A host of new sights and sounds greet visitors to the Indiana Historical Society in downtown Indianapolis these days. When the IHS launched the new Indiana Experience this past spring, the institution brought on board a large number of new faces to help bring Indiana’s past to life using first person interpretation, and in the Cole Porter Room, a celebration of the life and musical legacy of Cole Porter, song. In some cases, these performers had ample experience on stage and behind the microphone. In other cases, staff members have been finding skills they never knew they had.
Twenty-five year old Joanna Winston had never sung publicly before. Yet hers is one of the voices captivating audiences each week with the tunes of Cole Porter. She is a vision…a beauty in the spirit of the cabaret singers of ole. As it turns out, Joanna is one of the fresher talents on many stages throughout Indianapolis. When not at the IHS, she is the co-artistic director of Half-Black Productions, a theater company that she founded with her twin brother, Jonah. She is the writer and director of the recent production, Gilgamesh, that made a splash during the recent Indy Fringe festival. This creative re-telling of the tale of King Gilgamesh and his quest for eternal life, done using a creative series of puppets and masks, received rave reviews.
Joanna got her degree in theater performance from Butler University, and although she had no real music training, she has been singing her whole life. Her mother, Pamela Gray, was a singer and an IPS art teacher. Joanna was working at Starbucks when she heard about the auditions for a new sort of position with the Indiana Historical Society that would combine her love of performance with the storytelling of history, in addition to providing the flexibility needed to write, produce, and audition for parts in other productions. Joanna is a freelance actor, with five or six monologues on the ready. She hopes one day to relocate, but for now she is adding to the growing cultural fabric of Indianapolis. She has plans to bring Gilgamesh back in some form or fashion, and can soon be seen as one of the characters in the upcoming “You Are There 1968: Robert F. Kennedy Speaks,” a recreation of Kennedy’s speech the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, opening to the public on February 22, 2011.
There are so many women in Indianapolis finding ways to create and express themselves on the various stages throughout town. I for one hope that more talents like Joanna will continue to push themselves to explore new outlets and challenge themselves. They may just find a talent they never knew existed, and those that have the opportunity to watch them in action will be all the luckier for it.