Leslie Ball is an award-winning writer, performer and director. Ball grew up in Duluth where she began creating music and theater pieces as a child, continuing with artistic endeavors throughout her education. She graduated from high school early as a National Merit Scholar, earned her Associate Arts Degree from Columbia College in Missouri, and continued undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota. She interrupted her college career to work with the Committee Against Racism Theatre Company, and to tour the Midwest with the University of Minnesota's Theater of Involvement. She then continued working on the road as half of the duo Les Rue (with composer Gary Rue) later fronting a five-piece band that headlined a USO tour entertaining American troops in Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. Upon returning to the states, the duo expanded to a five-piece rock band (later called Rue Nouveau) touring the United States and Canada playing campuses, music festivals, even a maximum security prison. Rue Nouveau recorded two albums for release (one still unreleased) and enjoyed critical accolades; singer Helen Reddy covered one of their songs, and Nick Lowe recorded another.
In the mid-80s Leslie's band was commissioned by The Actors' Theater of St. Paul to collaborate with playwright Steven Dietz; they created the concert-play Painting It Red, winning her several awards including two Minnesota Music Academy Awards – one for best multi-media composition, and one for best female singer in an alternative band. Ball starred in subsequent productions of Red at Berkeley Repertory Theater and Pittsburgh's City Theater, garnering rave reviews in both cities. Other theater collaborations include the historic Minnesota premiere of Ten November, composer Eric Peltoniemi's haunting musical staging of the tragic loss of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. Leslie also directed later productions of Ten November. Other directing credits include a world premiere of John Olive’s Aspern Papers for the Minnesota Fringe Festival, several productions for New Traditions Theater, and over a decade as a contributing music director for Stepping Stone Children’s Theater productions.
Ball moved to New York and earned her MFA at New York University's Tisch Graduate School of the Arts. Upon graduation in 1991, she returned to Minneapolis to star in John Gaspard's indie film Beyond Bob, which has become a favorite offering in the Spiritual Cinema Series. In August of 1991, Leslie launched BALLS Cabaret, a weekly experimental stage for artists of any discipline, at any level of experience. Now in its 27th year (and continually winning awards), BALLS is the longest-running weekly midnight cabaret in the history of humankind. BALLS was cited in The New York Times as a “must-see” while in the Twin Cities. Artists who have premiered at BALLS have gone on to successes around the world, and local press dubbed Leslie “the den mother of the Twin Cities art community.” She's been profiled in a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, television and radio interviews, and was featured in Mpls-St. Paul Magazine's “Ten Sexiest Issue”. Leslie's also been honored with awards from various arts organizations, educational institutions, and community forums such as the Institute for the Renewal of Community Leadership.
Ball has performed in other cabarets, theater stages and music clubs – from a recurring Valentine's Day series at the Walker Art Center called Love Bash – to a summer a s the Poet Laureate for the St. Paul Chautauqua Festival – to another summer series of poems from the State Fair broadcast on MPR's All Things Considered - to opening for Ellen Degeneres at the Guthrie Theater. Ball also had the honor of singing back-up for the late Gene Pitney at his Carnegie Hall concert, and years later for the filming of his concert for Connecticut Public Television. Her first solo recording Loring Park earned her the Minnesota Music Award for best female songwriter. Nautilus Music Theater commissioned Leslie to compose an opera for the acclaimed Baldwin sisters; Looking Glass Lake was a critical favorite in the world premiere of Sister Stories. Other commissions include songs for both weddings and funerals – and the score for partner Ochen Kaylan's Minnesota State Fair art film Midwest Brigadoon (currently airing on public television during fair season.) She designs and leads worship at the MN State Fair – Prayer at the Fair complete with hallmark bulletin-on-a-stick. She also facilitates an evening worship at Hennepin Church in Loring Park. Her visual art has been featured in several venues including the Phipps Art Center's Exhibition of the Women's Art Registry of Minnesota Mentor Program.
Ball donates more than half of her performance work. Her first public performance was a benefit that she orchestrated as a neighborhood driveway production at age ten, raising funds for a fallen Duluth policeman's family. In the intervening decades, she's donated her time and talents to countless causes. She is a tireless advocate for a wide variety of socially progressive organizations, demonstrating a long-standing history of passionate commitment to peace and justice. She co-wrote the theme song for Senator Paul Wellstone's 1996 campaign, and worked at a number of Wellstone events, including headlining at the Women's Club Theater with Jessica Lange. During Leslie's illness with thyroid cancer, the Twin Cities' arts community created a fund-raising campaign called “She Don't Need No Stinking Thyroid” supporting Leslie's recovery and donating to the Artists' Emergency Relief Fund. For over a decade, Leslie served as host to the Annual Cancer Kids' Fund Comedy Benefit - and continues to perform each year at First Avenue’s David Bowie tribute benefit raising funds for Feline Rescue Shelter. As both a cancer survivor and as someone in recovery from addiction, Ball spent years in the public schools teaching young people struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Colleagues described her as the “heart and soul” of their school community, and parents continue to testify to her healing impact in their children's lives. She also taught children and teenagers in the summer school of rock “Day Jams” program. Year-round she served as adjunct faculty at National American University in the humanities department.
Ball earned her second graduate degree in 2010 – a Master of Divinity Degree from United Theological Seminary, where she served on the Student Executive Committee and the Board of Trustees. She also volunteers on a variety of other civic and arts boards. In her weekly cabaret, Leslie supports artists young and old to express themselves in a welcoming sober environment. She acts as a model and mentor for other artists to pursue creativity infused with social justice content, exemplifying values of sobriety and accountability in a culture that often glamorizes harmful excess. In November of 2005 Leslie was awarded a Vincent Hawkinson Peace and Justice Foundation scholarship honoring her work as an artist and activist. Her award reads:
For her continuing commitment to furthering peace and justice in our community and throughout the world; The Foundation especially recognizes her substantial accomplishments including founding and operating BALLS Cabaret as a nurturing greenhouse for the arts, teaching restorative justice to students in recovery from addiction, a long career as a social activist, and her ongoing pursuit of healing, recovery and community in a world threatened by religious zealotry.