Arlington vaccine worker will tour the country as a Broadway star

Joey Collins is a Broadway actor by training and an Arlington vaccine helper by heart.

After assisting the Arlington Public Health Division with distributing Covid vaccines for most of 2021, accomplished stage actor Collins is hitting the road this year as part of the Broadway touring company of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

He’s playing the villain Bob Ewell in the iconic story. It’s a life-altering role, one that he’s ready for after spending close to a year helping Arlingtonians get vaccinated.

One of the things that I’m grateful that happened for me was working in the [vaccine] clinics,” Collins tells ARLnow. “I believe it’s the Dalai Lama that said that genuine compassion is unbiased.”

The longtime New Yorker moved to Arlington with his family, which includes a partner and two kids, in 2019 with his partner getting a job at a nonprofit here. He immediately began to look for his community, through local theaters, and acting groups. Then, the world shut down.

Collins was in a new place with few friends, not much of a network, and — like many — had little work. So, he turned to volunteering.

He first began by helping with voter protection but with vaccines becoming available in December 2020, Collins reached out to Arlington Public Health to see if the department needed help.

Public Health accepted and, with his gregarious nature, Collins was first asked to greet people as they came to the Arlington County Department of Human Services at Sequoia Plaza on Washington Blvd. Those lines were often long with many residents over the age of 75.

“You’re the first voice… and first eyes that people saw when they came,” Collins says. “I really enjoyed that.”

His acting training kicked in too, helping him to figure out how to best greet those coming for their vaccines.

“You’re always reading the other person. Sometimes that person is nervous, sometimes they are excited or grumpy,” Collins says. “I just tried to be a positive person in their life for those few minutes that I had contact with them.”

Particularly those early days, when it was older residents who were getting vaccinated, the experience was incredibly rewarding for Collins. He even gets a bit emotional talking about it, remembering that for some, he may have been the first person that they had talked to face-to-face in months.

“Sometimes they just wanted to talk and it was great,” he says. “We were hopefully giving them the opportunity to not be so isolated. My heart is full and my eyes are teary… just thinking about it.”

Soon, the volunteering gig became a paid job and he was moved all around, helping and greeting at pop-up clinics across Arlington.

Arlington Public Health tells ARLnow they are grateful for Collins’ help, especially through those busy few months when county vaccination rates were soaring.

“[Collins] is one of those people that everyone liked to work with,” Arlington Public Health spokesperson Ryan Hudson says.

Late last year, Collins started getting acting gigs again. He took a hiatus from his vaccine work to do an off-Broadway show in New York. Next, he was cast as the lead in a film being made by a locally based production company.

Then, Collins got word that the show he initially auditioned for in November 2019 was finally ready to hit the road.

The Aaron Sorkin-written stage adaptation “To Kill A Mockingbird” first premiered on Broadway in 2018 and is based on the classic Harper Lee 1960 novel. Collins is playing Bob Ewell, the story’s villain, in the touring version.

“The character is very unlike me,” Collins says. “I plan to let him have that edge… he needs to be a true threat to that community. I’m going to give it my all.”

He’s already in New York for rehearsals, which started up earlier this week. The tour is going to be mostly nonstop over the next 18 months, including a Kennedy Center visit this summer.

While he’s looking forward to the work and the chance to play a fascinating character, Collins admits that he’s going to miss his family. They are going to see each other every few weeks, but the distance will be hard. That includes being away from his new Clarendon home.

“I’m going to miss Arlington,” he says. “To be honest with you, it’s kinda a perfect place to live.”

As for ever coming back to help Arlington Public Health, Collins says he would “jump at the chance” as long as his acting career allows him.

“I believe in the mission of public health and public service,” he says. “I’m honored to have been part of their tribe.”