsession with film especially non-American film; in college I fell in love with and studied lighting design and had hoped to join the union but became a director instead. I have developed theater projects for homes, for a fountain with a skateboard crew, in small art galleries and radio plays, created numerous solo works and toured a large scale production called “Sanctified Church” about the work of Zora Neale Hurston. I have directed a Ukrainian folk opera and a Balinese Dance drama.
All of this is to say I am fascinated by culture. There has been various times when I have said I am not good enough for this path or I will not be successful on this path and I have considered other avenues but I now accept that this path of creativity is meant for me. It may look different to people who know me recently, or people who are just becoming acquainted with me and the work I choose to do but it is has been a path always in search of what makes us human. What is the essence of our humanity — the good, the bad and the ugly and most of all the beauty.
Q#3: Where do you find your inspiration? Ellen: My Mama, grandmother, from Mississippi was my first inspiration — the way she told stories and animated them with her body and cigarette smoke. When my daughter was born 14 years ago, the early morning breast feeding in the shadow world of her nightlight also became inspirational. The streets and watching public interactions are a big inspiration. These words of poetry from Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting ” And recently the sci-fi work of Nnedi Okorafor. To me it is impossible not to be inspired when I look outside of my own fears, worries and ego. The world is full of wonder.
Q#4: What was the first piece of vinyl you ever purchased? Ellen: The first piece of vinyl was the 45 of “Going to a Go-Go” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It was also the first really big lie I told my Mama. I was asked to walk to the local store to buy hamburger.. a pound of it for a dollar. The black owned store also sold records and I wanted that record soooo bad. When I came home with out the hamburger, I lied, saying I lost the money thinking I could get away it. I played that record for the rest of the afternoon. That night at dinner when I came to the table the 45 was on my plate. My Mama said, “You think I don’t know what comes in and outta my house? Now you eat Smokey Robinson!” I cried. I could not listen to that record again but it still held a big place in my heart. And today it is still one of my favorites because it taught me later in life about the depth of choice and consequences.
Q#5: Anything else you’d like to share? a joke/quote? Ellen: An old Moms Mabley joke: Two Old Women walking down the street. One turns to the other one and says, “I smell hair burning.” Other one says, “Maybe we walking too fast.”
I love it because it is no longer relevant in the age of the Brazilian Bikini Wax. I love it because it keeps me mindful of change, relevance/irrelevance but it still makes me laugh.