John Ellis’ first memory of being on stage in front of an audience is from when he was three years old. During one of their church’s Sunday evening services, John trudged unwillingly with his family as they made their way to the platform. It was their turn to share testimonies and sing as a family for the congregation.
As soon as his feet hit the stage, John made a bee-line for the comfort and safety of the large pulpit and crawled inside, hidden from all the staring and now laughing faces. Only coaxed out by the candy offered by one of the smiling men seated in one of the big chairs on the stage, John sat warily, eyed the crowd, and vowed to never set foot on stage in front of an audience again.
With a similar mindset, John’s earliest memories of God are of him lying awake at night scared at the thought that God didn’t exist. Unfortunately, no smiling man coaxed John’s doubts and fears out of him. So, running from the God of his parents, John entered adulthood attempting to hide within atheism. Sadly, part of his escape from God involved theatre.
A career so far outside of the realm of possibility for a kid raised in a strict fundamentalist home, theatre offered the perfect escape for John’s doubts and fears. Except, unbeknownst to John, the best of theatre struggles with man’s relationship with God.
As his career gained steamed and he fell more in love with the stage, John’s exposure to the great playwrights, directors, and theatre theorists of history deepened.
It’s been said that with his writing, the great American modernist playwright Eugene O’Neill explored the question, “Since God’s dead, now what?” Reading, studying, and performing playwrights like O’Neill, combined with his interest in the post WWII absurdist theatre, John began to feel, see, and understand the empty despair of his world.
Through a series of events, including the testimony and witness of one of his castmates, John surrendered his atheism but became convinced that God was lying to humans. Six months after he intellectually accepted the existence of God, the Holy Spirit brought John to the end of himself and he repented of his sins and placed his faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now a child of God and servant of Jesus Christ, John is committed to making theatre that glorifies God and points others to his Savior.
John has more than two decades experience of studying and making theatre. A veteran of over sixty productions as actor, director, or producer, John got his start making theatre at Bob Jones University. He has since studied acting with Nick Conti at the Actor’s Studio of Atlanta and improvisation with Dr. Susan Steadman, a disciple of Viola Spolin and Paul Sills. He has also studied Meisner and Laban with a variety of teachers.
Beyond performing, directing, and producing, John is an experienced and accomplished teacher. He has worked as the Director of Education at a large theatre in South Carolina, served as the lead instructor for Theatre Immersion during the Kennedy Center’s Art’s Integration pilot program, guest lectured on the university level, conducted successful artist-in-residence programs, and taught a variety of acting and improvisation classes. In fact, John loves teaching theatre as much as he loves making theatre.
As John progressed in his career, he became bothered by the question of why audiences should spend their money on live theatre instead of movies. The company-line, so to speak, is that live theatre offers immediacy and intimacy. Movies are distant and cold, offering little more than entertainment. Live theatre, of course, offers a live experience replete with human connections between the actors and the audience.
Except, John realized that the “company-line” was mostly nonsense.
Almost everything he had been doing in theatre were methods and practices that separated the actors from the audience. He began asking a different question, a question that stills drives his making of theater:
How do I integrate the world of imagination (the actors) with the world of reality (the audience)?
Prodded by his study of theatre directors and theorists like Meyerhold, Artaud, Grotowski, Richard Foreman, and Augusto Boal, to list just five, John switched from performing behind the fourth wall to searching for ways to truly treat the audience as part of the cast of storytellers.
As John continues that exploration through the making of experimental theatre rooted in a Christian worldview, he holds out the offer to any theatre artists who are interested to join him in his exploration and making of theatre. Storytelling is the Christian’s birthright, and it’s time to begin reclaiming that birthright through brave experimentation. Please feel free to contact John at the email provided under the Contact tab with any questions, comments, and ideas.