Creating Joy

Joy Dolo outside Minnesota Children’s Theatre Company, where she current performs as Snow White. (photo Sarah Whiting)

Joy Dolo’s mission is to create opportunities for diverse performers to share their stories and transform narratives. It drives her work in Greater Minnesota, where she and other people of color perform in rural towns so that residents can see that “we are all three-dimensional people, and we bleed and we feel loneliness and sadness and joy.”

Dolo’s pursuit is what draws her to take roles like Gandalf in a Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) production of “The Hobbit.” She says, “10,000 children saw that show. For many of them, it was their first experience seeing that story. Now they will see Gandalf as a Black woman. Whenever I get an opportunity to be visible in that way, my answer is always 100 percent yes.”

Taking risks and trying new things is what inspired Dolo to start writing, even though “that was something I never thought of as my muscle.”

It is why she co-founded Blackout, an all-Black improvisational troupe, several years ago. Dolo was having conversations with colleagues about the lack of diverse voices in comedy. “It was originally supposed to be only two or three performances,” she recalls, “but people came out and supported and we got a lot of joy from it. Years later, we are still here.”

Currently, Dolo is starring in a CTC production of “Snow White” and is one of two actors who play all 14 roles. She is also writing a play for Sod House Theater, and hosts a history podcast aimed at youth called “Forever Ago.”

Dolo’s work is connected by a passion for change and a drive to create opportunities for people of color, especially Black women, to be on stage “without an agenda, just [with] a platform to talk about their experiences.”

From Isolation to Stage

Growing up in the Twin Cities suburb of Fridley, Dolo felt isolated. “I was one of very few people of color in town, and there were even fewer Black people and even less Black African people. I felt like nobody could understand what I was going through.”

Things improved in middle school after a teacher asked her to audition for an upcoming musical. The experience of being on stage was transformational. “It taught me how to speak in front of people. And getting a reaction from an audience was a huge confidence booster. I was completely addicted,” she says with a laugh.

While focused on acting, she is open to whatever opportunities come her way. “I love a challenge,” she says. “I love approaching a new situation and realizing, ‘I can do this.’ So far I have never had to say I can’t do this, throw up my hands, and call it quits. I have always found a way to adapt and succeed. I am so proud of that.”

The Value of Self

As rewarding as her work can be, it is also emotional labor. “When you work on so many projects, it is easy to get depleted,” Dolo says. “That’s why I can’t stress enough the importance of self care. Getting coffee, going to the gym, having time to yourself, knowing when to say no. That is how I make sure I am always in the best place I can be.”

All of Dolo’s 10-year career thus far has been spent in the Twin Cities, which she praises as “the best place to work in this field. There is a real passion for the arts here. And the  audience is so smart. They have opinions, and they really appreciate political art and feminist art. It is a great place to live and work and play.”

Joy Dolo says, “No one is an island. Everyone has a different perspective and that is so valuable. If you want to make a change, get involved with your community and with the people around you. Make an effort to be present, to listen to them, and to make a connection. I think if we all did that, things could really be different.”

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