Spotlight On

“Don’t cast away a flower or even a tree leaf without entering into communion with it and penetrating into its mystery. Listen to the twittering of a bird, watch the thoughtfulness of each small fish in an aquarium; gaze as often as you can at the stars – all this will help in your struggle for spiritual concentration.” 
- Richard Bolaslavsky


“In everything, without doubt, truth has the advantage over imitation.”
- Cicero

“Above all, you must remain open and fresh and alive 
to any new idea.” 
- Laurence Olivier


Ronald Rand in Let It Be Art

“To flourish, society depends on a strong cultural heritage as well as innovation. The challenge is to breathe new life into the arts. Creativity is at the heart of every successful nation. It finds expression in great visual art, wonderful music, fabulous performances, stunning writing, gritty new productions and countless other media. Giving form to our innate human creativity is what defines us to ourselves and the world.
This is what the arts have always done. The lasting value and evidence of a civilization are its artistic output and the ingenuity that comes from applying creativity to the whole range of human endeavor. What is education if it doesn't teach our children to think creatively and innovatively? What use is a robust economy unless it is within an innovative country that can attract and stimulate the world? How can good governance exist without a population that is engaged, educated and able to form its own opinions?”  Excerpt from an essay, “Reviving a creative nation,”
 – by Cate Blanchett and Julianne Schultz, April 16, 2008, For the Creative Australia Stream at the 2020 Summit

“Simply think the words.”
— Goethe

“Action is the direct agent of the heart.”
— Delsarte

“The supreme goal of the theatre is truth, the ultimate truth of the soul.”
— Max Reinhardt

“Through the unity of reason and emotion, of spirituality and affection and sensation, the actor will discover his creative genius for the stage – the art of acting.”
— Erwin Piscator

“The artist-actor unveils his inner soul.”
— Eleonora Duse

“Living is a process. Acting is the act of laying oneself bare, of fearing off the mask of daily life, of exteriorizing oneself.  It is a serious and solemn act of revelation. It is like a step towards the summit of the actor’s organism in which are united consciousness and instinct.”
— Jerzy Grotowski

“Let us find our way to the unknown, the intuitive, and perhaps beyond to man’s spirit itself.. “
— Viola Spolin

Tonya S. Holly

Director, Producer, Writer — in 2001, Ms. Holly established Cypress Moon Studies in 2001 in Sheffield, Alabama. Located on the beautiful Tennessee River in Sheffield, Alabama, Cypress Moon Studios is a concert venue, recording studio and a film production facility. Formerly, the second Muscle Shoals Sound Studio from 1978 to 2005 where artists including Bob Dylan, Etta James, The Commodores, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Percy Sledge, Melissa Ethridge, Jimmy Buffett and hundreds of others artists recorded. Ms. Holly wrote, directed and produced her feature film, “When I Find the Ocean, starring Lily Matland Holly, Diane Ladd, Lee Majors, Graham Greene, Richard Tyson, Bernie Casey, Amy Redford, George Lindsey, and David Fralick. The film has won many awards, including “Kids First! Best Feature,” Second place at the Reel Women International Film Festival. She completed her second film, “The Mirror,” and she is currently in development on her next feature film, "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," starring Sean Faris and Lindsay Pulsipher. In 1989, Tonya opened Gem-Star agency to help nurture talent in northwest Alabama. Two years later, she founded the Alabama Filmmakers association to help promote the film industry and develop sound stages throughout the state. Her work as a casting director included the films, ”Toy Soldiers" starring Louis Gossett Jr., and Sean Astin, and the Oscar-winning film, "Blue Sky" starring Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones. She has worked with CBS, HBO, NBC, FOX, Morgan Creek, Universal, Buena Vista, and many other independent productions. Ms. Holly produced and directed numerous plays, commercials, and the music video "This Day" which included over 30 songwriters and nearly 1000 voices, and produced the largest gathering of Muscle Shoals musicians in history on a double CD set called "One Voice.”

What’s been making it such an exciting time for you right now?

I’m working on a new film, “Christmas Memories,” which will be the first of the “B-Club Ladies” movies I’m planning. It's a fun wonderful story about four southern women. I also have a book in process. And there’s always so much going on here at Cypress Moon Studios.

Cypress Moon Studios, Sheffield, Alabama

Did you start out early knowing you wanted to be in show business?

Oh yeah, in fact I’ve been directing and producing since I was a five- year-old. I would plan out my birthday parties. There’s music on both sides of my family. My mother is a hit songwriter, with songs “cut” by Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Carl Perkins, Randy Travis. My late father was on one of The Hacker Brothers. They were great song writers back in the day. He was also related to Elvis Presley. Elvis used to come to see my grandpa all the time, and he came to my grandpa’s funeral. He didn’t get out of the car, but he came to all the family reunions and funerals.

Cypress Moon Studios, Sheffield, Alabama

I understand your daughter’s also following in your footsteps —

My daughter, Lilly is an actress and writing a lot of things. My other daugher, Abbey sings country music.

With the Gem-Star agency you did the casting on several films including “Toy Soldiers” with Louis Gossett Jr., and Sean Astin, and the Oscar-winning “Blue Sky” starring Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones. What kind of insight and strengths did those experiences bring you?

I was able to put over three hundred people on that film. When I graduated from UNA, my degree was mostly in musical theatre, and I wanted to be an actress first. That led to my working on the crew of “Saturday Night with Connie Chung,” and became an extras casting assistant, and that “got behind the camera.” Then I moved to “Blue Sky,” and the other films. I was excited about getting people into the movies.

You’ve also produced and directed numerous plays, commercials, and the music video "This Day" which included over 30 songwriters and nearly 1000 voices, and also produced the largest gathering of Muscle Shoals musicians in history on a double CD set called "One Voice”.

A band recording at Cypress Moon Studios, Sheffield Alabama

Right after 9/11, I had a dream of a song — “This Day” — and heard all these voices. I started the song with one guitar. I called everyone to my the recording studio to record the song and before I knew it, we were writing other songs. So many people came together that that one song turned into “One Voice.” It has 97 musicians, 69 songwriters, we used 19 studios and over a hundred voices. “One Voice” became the largest gathering of musicians in Muscle Shoals.

We gave all the money the music made, and donated it to the New York Fire Department in New York City to help with the widows. I went top there and met so many wonderful people. It was a remarkable journeying of the songs. Everybody was affected by that day. We’re all children of 9/11 and that day we all got together to record “One Voice.”

Your feature debut was as writer, director and producer of the feature film, “When I Find the Ocean” starring Lily Matland Holly, Diane Ladd, Lee Majors, Graham Greene, Richard Tyson, Bernie Casey, Amy Redford, George Lindsey, and David Fralick, which has won many awards. Why did that story appeal to you and how did that experience challenge you?

A film by Tonya S. Holly

I was actually working on a movie for CBS and we were all sitting around one night talking about our memories. Growing up, I believed that the creek behind my mother’s house could take me to the ocean, and if I followed that creek I’d get there. I wrote down the title back in ’95 and kept on expanding on and thats it how it turned into the screenplay

At first, I sent it out to other directors, even Penny Marshall. All that time I was finding my own locations, and started thinking about who I’d  cast in the film, what the music would be. I was already directing it to a certain degree. I had done a short film, “The Mirror,” in ‘92 based on my grandmother’s wedding dresser. I imagined how many people passed in from of that mirror. I directed it and it ended up winning some awards.

So I thought: “I’ll direct my own movie.” It’s a challenge, of course, when you’re working with established stars as Lee Majors and Diane Ladd, so you better be sure you know what you want. There were a couple of times it became challenging because the cinematographer has their own ideas but I had to say: “This is the way I see it.” And every once in a while I’d compromise to get a shot or an angle. It ended up being a strong film and a touching one, and I was very grateful when it won several awards.

Tonya S. Holly with Ronald Rand

You purchased Cypress Moon Studios Studio in 2005 from Maleco Records. The famous Swampers, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Beckett, and Roger Hawkins, had founded the original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and then built this one in 1977-1978. This Cypress Moon Studios is the second location of Muscle Shoals Sound from 1978-2005, where during 1978 to 2005 artists including Bob Dylan, Etta James, The Commodores, Alabama, Julian Lennon, Dire Straits, Dr. Hook, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Segar, Melissa Ethridge, Eddie Hinton, Percy Sledge, Joe Jocker, and many others recorded their hits. What has been your greatest goals in keeping this historic studio thriving?

My original plan was for it be a film studio, and a much larger studio, with a concert hall. I think the greatest goal is to see all 38,000 square feet functioning, and I’d like to have a ‘Walk of Fame,’ recognizing all the amazing artists who have walked through the door. We have a lot of  concerts here, we have the full moon theatre, and both studios are being used for recording at the same time. I also think it would be a great place to  show old movies. And we also have tours that come from all over the world to visit Cypress Moon Studios.

Inside Cypress Moon Studios, Sheffield, Alabama

What led you to create your own newspaper?

 I love to tell stores and I realized this area is so rich, with all the music and the Muscle Shoals artists, and those who help make the music. I wanted to tell more of the stores. I call it “MoonTalk,” and there’s entertainment news and interviews. We’re into our third issue. The first had thirty women musicians talking about their careers and experiences and the second was all about the engineers. The next one is about the studies.

I feel strongly we need to get these stories out there. I want young people to know and understand much more about our history. I just think it’s extremely important to tell those stories. I think they’re absolutely fascinating.

As you go forward, how do you find a balance maintaining your creative energies and focus?

It can be difficult at times, but I recently signed a book deal with the women of music of Muscle Shoals so that’s exciting. I have to keep the studio running and it takes a lot of my time. I really have to force myself to get in a place where I can write and focus on what I’m doing. And “Moon Talk” also takes a lot of time and energy. I think it’s all so important.

Muscle Shoals sign

I was asked to be the commencement speaker at UNA in 2006 (University of Northern Alabama); I had graduated in ’87, and it was one of the greatest honors to speak to them. I had fifteen minutes and I knew they could forget the words or remember them. My focus was on the parable: Whatever you put your faith in, it will guide you. I have a stone faith in God. I gave them a visuals: I’m going along on a good path but if all of a sudden I have to get off that path I may find myself in a dense jungle, and all I may have on me is a butter knife. Life may turn out that way. You can find yourself on that kind of oath and feel like you’re in eye of a hurricane, or on a high-wire, and everything’s swirling around you. If you look around, you could lose your balance, but if you tell yourself: “Just keep moving forward, with one foot in front of the other, you’ll find a way. Each of us are given gifts and it’s up to us to utilize those gifts one way or the other. We can either bury them but I think we have to find a way to utilize them.

"It is a law of life that man cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world's problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world. No expression is more emblematic of this relation than the creative act which we call art. No art by its very constitution typifies the social nature of that creative act more than the theatre. The theatre, to be fully understood and appreciated, must be seen as a manifestation of this process of interchange between society and the individual. It must be judged as a continuous development of groups of individuals within society, a development which becomes richer, acquires greater force and value as it grows with the society in which it originates. Only in this way can the theatre nourish us.  - Harold Clurman

The Soul of the American Actor Newspaper