Clarion Native Continuing Activism While Working as Artist in Pittsburgh
(Photo by Chris Stohre)
Shropshire is the daughter of Jamie and the late John Shropshire, former Clarion University dean of admissions and Clarion County Commissioner. She is a 2001 graduate of Clarion Area High School and a 2004 graduate of Clarion University with a major in Liberal Studies. She was also active in the Clarion University theatre department as well as with SAFE (Stop Abuse for Everyone).
After college, Shropshire’s current career didn’t kick off immediately. She says she first moved to Pittsburgh while in a relationship that didn’t work out in the end, calling it “the right place with the wrong person.”
However, the move itself did end up being a good decision. After a time working for a company that provided in-home care for individuals with physical and mental disabilities, she decided to return to the realm of retail, where she was more comfortable.
“I practically grew up behind my mom’s cash register,” she noted, referencing Images of the West, a store her mother used to operate on Main Street in Clarion.
She was happy in retail for a while, working her way up into management, on a career path to become a buyer for the large company she was working for. However, that dream ended in 2008, when financial difficulties hit the business.
“It seemed like it was just another part of things going wrong in the world, and it kind of shook me awake as an activist.”
However, her path forward was still uncertain, and she ended up working in banking for a time and found it was not the industry for her.
According to Shropshire, it was when her 30th birthday rolled around, during a time when she began to realize how much she missed performing, that things began to change.
Having grown up in a family that enjoyed attending theatrical events, Shropshire says she had taken to performing earlier in life, particularly in college, and wanted to return to that. Having also shared a love of jazz and old-world traditions with her father when she was younger, she also had interests in that direction. So, when she came across a troop of burlesque performers known as the Bridge City Bombshells, she couldn’t resist auditioning.
“That’s how it all started as far as getting back into art and performing.”
Along the way, more of the things she learned in Clarion also came into play.
“I am so grateful my mom and my family were involved in SAFE. That gave me the tools I needed to survive.”
Shropshire credits both the things she learned from her mother, the things she learned training with SAFE herself, as well as things she learned from her father for saving her when she had difficulties for a time with a stalker.
“Had I not been involved and gone to their training, I have no idea how I would have survived that.”
Despite some of the difficulties Shropshire has faced along the way, she continued to forge ahead with her performing career, taking part in cabaret and side-show performances along with burlesque and also taking on Go-go dancing at a club in Pittsburgh for a number of years.
With those experiences under her belt, she then got into teaching, handling instruction in everything from burlesque to stagecraft. The Go-go dancing also led her into event planning and taking part in events.
She even got the opportunity to work at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame during the event for the induction of Bon Jovi.
“That was a really great experience.”
That event led her to learn another old, traditional performing skill that has been making a bit of a comeback: stilt walking.
“It is a great talent to have, and I got to be the first professional female stilt walker of color in the City of Pittsburgh. It’s near and dear to my heart to keep these old traditions alive.”
Along with her other performances, Shropshire also became involved in several other projects, including Heroineburgh, a live-action series and comic book based in Pittsburgh with all-original characters and stories.
“It taps into all the human aspects and themes you want from any good story, and it’s uplifting and a really cool group of actresses.”
Shropshire also got involved in the band Venus in Furs, starting out dancing with the band in 2016, and more recently singing with the band.
They currently have a new cover of the song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood available on Spotify and are hoping to be able to work on a music video for the cover as soon as it is safe to do so.
“We’re really excited to roll out on that, and we already have people signed up for it.”
Along with her professional performances, Shropshire has also continued to be involved in activism, grassroots organizing, and fundraising for a multitude of causes. She has even taken part in a Pudding Wrestling fundraiser for the Allegheny Women’s Center and Shelter.
She has also been working with Social Justice Disco, which is a collaboration of Pittsburgh-based artists led by composer Phat Man Dee and Liz Berlin of the band Rusted Root, who also co-owns Mr. Small’s Theater.
Social Justice Disco aims to empower people struggling against racism, environmental destruction, war, religious intolerance, misogyny, homophobia, and fascism.
Shropshire said they are currently planning a workshop next month on cultural appropriation.
“This beautiful, spiritual community wants to make sure they’re doing things right. There’s a lot of risk for appropriation and the risk of hurting others that way, so it’s really wonderful to go and do that work.”
Shropshire noted another great thing about the collaboration is a shared desire to support artists, particularly minority artists, and to help build up communities through that support.
“By financially contributing and supporting artists, you’re supporting equity to build up communities. It’s an important way to help fight racism, and it’s awesome to be a part of that conversation and help push it forward.”
The desire to help move conversations forward was also part of what made the invitation to be the keynote speaker and Clarion University’s 9th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast very meaningful for Shropshire.
“It was really exciting to be asked something like that. It felt like something I’d been getting ready for in a way.”
She noted that while growing up in Clarion, she had always been aware of issues of race and inequality, and noted that events in 2020 seemed to bring those issues to a head for more of America.
“People can no longer deny the problems this country has, and the opportunity to speak to my hometown on such a day, while sitting there talking about my dad, and how many firsts he had there as a black man…well, everything hit me in such a positive way. I was just so grateful and so excited, and I wanted to do everyone proud.”
Looking forward, Shropshire said she will be continuing to travel and perform, to sing and dance, to teach and work for a better future. She noted she also has several other new projects still in the works that she isn’t ready to announce just yet.
“People will just have to stay tuned for those.”
In the meantime, Shropshire said the one thing she would like to tell people is to stop worrying about making mistakes and just keep moving forward.
“Don’t be afraid to be bold. Amanda Gorman said it well, bravery is necessary right now, and once you accept that, you can’t go back, but you’ll be so grateful. Just be bold and keep the faith.”
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