Leading Lady : Mary Ruth Ralston

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Mary Ruth Ralston

Mary Ruth Ralston is a local Atlanta actor, education artist, fight choreographer, director, and lighting designer.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I work at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company where I am an actor and education artist, as well as sometime fight choreographer, director, and lighting designer.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I grew up in Athens, GA with great exposure to the arts and started dancing at about age 4. I really got into acting and theater my freshman year of high school.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a dancer, marine biologist, and/or Jedi knight.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Ooh, tough one. Right now I think I’d like to sit down and chat with Virginia Wolfe about art, time, culture, and gender. I just read her incredible novel “Orlando”, and I’d like very much to talk with her about it.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My parents. They both worked very hard to encourage my imagination and to instill in me the desire to work hard, improve myself professionally and personally, and do my best to maintain a strong sense of empathy, humor, and ethics.

Mary Ruth Ralston in Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry VI.

How is art a passion for you?
It is honestly very difficult for me to imagine not being a performing artist. I feel very strongly that it is what I need to be doing, and it is a career that, although often difficult, is uniquely challenging and rewarding.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
I think it’s moving in a great direction. We’re still in a lot of places facing the old problems of lack of complex female characters in plays and lack of female leadership in the arts in general, but I’m seeing more and more women breaking the mold of outdated gender stereotypes and taking charge as directors, writers, and leaders of arts organizations. I know so many amazing women who are becoming cornerstones of the Atlanta arts scene working incredibly hard to push for diversity and intersectionality. Also, being someone whose passion is classical theater, which can be terribly restrictive for women, I’m benefiting a lot personally from the Shakespeare Tavern and other theaters being willing to cast outside the traditional gender binary.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
I’ve experienced some really moving displays of cooperative and supportive spirit among Atlanta’s artists. I’ve seen so many of my friends and colleagues encourage, uplift, and celebrate each other’s work. I think we have an amazing community of artists who support each other and enable growth, creativity, and collaboration in our city.

Mary Ruth Ralston (pictured right) shows off her skills in the the famous Hamlet vs. Laertes fight from Fern Theatre’s all female production of Hamlet.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
I’m hoping that I get to continue playing parts that are traditionally played by men and encourage out-of-the-box casting in that regard, but I think the most important thing I can do is to keep encouraging students to embrace empathy, passion, and open-mindedness and impart the idea that a career in the arts is not just possible but important and useful.