Know when to say No. It took me a long time to realize that I am allowed to have some free time. Taking a nap, slowing down, or moments of stillness can be rejuvenating. Make time for it. I went to an acting workshop in college and the instructor said “if you’re serious about being an actor, you will work 8 hours a day doing that. This does not include what you do to financially support yourself”. I took that seriously. I had multiple jobs, was going to school, and performing whenever I could. Years of that discipline made me feel like if I wasn’t working, I was failing. In a way, the pandemic was a blessing. I learned that life is made up of so many different things to enjoy. It’s okay to say no and take back time to reconnect with yourself. Nothing is more important than your mental, physical and emotional health.

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Joy Dolo

Joy Dolo is an Actor, Writer, Educator, and Podcast Host!.She has worked on major stages in the Twin Cities for over a decade. She is an avid comedienne and is the co-creator of Blackout Improv, the first all black Improv troupe in Minnesota. Joy is the Host for American Public Media Kids podcast “Forever Ago” — and collaborates frequently with the Brains On! Universe. She has taught Acting and Improv around the world. She was recognized in the Twin Cities theater scene and received nominations and awards through “Forever Ago”. In her free time, Joy lives in Saint Paul with her fur babies and not so furry, beloved husband. Stop by and say Hi at

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My parents immigrated here from Monrovia, Liberia in West Africa in the 80’s. Our family started in Chattanooga, TN where I grew up with my four sisters. I was the middle child, with strong “middle child energy”. Ha! I remember the mountains and fireflies and playing power rangers in the backyard. My parents were very religious and we spent a lot of time at our church. I remember every year they would have a giant Christmas tree and I mean huge. The tree had stairs and platforms inside and all the kids would have puppets that would pop out of it and sing. One year, they did a real life nativity scene and I got to lead the llama down the aisles of the church. I was so proud! We moved to Minnesota when I was ten. That was a tough transition, very much like the movie “Inside Out”. I had a hard time adjusting. In middle school I joined Volleyball and Hockey and the Performing Arts and that helped with gaining friendships. But being an African American in predominantly white communities left me feeling like I didn’t belong or that I was weird. So of course, I went to college in Moorhead, MN which was way more Scandinavian. I eventually transferred to Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul and I have been here ever since.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was looking for a sense of belonging my whole life. I was Liberian, so I didn’t feel like I fit in with the white kids or the African American kids. When I was in 6th grade, Kevin Dutcher invited me to audition for “Snowy Off White and the Eight Little Dudes” where I originated the role of “Itchy”- and that changed my life. I finally felt a sense of belonging. The theater gave me a confidence in myself that I had never experienced since our move to Minnesota. After that experience, I participated in all the school theater activities. Speech team, Choir, One Act Competitions, Musicals, you name it I was there. I never had the issue of not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. After Itchy, I knew.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Kevin Dutcher was the major catalyst for my career, hands down. But my professor at Metropolitan State, Reggie Phoenix was also instrumental. He showed me the craft of acting. About creating a character and the work it takes to do it. I remember he always said to imbue your character. Fill them up with so much history that that is the thing that informs your choices. Reggie was a genius. Teachers were always a big inspiration for me. I am forever grateful to educators. I am also grateful to the incredible theater scene in Minnesota. I have worked with some incredible people and they have all influenced, inspired, and pushed me. Luverne Seifert, Peter Brosius, Greg Banks, Michelle Hensley, and my husband Graeme Anfinson. After work, it is incredible to come home to someone who understands you and your passion. And someone who is so supportive.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I had a lot of interesting experiences as I was navigating my way into this career. I started doing improv randomly. I had a couple friends that kept asking me to join them for a rehearsal and I was terrified, like most actors, to go without a script. One day my friend, Tane Danger, invited me to be a part of an improv performance. He was in a jam because someone was sick and dropped out of the show. I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker so I said I would play. So my very first improv experience was a live show for like 200 students. It went well, I think, I couldn’t tell you, I think I blacked out. After the show they asked me to be in their troupe. I figured it was appropriate to let them know at that point that I had never done improv. They said I was a natural. It was a terrifying experience but it shaped a big part of my career path. I am grateful for it.

I also do a lot of work with Ten Thousand Things Theater. We bring shows to the community- shelters, prisons, and schools. These are professional actors that carry the set and costumes into the places that need theater the most. We create a big square and do everything- from new works, to Sondheim, to Shakespeare- with the lights on. At one shelter, we were performing Lynn Nottage’s “Mlima’s Tale” and we started the show with the South African National Anthem. As soon as we started singing, an African man stood up and started cheering! He said “Yes! YES!” and he sang the whole song with us. It was beautiful that he was so moved by that performance and felt seen and appreciated. I hope he felt that his story mattered.

Once, we went deep into the North Minnesota woods to a prison for men that had done egregious acts. We were to perform “Fiddler on the Roof”. World renown actor, Steve Epp, played Tevya and performed the most beautiful rendition of “If I were a Rich Man ‘’. I was worried that the audience wouldn’t pick up what we were putting down, but they stayed engaged the entire show. When we arrived at the moment where Tevya turned his back on Chava, I noticed a lot of the men had put their heads down. I was like “Oh, no they hate it”. But then through my tears, I heard sniffling and saw one man whose shoulders were shaking. These men were weeping. These humans were weeping. For what, I can only extrapolate. Maybe they have children that they haven’t been able to see in years. Maybe they have families that they had to make hard decisions for. Maybe they grew up in a family where they experienced shunning. It was a beautiful moment. It still gives me shivers to this day.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I make mistakes all the time so it’s hard to choose just one. In my very first professional production, I was part of an ensemble that went on stage, brought baskets to the soldiers and ran off. Easy enough, right?! Not for Joy Dolo. During the performance, I went onstage, handed off my basket, and as I was standing to leave, my wig slipped right off of my head and into the soldier’s lap. They then started a round of “hot potato” with the wig until I got it back. I was mortified. I’ve learned two things. One, live theater is beautiful because performances are happening at the moment. There are no re-do’s. And two, always pin your wig. To this day, I do an extra pin, just in case we have another potato fiasco.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am working on Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress at the Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis. It is a World Premier adaptation of the children’s book that explores a young boy’s imagination and the limits society puts on him. When I am not in the theater, I am the Host of “Forever Ago”, a history podcast for kids with American Public Media. Our immaculate team is working on season 4 right now and it’s going to be fantastic. I’m also writing a play that will have a production in Minneapolis in 2025 called “Sisu”, a sci-fi exploration of race in two different time periods. And of course, I’m jumping in improv shows when I can!

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?

Every person in the whole world has moments of feeling inadequate. I still feel it more often than I like to admit. But if you can make it over that bridge, you can achieve amazing things. And be flexible in what you want. I always tell folks there is so much more to a production than the folks on stage. I’ve worked with incredible sound designers, lighting designers, musicians, costume designers, scenic designers, you name it! If your goal is to be famous, do something else. If you want to create, find avenues where you can do that and surround yourself with people who support that and will give you honest feedback.

Being an artist is an honorable career. We have the ability to create, inspire, and show different perspectives. Theater is magical because the story happens with that one special audience and they are different every night. The biggest difference is it cannot be captured. Peter Rothstein of Asolo Theater Rep told us that when an audience is watching a play, their heartbeats sync up and beat together. When I feel down on myself, I try to remember why I chose this job.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

After the pandemic, I realized how busy my schedule was. Going from gig to gig and not taking time to check in with myself. I have a fear of “Out of sight out of mind”. When Covid caused theaters to go dark, I was forced to find other ways to flourish. I encourage everyone to find hobbies that have nothing to do with your career. I love fostering dogs. I love painting random things in my backyard. I love swimming and amusement parks and volleyball and puzzles and having coffee with friends. Find multiple ways to fill your cup so it isn’t reliant on one aspect of who you are. You are more than your career. The more well rounded I am, the more human I feel. And the more I can share that with everyone I encounter.

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why?

  1. Know what you put out in the world is what you get back. One of the young actors in Morris Micklewhite asked me why am I “happy” all the time. Truth is, my name is Joy and I have a variety of emotions. But I do actively try to give out grace, attention, validation, and love to every person I work with. A positive attitude goes a long way in this career and in life.
  2. Know you are enough. Don’t take things personally. (Easier said than done. I know) I’ve been called fat, I’ve been asked to be more like “Queen Latifah”, to be more sassy, to stand up more gracefully, etc etc. I think RuPaul said “What people think of you is none of your business”. I interpret that as others opinions are not who you are. Only you know who you are and you are enough.
  3. Know you will fail. There is a really great improv game called “Loser Ball”. You toss an imaginary ball in a group and the goal is to not catch it. Once the ball is dropped, it is up to the group to cheer and applaud at your failure. The lesson is that even when you fail, there will be someone to support you. When you drop the ball, look around. Your community is still there and still proud of you. Failing has such an awful connotation with it. I fear it sometimes. I want to do things “right”. I’m learning that I cannot control everything. I’m learning that not everything is meant for me (and that is okay). Sometimes I can beat myself up after an audition, or if I don’t get a callback for something I worked really hard on. I’m learning to release the constraints of failure and look at everything as a lesson. Then, I have some ice cream and begin again. Embrace the failure.
  4. Know about the suitcase. Everyone in the world has a history. We are made up of our experiences, our environments, and our unique ethos. We all carry baggage or suitcase. When I meet people, I like to ask them about what’s in there. About their family, parents, work, and how they feel about it. Humans are made up of so many emotions. When you ask someone “how are you” and they say “fine”- dig deeper. You just might make their day.
  5. Know when to say No. It took me a long time to realize that I am allowed to have some free time. Taking a nap, slowing down, or moments of stillness can be rejuvenating. Make time for it. I went to an acting workshop in college and the instructor said “if you’re serious about being an actor, you will work 8 hours a day doing that. This does not include what you do to financially support yourself”. I took that seriously. I had multiple jobs, was going to school, and performing whenever I could. Years of that discipline made me feel like if I wasn’t working, I was failing. In a way, the pandemic was a blessing. I learned that life is made up of so many different things to enjoy. It’s okay to say no and take back time to reconnect with yourself. Nothing is more important than your mental, physical and emotional health.

For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?

There are a lot of similarities. Prep work, costumes, technical elements, communication, collaboration.

Theater is a marathon. You do all the prep work- like you would for tv and film but your performance is the day of the race. And some days you run over the finish line and you are proud. Other days, you’re crawling and extending your pinky just past the goal. The great thing is, if you’re lucky, you have a marathon every night until the show closes. You have an opportunity to heighten a nuance, to surrender to a circumstance, and to connect with people in the moment. Being able to keep a character fresh night after night is a skill that is different from film. Also, the audience is as much a part of the show as the folks creating it. They will see everything unfold in real time and I think it is a skill to communicate with hundreds of people every night.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think in a country with so much wealth, it is ridiculous that there are not more efficient, accessible, financially feasible routes to better health. I’ve had to navigate it for years now, and I still find myself frustrated and at a loss. We have become a nation that correlates better health with how much money you make. If I could change anything, I would have stronger legislation supporting mental health, a dedicated movement to help transition and support homeless populations, and a reexamination of health insurance policies and practices. Or maybe I’ll write a play about it. Collaborators? Hit me up!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We will cross that bridge when we get to it.” The world is a mysterious place and we are wired to question and try to make sense of it. The proverbial “What if”, trying to prepare for an inevitable unknown situation. Take things one step at a time, literally. I’m easily overwhelmed and have suffered with anxiety, depression, all the stuff. Taking deep breaths and knowing that good things take time and not on your schedule. Just keep doing your best. That’s all you can do.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

The first person that came to my mind was Abraham Lincoln. But if you can’t find him on insta- Adam Sandler. I think he is so funny and he has had such a long and diverse career. And, from reports, he sounds like a good person. I would love to talk to someone who has seemingly stayed grounded for so long.

I would love to hang out with Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. They seem like they are a riot and I think I could keep up. I just want to read them a list of my jokes. Is that too much to ask?!?

How can our readers continue to follow your work online? or follow me on instagram @joy_dolo. Forever Ago is available wherever you listen to podcasts!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.