Whether it’s Castleberry Hill, Midtown, Krog Street tunnel, or beyond, Atlanta is where poets, thespians, and artists congregate and create. This new feature will catch up with those folks…some you’ll know, some you’ll meet. – Teri Elam

Reneé Rayles is an actor, improviser, and writer whose recent short, Open Enrollment: Healthcare in America, will premier in the upcoming NYC Short Comedy Film Festival. She’s been in Atlanta for almost 20 years. When not at her favorite hangouts in Inman Park and East Atlanta, you can see her in spots for the NFL on CBS, Home Depot, and episodes of Covenant on AMC+.

What’s your first memory of being an artist—meaning, when did you feel it in your soul? 

I grew up in rural Indiana. One day while I was still in elementary school, I heard a radio ad for voiceover classes and begged my mother to take me; she did. Unfortunately, the studio closed before I could attend another session. But my introduction to that particular art form lit a spark that’s never died.

The pandemic underscored the importance of art; the more we were separated from it, the more we craved it. What does art mean to you in this post-pandemic world?

While the pandemic was brutal, it’s lovely to see so many people following their passions more actively after the pandemic. Creating art or viewing others’ art helped so many people get through safer at home, and it helped propel many people to find or pursue their creativity with so much downtime.

AI: You have multiple talents: acting, improvisation, and writing. I also know firsthand that you dabbled in a little stand-up comedy. Which of these do you want to be your legacy and why? 

Being an actor, storytelling through film is what I’d like my legacy to be. Filmmaking is a transcendent art form; the emotions and feelings it creates can last a lifetime. My father has passed, but one of my favorite memories is him taking me to see E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He didn’t go to many movies, but the summer after my kindergarten year, we watched E.T. together. It was the first time I ever cried in a movie. That was 1982, and it is still a vivid memory. An image of E.T. to this day still hits me in my heart…and that’s the power of film.

AI: How has Atlanta inspired your work?

I’ve watched the evolution of film and TV in Atlanta since moving here over 20 years ago, moved away to LA briefly, and then back. Atlanta was not seen as a forerunner in this space previously, and it is inspiriting to see how the city is changing.

AI: What question haven’t I asked that you’d like to answer? 

What do I enjoy about the Georgia entertainment market?

It’s great to see many great actors in Atlanta who have been on the grind for years finally making it into big-budget productions.

Teri Elam

Teri Elam is a poet, screenwriter, and storyteller who believes there’s an art to most things. She’s exploring what art means to creators in and around Atlanta.