How would you describe your art in three words?
Bold, personal, vulnerable.
Ever since Jay’na Johnson was a little kid, they have always loved the idea of storytelling. Reminiscent of Little Women, their sister and cousins used to play make-beliefs with scripts. All their life, Jay’na has been involved in “band, church choir, church dances”, etc., but it wasn’t until they participated in their high school theatre productions of Willy Wonka and Mamma Mia! that they “fell in love” with musical theatre. Their work in Mamma Mia! acted as a catalyst to pursue this craft because this production was “a life-changing show”; the cast and crew were the “perfect group of people” that allowed “room to explore beyond the stage and the characters”. For Jay’na, “nothing in [their] life could compare to what it felt like to dance ‘Voulez Vous’ with [their] friends”. This constant interaction with the arts became a solid foundation for Jay’na to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre at Wilkes University.
As an artist, Jay’na understands the importance of community, and theatre provides a creative environment for bridging the actors and crew with the audience. They often jump from one play to the next with shows, especially collegiate theatre. Jay’na often experiences a “warped perception of time” while balancing classes, performances, and individual practice, but they find comfort in doing something “so temporary that still has a lasting effect”. Jay’na expresses their gratitude and passion for pursuing this craft because this is “[their] purpose in life”. For Jay’na, “finding a medium that speaks to you” is challenging, but they “can’t imagine a life without doing theatre”, in whatever way that manifests throughout their life. A solid, creative community that pushes them to care, work hard, and pursue this craft is also essential in Jay’na’s evolution as an artist and person. Even in a highly-competitive industry, Jay’na stresses the emphasis on being confident in their “body, skill, ability, talent”, etc., because “so much is out of [their] control” insofar that “all [they] can do is an audition and be the best actor [they] can be”. Even then, Jay’na works on their craft daily; their schedule “is devoted to dance classes, voice lessons, practicing monologues, and rehearsals”. Outside of practice, Jay’na highlights the constant development of character or meaning behind certain words, actions, or expressions on stage. For Jay’na, this dedication pays off because “it’s so rewarding to be able to dedicate so much time to improving your skills and learning more about yourself as an artist”. While Jay’na notes that musical theatre is similar to “entering a machine”, they also highlight the importance of rest and rejuvenation. As a performer, Jay’na expresses that it is natural to “give up so much of yourself in this field [since] your body is your instrument”, but they also balance their time off-stage.
For inspiration, Jay’na looks up to Eva Noblezada and Professor Alison Morooney. Jay’na first saw Noblezada in Hadestown and admires her vulnerability in sharing real experiences regarding mental health. In college, Jay’na has helped direct Little Women alongside Professor Marooney and respects her intentionality and inclusivity in the way she carries herself and her work. They continuously assist Jay’na’s growth as an artist. In the future, Jay’na hopes “to perform for as long as [they are] physically able to.” They also desire to “go back to school with a directing track” and eventually “teach and direct at a collegiate level” to inspire other theatre artists. Still, Jay’na is grateful for the present opportunities as they believe there is art in their journey. Jay’na notes that they are “destined to live a full-circle life” and that “good things will come in time”, primarily delivered as a reminder to their younger self. Currently, Jay’na is preparing for her in-school productions of Sweet Charity and Lord of the Flies, where she will play Helene and Jack, respectively. More of Jay’na’s artistry can be found on their platforms: Instagram @jay.nuhh, Website https://jaynapjohnson02.wixsite.com/jaynajohnson, and YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/@jaynajohnson9372.
Where/how do you gather inspiration?
I gather a lot of my inspiration from my peers. Being in a small department, we all spend a lot of time together and it’s super rewarding to get to watch your friends grow and challenge themselves as performers. We’re constantly uplifting one another and engaging in conversations about theater and performance and everything that comes with wanting to enter this really crazy business. I find inspiration in seeing Broadway shows, watching Variety’s Actors on Actors, engaging in discussions about theatre, and creating media. I also just try to experience as many parts of life as I can. I’m a huge believer in this quote from Stella Adler that reads “Growth as an actor and growth as a human are synonymous.” I think the life we lead is the roots of the art we produce, and the more you go out and plant those roots, the better and more inspired your art will be.
What do you hope audiences retain from your work?
I hope when people look at my body of work and can find humanity in the characters I’ve been able to portray onstage. I think it’s so important as an actor to be able to mirror humanity and the complexities of life, no matter how large or small the part is.
Curated and written by Bell Pendon
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/@jaynajohnson9372