Women Working It: Ann Perry Wallace is ready for her second act

Ann Perry Wallace is starting a movement. It’s one based on the belief that turning 50 doesn’t signal the end but rather the opportunity for a new beginning.

She’s been busy proving that front and center, in crowded theaters full of strangers, on the stages of Memphis and beyond.

The actor and writer was born and raised in Memphis, left for her theater degree from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and, after several years acting in Chicago, returned home to follow her passion for acting and writing here in Memphis. After decades spent on the stages of Tennessee and Illinois, Ann wrote and performed “Live Rich, Die Poor,” her one-person play based on the life of author Zora Neale Hurston. The play would earn her an Ostrander Award in August 2023.

Currently, Ann is leading the Neighborhood Play Program at the Orpheum Theatre. The program hosts workshops with the residents of Binghampton to write a play about their community. It will be performed in Binghampton later this fall. 

Relevance and reinvention is possible after 50, she says. And she’s right.

I recently spoke with her about her one-person play, winning an Ostrander Award, the Shelia Turns 50 Movement, and more. 

High Ground News: For those who don’t know you, can you tell me about your work as an actress in Memphis?

Ann Perry Wallace: I am a native Memphian and I first became attracted to theater in the seventh grade and eventually got a degree in theater from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. Upon graduation and after working in Chicago as a theater artist for several years I returned home to Memphis. I did several years of improv in Memphis, worked with Tennessee Shakespeare Company, and most recently began to produce my own one-woman play. I’m also a teaching artist with the Memphis Orpheum.

HGN: What are you working on currently?  

APW: I have just reprised my one-woman play on the life of Zora Neale Hurston called “Live Rich, Die Poor.” My goal now is to launch a tour, adding a new actress to share performances. I’m also working on my first screenplay. 

HGN: Didn’t you win an Ostrander Award recently? 

APW: Yes, I won the 2023 Ostrander for Outstanding Original Script for my one-woman play on the life of Zora Neale Hurston. What a complete honor and amazing thing to have happen to me. The show was also nominated for three other awards for sound design, costume design, as well as best actress. 

HGN: When is your next show? 

APW: For now, the next public show isn’t officially on the books, but I have plans to change that. Soon, I will perform at Barnard College where Zora Neale Hurston received an anthropology degree. I am very much open to being booked around the country and having my show brought in to different colleges and universities, museums, etc. I can see it fitting in lots of different spaces. Women's History Month is of particular interest to me also. 
HGN: Anything else you’d like to add? 

APW: Yes, please stay in touch with me via www.liverichdiepoor.org. I would love for folks to check out the play I’m writing with the Memphis Orpheum about the neighborhood of Binghampton. Lastly, I am forming a group of maturing women artists to discuss this phase of life. I really call it a movement to make sure that we are still visible, and to galvanize this particular demographic, into realizing that we are still relevant and reinvention is possible. It is called “Shelia Turns 50” and I’m excited about the content I am developing for this group. Because really, my story is about reinvention, and still finding myself viable at a maturing age. 
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Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters.