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Meet Trailblazer Cheryl Allison

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cheryl Allison.

Cheryl, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My last name starts with “A” and I guess that is fitting as describe myself as an Actress and Activist. I was born in Fort Worth and raised in East Dallas. I guess you can say I was meant to be a performer as my Mom was a music teacher and my Dad was a Minister of Music at a local church. After graduating with a Master’s in Vocal Performance from Texas Woman’s University, I headed to NYC to pursue my dream of musical theatre and acting. I was very fortunate as success in the entertainment industry is not just based on crafting your skill, talent, and persistence but a whole lot of luck is involved. Luck was on my side, as I was cast from my first audition in a National Tour of Sound of Music. This really helped start my career and helped me continue working in the industry.

After over 20 years of working and living in NYC and Los Angeles, I had a desire to return home to Dallas. I wanted to be closer to my family and with today’s technology you can truly base out of anywhere and still submit auditions, hold meetings etc. Since returning to Dallas, I have been very selective in the projects I take on or consider. I really believe in activism through art and have chosen to act in or produce/direct projects that will raise awareness and spark conversation. As a result of that, I founded WOW FILMS in 2016, a production company that strives to create thought-provoking stories that deepen our understanding of the human experience. Instead of waiting for projects that represent how I feel, I decided to create my own. WOW FILMS has produced three films in three years. We’ve won over 26 awards in festivals worldwide for a Texas short film called Far From The Tree dealing with the topic of sexual assault. We shot the film in Eustace, TX about an hour outside of Dallas and used primarily Dallas based crew, cast and our screenwriter is also a Dallasite. It’s important to me to bring as much film work and focus to Dallas as possible. For that reason, when the #MeToo movement began in Fall of 2018, I began wondering what is my community of Dallas doing in regards to this? What initiatives and community action are taking place?

So, for the past year, I have been filming the documentary feature Shatter the Silence that interviews politicians, religious leaders, educators, social workers, artists and more to discuss sexual harassment, rape culture, the watershed moment for women and the road ahead. Grassroots change starts the local level with the voices of a community and so I began filming not really knowing how the film would develop. It ended up snowballing and I am honored to have the former Texas Senator and Women’s Rights Activist Wendy Davis as a prominent voice in the film. I was introduced to her through Texas House District 107 Representative Victoria Neave who is also in the film. It’s been absolutely amazing meeting and interviewing such inspirational women and men in the Dallas community who are speaking out and actively working to address patriarchy, sexual harassment and the reconditioning that must take place. It is my hope that Shatter the Silence will challenge other communities and cities to take action and inspire change.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Nothing is ever a smooth road. If it was easy, everyone would do it. In my business, flexibility is key. When making a film there are so many aspects that are out of your control. Equipment breaks, weather interferes, actors back out, scheduling conflicts and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I have worked in front of the camera as an actress and behind the camera as a director. I think behind the camera is much harder and not many women are in that position. So many balls in the air and as the director, you must have the answers to all the questions being thrown at you. Bringing your artistic vision to the screen involves many people and it’s up to you as a director to lead the team and ensure everyone is working together towards the same goal. That is why it’s so important to surround yourself with great, talented people. You are only as successful as the team you assemble.

Regardless of what career field you may choose, my advice for young women today is to be a sponge. Absorb as much information as you can by learning from others in your chosen field. When I was on set as an actress, I would watch other actors, I watched directors, camera operators, I learned the lingo. Instead of passing the time on social media when I was waiting to be called for my scene, I would watch the operations taking place. I had an opportunity to watch the editing sessions for a past film I produced and I learned so much. Because of that, I was able to edit the latest film I directed called Hiding in Daylight. It not only saved money for the Executive Producer, but it also allowed us to allocate the extra money for a much-needed piece of camera equipment I wanted to use for the film. I also shot and edited my documentary Shatter the Silence.

I was able to do this because of my desire to learn, watching professionals in my field and when in doubt… you can find most answers to your technical questions on YouTube! Sounds funny but I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from finding a tutorial on YouTube. I hope that young women today won’t put themselves in “boxes” and they will allow themselves to strive for numerous goals or dreams. I was once asked “Are you an actress or a singer?” someone else asked me? “I thought you acted, so how do you just want to produce or direct?” I don’t think that question is asked of men very often and that is why it’s important for more women to be in leadership positions. My response is always “Why can’t I do it all?”

Alright – so let’s talk about your work. Tell us about WOW FIlMS – what should we know?
I am most proud of being in a field where I can entertain people for a couple of hours onstage or onscreen and take them away from the stresses of their day. Art is an avenue to address social issues, the political climate and spark conversations. It has been used that way for centuries. I am proud to contribute to that in my own small way. I am proud to be a working actor and female filmmaker. As an actress, I’m best known for the film No Letting Go where I played the lead role of Catherine. The film was based on a true story about a mother whose son begins suffering from symptoms of mental illness at a young age. The film received numerous accolades and was distributed through Vision Films. It can now be seen on Amazon Prime and other online platforms. Onstage, I have performed in numerous Broadway productions and Regional Theatre. I have performed in eight shows at the historic Casa Manana in Fort Worth including Tanya in last year’s Mamma Mia. One thing that sets me apart as a filmmaker, is I prefer to make or be associated with films that address marginalized groups and stigmas surrounding certain subjects like mental illness, sexual assault etc.

Do you feel like there was something about the experiences you had growing up that played an outsized role in setting you up for success later in life?
My childhood absolutely was an influence on my career and any successes I have had. My parents raised me to believe that I can be and do anything I wanted. Obviously, they were a strong influence on me pursuing a career in singing and acting. I grew up going to the Dallas Summer Musicals with them and even as a young kid I would tell them I wanted to move to NYC. They always supported my dreams. They never told me I couldn’t do it. When I left for NYC, they put me on the plane and paid my rent for a few months until I could get on my feet. Thankfully I booked the Sound of Music national tour right away and started making money. Knowing I had their support and that they truly believed in me made all the difference. They instilled a strong sense of self in me and my grandmothers did too. I was raised seeing an equal and respectful relationship between my parents and because of that I always felt I could do anything a man could do.

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Image Credit:
Curtis Brown Photography, Alex Schaefer, Tom Schopper Photography

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