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Alum spotlight: Jo Anne Wade Draucker (1969)

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Jo Anne Wade Draucker, Performance, 1969           

jodraucker@comcast.net

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Jo Anne started performing in USO shows at the age of five and danced on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier every summer. When her family moved to Richmond, she auditioned at the Virginia Museum Theatre at age fifteen and got cast as a streetwalker in Guys and Dolls. “They found out I could sing and dance, so Mr. Batty [Wayne Batty, later head of VCU’s Music Department] wanted me in the chorus, and Frances Wessells wanted me as a dancer, so when I wasn’t on stage I was at the curtain singing.” (Frances Wessells led the formation of VCU’s Dance & Choreography department and celebrated her 101st birthday this past August!)

When applying to colleges Jo Anne received a full scholarship to University of Miami. As it turned out, her strict parents planned to move with her, so she opted for the closer Richmond Professional Institute instead. After two and half years at VCU, she moved out of her parents’ home, but had to quit college since she was unable to find student loans. She remained active in the local theatre scene and joined the workforce. She worked for the City of Richmond teaching dance, drama and arts and crafts, then for United Virginia Bank for five years.  She was even Miss United Virginia Bank in 1974!

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1974 would also be the year when she opened Premiere Costumes with Tommy Hewitt (now retired hair and wig designer, find Tommy on facebook here: Thomas Augustine). Jo Anne says, “Tommy and I were doing a show at Barksdale and realized, ‘There are no costumes in this town.’ Mr. Ellman, who sold dance clothes and accessories [at Ellman’s Dancewear in Carytown], let us open a costume shop in his building, and Barksdale had an annex full of costumes that we cleaned up and used for our initial stock.”

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Jo Anne and Tommy at Premiere in the 70’s

At the beginning of the longstanding Carytown institution, Jo Anne recalled, “We couldn’t pay ourselves, so Tommy was doing hair, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) gave me a part time job working with him at Heilig-Meyers Furniture.”

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Jo Anne and Jerry working on a training video for Heilig-Myers

In 1980, Jo Anne bought Mr. Ellman out, which created the Ellman’s/Premiere storefront that most theatre and dance people knew as the place in Richmond for costumes, accessories, dance supplies and makeup. Meanwhile, Jo Anne was working at most of the local theatres as an actor, dancer and choreographer. Her last full production was Barkdale’s noted 1977 world premiere of “Red, Hot and Cole,” co-written and directed by late alum Randy Strawderman (BFA ’71).

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Jo Anne and alum Michael Hawke (BFA ’76)
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That year, Frances Wessels needed an adjunct instructor to teach tap in the Dance department, so Jo Anne returned to VCU where she taught until 1986.  Meanwhile, Jo Anne’s friendly style and business acumen kept her in a leadership role in Carytown—for over twenty five years she served as President, Vice-President, Secretary or Treasurer of the Carytown Merchants Association.  She started Carytown’s annual Watermelon Festival. Over 30 years later, the event is now the state’s largest one day festival, attracting over 100,000 people annually and providing many Carytown businesses with their best day of sales for the year. (Unfortunately, the 2020 festival had to be canceled due to the pandemic). Jo Anne has been recognized as an outstanding retailer by several business organizations, including receiving the Distinguished Retailer award from what is now called Retail Merchants in 1999.

Jo Anne (center) at the Watermelon Festival in 2013.

In 2016 Jo Anne sold Ellman’s, and in 2017 she sold Premiere. Now, Jo Anne spends half of her time in Richmond and the other half in Buckroe Beach with Jim Thompson, who ran Virginians for the Arts and Hampton Arts.

Jo Anne and Jim at Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Jo Anne says, “when Tom Holloway [former faculty] was my advisor, he told me, ‘You need to break out on your own.’ It gave me the courage to move on, and I felt like I could do anything.” With her long-time success supporting local theatres, Jo Anne has certainly achieved that goal.

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Jo Anne also sponsored the renovation of the Makeup Studio in Shafer Street.



Compiled by Liz Hopper, professor emeritus, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the December 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter