Five Questions with Christine Toy Johnson

June 13, 2017
Natalie Hulla
Christine Toy Johnson makes her Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park debut as Bessie, Blanche Ingram, Grace Poole and Diane Rivers in Jane Eyre.

Johnson-HeadshotChristine is an award-winning actor, writer, director, filmmaker and advocate for inclusion. She has been featured on Broadway in The Music Man, Grease! and Chu Chem. Off-Broadway credits include Merrily We Roll Along (cast album), Pacific Overtures, Falsettoland, Balancing Act (cast album) and productions with The Public Theater and Mint Theater Company. National tours include Cats, Flower Drum Song and Bombay Dreams, and other highlights include appearances at the Guthrie, Williamstown, Huntington, Syracuse Stage, Denver Center Theatre Company, Minnesota Opera and New York City Opera. Nearly 100 film and television appearances include recurring and/or guest starring roles on The Americans, Law and Order: SVU, Madam Secretary, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Mr. Robot, The Blacklist, Smash, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, The Big C, Royal Pains and two years as “Lisa West” on One Life to Live. Her written work has been developed at such places as the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and the Roundabout Theatre Company and is included in the Library of Congress Asian Pacific American Performing Arts Collection. Christine serves on the Councils of both the Dramatists Guild and Actors’ Equity, and is the recipient of the 2013 Rosetta LeNoire Award from Equity for “outstanding artistic contributions to the universality of the human spirit in the American theatre.”

How long have you been acting, and where did you receive your training?

I was one of those kids who put on The 12 Days of Christmas for my parents’ captive holiday guests, so I’ve been at this for a long time! I was modeling professionally at age four, got my Equity card the summer I graduated from high school and have been lucky enough to be a working actor ever since. I feel like I’m always in training! I started formal studies at Circle in the Square Acting School in NYC when I was 13 and continued studying with various teachers at Sarah Lawrence College (where I earned my BA) and the University of Southern California (where I was a voice major). I met my most influential mentors, Joanna Merlin (a disciple of Michael Chekhov) and the late great Lloyd Richards, while studying at the Actors Center in NYC.

When did you know you wanted to be an actor, and what’s your favorite part of the job?

I can’t really remember a time that I didn’t want to be an actor. All I ever wanted to do, growing up, was be in a Broadway musical, and I’ve been lucky enough to be in three of them so far and in three Broadway national tours. I’m also a playwright, librettist and lyricist, and I think my favorite part of all these jobs is getting to be a storyteller; to illuminate the human condition and explore the various nooks and crannies that make us different—and the same. Theatre has the unique power to affect how we perceive ourselves and each other and, to me, the most vital stories illuminate grand ideas, connect us, move us to explore the depths of our souls and/or motivate us to be better humans. What a privilege to get to be a part of that equation as both an interpretive and/or generative artist.

What is your all-time favorite role you’ve performed, and why?

I’ve been fortunate enough to play a large variety of incredible roles in classic plays and musicals. Some of my favorite experiences have been playing Ethel Toffelmeir in The Music Man on Broadway, Amalia in She Loves Me at Indiana Repertory Theatre and Bloody Mary in South Pacific last summer at the Guthrie. And definitely at the top of my list was getting to play Maria in West Side Story in Sacramento, California, where I met my husband Bruce, who was playing Tony. We celebrated twenty years of marriage last summer!

What role have you been dying to play, and why?

Honestly, it would be “playwright of a show being produced on Broadway.” Because: Broadway. And: Creating a story from heart and soul to page to stage.

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What has been the most interesting part of working on Jane Eyre so far?

Being part of such a generous, gifted, diverse company of artists makes every day a beautiful and spectacularly interesting challenge in the best possible way! It’s been amazing to collaborate with each other and bring this story to life. I learn something new about craft and humanity every day I get to work with these fine people.

To learn more about Christine, follow her on Twitter @CToyJ or visit her website at www.christinetoyjohnson.com. To learn more about the Playhouse production of Jane Eyre, visit the production detail page.
The cast of Jane Eyre; Rebecca Hirota, Christine Toy Johnson, Margaret Ivey and Rin Allen in Jane Eyre. Photos by Mikki Schaffner.