We had the good fortune of connecting with Ann Wellman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ann, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Sure! I’m a Speech Communications and Theater Arts major and have been directing for thirty years now. There is a love and passion inside of me for all things deep, meaningful, and theatrical. When I started the Long Beach Community Theater back in 2014, I had recently left my dream job as a high school teacher in Inglewood, CA to be a stay-at-home-mom in Long Beach, CA. After spending just shy of a decade living on a bell schedule as a teacher, I knew very quickly I needed something to do with my time so when I was offered a director’s position with the Virginia Avenue Project (VAP) in Santa Monica, I jumped on it. The VAP connected at-risk youth with professionals, had them collaborate to write their own short plays and then produced and performed these plays at the Santa Monica Playhouse. This was wonderfully worthwhile work and served as a reminder of my career as a teacher and my wicked-mad-love-affair with the arts. Unfortunately, driving on the 405 Fwy from Long Beach (especially when you are pregnant with a bonus baby) is not as much fun, so I decided instead of travelling to do what I love, I would bring what I love to my home city. Shortly thereafter, the Long Beach Community Theater was born! I am also a Spiritual Life Coach and facilitate Women’s Ministry classes, workshops and retreats with my partner Tami Reece. This is incredibly fulfilling work and has changed my life for the better. I have a deep love of Jesus and all things spiritual, mystical and contemplative. I also facilitate a weekly writer’s table on Sunday nights called, The Sunday Blues – A Writer’s Table with Soul, as well as teaching a weekly class called, Finding Your Voice through Creative Writing, with my partner Derrick Engoy. I’m a little on the hyper side. Can you tell?! You know how kids are all just friends automatically when they hit the playground? No questions asked. They make eye-contact and then they start chasing after each other, laughing and having fun… and the rest is history! I’ve always seen the world around me the exact same way. It’s like a giant playground, we’re all friends, and I plan on having fun (and finding meaning) as long as I’m here. I’ve never met a stranger. I talk to everybody! And everybody talks to me too! I even have a “Lucy Booth” I take to the streets to make it easier for people to come up and have a chat. I set up my booth, put out an empty chair across from me and I wait. The chair is never empty for long. Everyone generally responds the same way at first. Unsure. Nervous laughter. Sometimes they walk by a few times. Take a picture of me and my booth. Wave. Wonder if I’m selling something. Then they walk over. “Do I sit down? I’m not sure what to say.” And then I smile and say something like “How about with your name? I’m Ann! Nice to meet you.” And then, if they still need extra prompting, I always tell them to share whatever is on their heart. And you know what happens next? They start talking. Nervous laughter gone. Sure of their words. They share. And I listen. And you wouldn’t believe the stories I’ve heard. It’s awesome how that works. You know, the old mirror analogy – it’s true! What you seek is also seeking you. I try to bring out the light in others by letting them know I see them and I care. It’s so much more fun when we do life together in community. I think, now more than ever, most people are a little bit lonely and feel disconnected or unseen. The reality is whatever is going on inside of us is eventually, one way or another, going to find it’s way out. It can be expressed in a healthy, healing way or it can hit those around us like verbal or emotional shrapnel. The arts and being creative is a therapeutic tool for getting in touch with your playful side and parts of yourself you may have forgotten. It’s unfortunate we lose much of our fun side as we age, but I promise you it’s still in there! We just need to pull your inner child OUT and get you reacquainted! We are meant to be in community and to share our stories. It just feels good. (Even when it’s hard.) Everything I do has to do with connecting people to their creative or spiritual side. I’m a natural born encourager and love to cheer people on! I have created a life that plays to my assets and hopefully benefits those who come into contact with me as well. I know it’s SUPER CLICHE to say, “I want to make a difference.” But I really, really do. That’s the goal anyway.
Please tell us more about your business. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today business-wise. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
The concept for the Long Beach Community Theater (LBCT) is to create a safe space where our friends and neighbors can share their personal stories using any form of expression they like. ALL are welcome to participate. This, of course includes our Long Beach residents, but we’ve had people from other cities, states and countries participate too. Diversity is not only welcomed, it is encouraged! We believe that everyone has a story to tell – and each story matters. Currently, we are hosting a night of storytelling and community conversation called Speak. Easy. featuring 8 storytellers sharing 5-minute true stories. It’s always the last Wednesday of the month from 6:30-8:30, on ZOOM, until further notice. We are also hosting a monthly COMMUNITY MEDITATION from 6-7pm on the 2nd Wednesday of the month. It’s FREE and it’s on ZOOM too! All levels are welcome to participate. I don’t know of a community theater anywhere in the country that does storytelling/collaborative theater the way we do. Come check us out! Share a story. Participate in the Community Conversation. Meditate. Connect. As for the Women’s Ministry and Spiritual Coaching, it’s all about helping people to know they are not alone and that the answers they seek are inside of themself. We all read posts and newspapers, and books and blogs, and listen to podcasts and YouTube videos looking for all of the answers, but everything we need to know is inside of us. There is no magic trick. You have to spend time with yourself and do the hard work. It’s probably a good time to point out that coaching is not the same thing as therapy. Life Coaching is about you setting a goal and then us putting our heads together to come up with a realistic plan for you to achieve it. At the end of the day, I can’t want it more than my client does. They have to be willing to do the work. I start to work with them right where they’re at, give them some helpful tools, and an accountability partner and then ultimately point them right back inward to theirself. Statistics show you are much more likely to achieve a goal with a coach. It’s an investment and it works. I’ll be right next to you, cheering you on, every step of the way! If you are spiritual or interested in learning more about Jesus, this is one of my favorite subjects to talk about! We don’t have to see eye-to-eye. I don’t believe my way is the only way. Or I am right and you are wrong. I am not going to try to convert you or anything like that. But if you are curious, or want someone to talk your thoughts through with, I’m all about it. When it comes to the Women’s Ministry – this part is FOR WOMEN ONLY: Our retreats and workshops are the BOMB! If you need a spiritual boost, a chance to bond with women, and a super dose of Jesus contact me and I will get you connected. We’ve always got something going on or in the works! Currently, we have a class called Come to the Table which meets weekly. We recently hosted a mini-retreat in the park called, “Stirred, not Shaken.” All of the above has been some of the hardest, and most rewarding, work I’ve ever done. There have been many challenges along the way. This past year was incredibly difficult. A year ago I directed three big projects, a one man show called, Truth be Told, a staged reading of an original production called, The Dream Chest, and an original Rock Opera called, Silver Bullet: a Rock Opera. This year, I have had no directing work. 2020 was also the first year we at the Long Beach Community Theater have operated at a loss in seven years. The way I am getting through these challenges is to simply keep going. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. (Kind of like getting through this pandemic living.) I’ve also started writing (and offering workshops), and reading A LOT. AND by calling all angels. I have called out an SOS many, many times and am forever, eternally grateful for the community, my family and friends that have always come through for me by stepping in to help me push through when I felt I couldn’t do it for one more day. Those darn encouragers! They get me every time. What I would like everyone to know about me is I have a huge heart, but I am far from perfect. I have made many mistakes along the way and had plenty of failures too. Something surprising about me is sometimes it’s hard for me to ask for help or to share the hard parts of my own story. Funny, right? I encourage everyone else to share, but it’s something I rarely do. Hey, directors are behind the scenes people, I prefer to keep the spotlight on others.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love options and I always choose to do too much, so here we go get ready for this… we better start with some coffee! If my best friend was coming to town we would start the day by going by Wolf’s Brew for a fabulous iced oat milk latte and then hit Fair Trade to do a bit of shopping. Then I would take them to Rosie’s Dog Beach to see some waves, watch some dogs play and have a nice walk on the beach with my dog Lucy! Next, we would hit my favorite vegan restaurant, Seabirds for lunch, where we would get some beers or a bottle of wine, avocado tacos and split a beet burger. From there, we would go get a massage at LeBua Thai Massage & Spa during Happy Hour (which pretty much runs all day) – I think it’s like $35 for a one-hour Swedish massage with hot stones! Straight-up DIVINE I tell you! After we got cleaned up, no time for naps, we would probably check-out some local music. Some of the best is a semi-secret spot, right here in my neighborhood called Casa Arjona. They feature some of the best Jazz music in the city. The concerts are held in a tiny house-party venue – either in their living room or backyard. The artists I’ve seen there have come from around the world and many are Grammy Award winning artists. World renowned. Look them up! It’s no joke! I couldn’t believe my ears the first time I sat in their living room and took in this magical night of music. And – you can bring your own wine and picnic basket of goods too! So. Much. Fun. to be had in a day! This would be a starter. I have so many more sweet spots. We didn’t even head up to LA in this version of a dream day – but we did manage to drink wine twice… so there’s that!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I dedicate my shoutout to: Dr. Harper, Margo Hernandez, Tami Reece, Pastor C, April Diaz, Hendre Coetzee, Justin Rudd, my students, my friends, my community and my family. And the super obvious – my parents and God – of course, I owe it ALL to them. My story and success is completely and entirely dependent on other people. For me, it started in college when a beloved, larger-than-life professor, Dr. Harper, the head of the Theatre Department, stopped me in the hall one day to ask me, “Why aren’t you a Theatre major?”. I was currently an English major but had taken a half a dozen or so theatre classes and had loved every minute of it so… I quickly switched majors and the rest, as they say, is history! Thirty years of history! From there, I graduated college and quickly moved to LA where I met my first long term roommate, Margaret Hernandez, who told me about a teaching position that had come available in Inglewood for a high school Drama teacher. I applied, was hired (Shoutout to Sister Nancy too!) and worked there for just shy of a decade. The students I met there changed my life. They were my world. I learned as much, if not more, than I taught in my nine years spent there. When I left this dream job to be a stay-at-home mom, I spiraled into a pit of depression until I realized there was still more for me to do. When I told some friends and my family about my vision of starting a community theater in our city to provide a sacred space for people from our community to come forward and collaborate and share their stories, talents, poetry, spoken word, acting skills, music and more – the support I received was overwhelming. For our first show, I had to beg friends (and family members) to participate, but they did it! They showed up and we packed the house. It was the beginning of a dream and it took all of us to create it. At the end of our first performance there were tears around the room (DiPiazza’s – a local bar) and we knew we had just begun something good. Something really, really good. Last year, 2020, we produced 14 performances, thirteen of which were during the pandemic, safer-at-home order. We are now starting our 8th Season as the Long Beach Community Theater! The best part of this SHOUTOUT is that it took a village. While I was starting up the Community Theater, I met my partner, Tami Reece, on the playground and she invited me into the world of Women’s Ministry which would end up changing my life. At the same time my pastor, Christie Melby- Gibbons, was getting me involved in church leadership. April and Hendre got me certified as a Spiritual Coach – one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life! Phenomenal teachers. Then there’s Justin Rudd! If you know Long Beach, you know who Justin Rudd is! And if you don’t know him, prepare to be inspired and then GOOGLE him. AMAZING guy! He’s a fierce leader in our community, a giant-walking-heart-on-legs and he’s my friend. He has been a HUGE influence in my life. And the best for last – The love of my life, Victor, and our three kids, Tatiana, Izze and Nico are my world. My entire career has been dependent on other people believing and investing in me so that I could pay it right back out for the good of an even larger number of people. I have been incredibly blessed by the people who have come along and said, “You can do this… and I’ll help you.”
Natasha Ingeram, Kathy Young, Charles Tentendo