Southside woman keeps the arts alive through community theatre

Contributed by Katelyn Murray.

By Amie Knowles

March 1, 2024

Katelyn Murray, a financial planner from the Danville area, grew up on stage. 

“I have been dancing since I was three, up through 23. I’ve been playing piano since five. I’ve been performing formally since probably about, I don’t know, 15,” Murray said. “But I was also in band and stuff like that, which is also a type of performance, obviously. So I really have kind of been performing forever.”

Murray’s love of onstage performance blossomed during her time at Tunstall High School and continued throughout her education at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, where she studied theatre, history, and dance. Through performing in shows in college, she found a love for directing as well. The actress realized that when she approached a text, she thought about more than just her character’s place and experience in the story. 

“I had a wider sort of vision and a wider sort of scope of how all of the pieces fit together,” Murray said. “And that’s not normally how an actor approaches. I mean, obviously, you’re aware of your fellow castmates and you’re aware of the other characters and how everything fits together, but that kind of wider scope is not typically where an actor is working.”

Murray said she simply fell in love with directing because she enjoyed bringing an idea to fruition.

“We’ve got this director’s concept for the show,” Murray said. “How do we translate that through light? How do we translate that through sound? How do we translate that through costumes? And then of course, how do we work with actors to bring that story to the forefront, and translate that concept in a way that an audience member can come and sit down and watch it and get that ‘off the beaten path’ idea that we’re wanting them to explore?”

Then, life outside of college happened. Murray started to pursue career opportunities—and while she still had a love for performing arts, she took “a big old break” to explore other matters of importance. 

Discovering community theatre

If you’ve been a Dogwood reader for a while, you’ve probably heard us mention Smokestack Theatre Company. It’s a is a nonprofit organization serving Danville, Pittsylvania County, and the surrounding region.  

“We are an ensemble of theatre artists dedicated to creating quality, exciting, and transformative theatre for the cultural enrichment of the entire community,” the Smokestack website reads. “We strive to enhance our community through education and outreach to adults and children, providing innovative instruction and creative expression to inspire another generation of theatre artists.”

Southside woman keeps the arts alive through community theatre

Contributed by Katelyn Murray. Smokestack Theatre Company castmates prepare for an upcoming performance.

When Murray moved back to the Danville area in 2022, she reconnected with a friend, Kris Dodds Williams (now the president of Smokestack’s Board of Directors). Through that bond, Murray’s creativity started to reemerge after a hiatus. 

“Smokestack was a wonderful surprise for me,” Murray said.

It didn’t take long her for to get involved in the local theatre company.

“I started to really rebuild that side of things, first with a production of Clue in which I was an actor. I played Ms. Scarlet with Smokestack,” Murray said. “And then I’ve worked with Smokestack as a director and a writer on their Ghosts and Gravestones project in the fall, and their Spirits of Danville project. That’s when the opportunity arose to direct a main stage production. And I took that.”

Directing an upcoming performance

Premiering Mar. 7 with daily showtimes through Mar. 10, Murray is the director of Smokestack’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile production, written by Steve Martin.

“It is a very ambitious play for a kind of, like, local theatre to stage,” Murray said.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile “finds 20-something Albert Einstein and the equally youthful Pablo Picasso in a Parisian café in 1904, just before the renowned scientist transformed physics with his theory of special relativity and the celebrated painter set the art world afire with cubism. Themes explored include the meaning of art, the boundary between art and life, and exactly what makes an e-shaped pie so darn funny,” according to the description of the production on Smokestack’s website.

Southside woman keeps the arts alive through community theatre

Contributed by Katelyn Murray. The director stands in front of an advertisement for “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

Murray expressed the irony found in the creative work—that although the modern audience knows of both Einstein and Picasso, they get to “meet” the two characters before they achieved the things that put them on the map. 

The absurdist comedy, with tickets available here, offers viewers a chance to escape the “real world” for a little while, and settle into the atmosphere of an early 20th century bar. 

“I feel like we get so codified into our routines that we stop learning—we stop reaching outside of the usual pattern unless we do things like take a vacation, and then we’re off of our normal schedule and we’re exploring all kinds of things. But the minute that we go back into our normal routine, we go to the same place to get breakfast, or we go to the same place to get coffee, and we will do the same thing, and we just kind of stay in a rut,” Murray said. “And I think the ability to inspire somebody with any kind of performance—to step outside that rut and think about something off the beaten path—is really fulfilling. So that’s why I do it.”

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.



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