By Jenny Pedraza, APR
At 10 years old, Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) knew he wanted to be a director.
Williams has always loved experiencing people’s stories and exploring new places through film and theater. It’s what made him force his sisters to be actors in his childhood productions and led him to skip his high school prom to catch the American release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup, a 1966 mystery thriller film and Cannes Film Festival winner.
When it came time for college, the Florida native was looking for a Bachelor of Arts program in a city atmosphere, and he found his home at VCU (then Richmond Professional Institute). As a theatre major, Williams jumped in to directing his own plays.
“I remember the excitement of creating these productions on my own and being responsible for putting on a play,” he says. “If you had the motivation, every possibility was there. But you didn’t just direct. You had to do everything—acting, lighting, costume design, promotion. You learned to appreciate those skills, and it’s that well-rounded foundation that has come back around for me again and again.”
Over a 30-year career, Williams worked as a video producer in Richmond, starting with Heilig-Meyers Furniture and Richmond Public Schools before launching his own company as TVJerry. He has produced hundreds of videos for local and national clients, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Capital One, PBS, Tiffany & Co., Visa and various state agencies and nonprofit organizations.
Williams has also remained involved in film and theater as The Man in the Dark, reviewing cinema and theater for WTVR-CBS 6, Style Weekly and on his website, SIFTER. Williams’ podcast with Richmond Theatre Critics Circle, Curtain Call, airs on Open Source RVA on Richmond Independent Radio, WRIR.
In 2017, Williams revived a passion project 17 years in the making, calling in favors from colleagues across his career. The goal: to make a documentary about iconic and notorious Richmonder Donnie Corker, also known as Dirtwoman. Corker was a drag prostitute who once ran for Richmond mayor; got kicked out of Douglas Wilder’s inauguration for governor; posed for his own pin-up calendar; and was known for his participation in the Richmond Food Bank’s Hamaganza fundraisers.
“If you lived in Richmond between 1965 and 2005, you knew who Dirtwoman was,” Williams said. “Everyone who met Dirtwoman had a story.”
After two years and 70 interviews, The Dirtwoman Documentary premiered at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville in 2018. It played a total of six festivals in the U.S. and one in Durban, South Africa.
Through it all, Williams has stayed connected with VCU and the VCUarts Department of Theatre. In 2019, he launched a monthly e-newsletter for theatre alumni with Liz Hopper, theatre professor emeritus. Williams and his husband, Mark Reed, are longtime VCUarts supporters, funding a scholarship for students, among other mentoring and financial support. They recently made plans to further support their scholarship fund through a $50,000 bequest.
“Being a student in the theatre department was a formative and impactful part of my life,” Williams said. “Those relationships and connections are still going, 50 years later. I’ve seen so much talent come out of VCU. You see these amazing kids expressing themselves, and it’s fun and exciting to stay involved in campus life and see it be such a vital part of the city.”
Working as a film producer at Heilig-Meyers
Interview with Frank Zappa
Interview with William Shatner
Reviewing cinema and theater as The Man in the Dark on WTVR-CBS 6
Williams at the Richmond International Film and Music Festival opening of Dirtwoman
Promotional poster for Dirtwoman
Williams at his wedding with husband Mark Reed
Lead photo: Jerry Williams produces the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle podcast, Curtain Call, which airs on WRIR.