BWW Interview: Johanna Day of FLOYD'S at Guthrie Theater
The Guthrie commissioned world premiere show, FLOYD'S, by Lynn Nottage so long ago it was before current artistic director, Joseph Haj, was at the Guthrie. It was worth the wait. But this is not the review, so read that, written by our own Karen Bovard, here. This was a chance to interview cast member Johanna Day, who plays Floyd herself.
Yes, Floyd is a woman, and she's one tough lady. But this subject matter could seem serious in a basic description. However, it's a comedy in the hands of Nottage and her collaborator, who interviewed citizens of Reading, Pennsylvania, to create several pieces, including this one, about returning citizens who were "impacted by the justice system" at a truck stop sandwich shop in the Midwest. One of the other pieces, SWEAT, won a little award for Nottage called a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Nottage is the only woman who has won two of these (SWEAT in 2017 and RUINED in 2009). SWEAT will close the Guthrie's 2019-2020 season next summer.
Day is a busy actor who's in and out of town on her days off from FLOYD'S so this time we get six questions and no plug, but you can check her out in her recurring role in "Madam Secretary." And, I recommend, also check her out in this fun, challenging new show right here in Minneapolis while you can.
From the perspective of your character, Floyd, can you talk about what the play FLOYD'S is about?
Floyd's is about a truck stop sandwich shop in America's Rust Belt. Owned by formerly incarcerated Floyd. She employs other formerly incarcerated individuals, who she knows, can't get work anywhere else. Therefore, she has complete control of them. She crushes their dreams any chance she can, especially when they are trying to make the place, the menu and their lives better.
Production Dramaturg Morgan Holmes mentioned in a recent talk-back that Floyd was always planned to be a woman from the beginning. What did you find out about Floyd from Nottage as you began working on this piece? What did you discover as you created this character?
Lynn said at one point, that Floyd represents the negativity that the workers have in their own mind about getting away from their past and trying to mend their future, the "gatekeeper," if you will.
I learned that Floyd is a product of her own past. She has one speech in which she says, "My narrative is a list of indignities, that would make your skin crawl. Talk to me about cruelty, and I'll teach you something about perseverance!" This taught me a lot!
Floyd is a tough cookie -- and she can even perhaps be described as cruel and vindictive from how she speaks to her employees. What was it like for you to play her treating other human beings as they are lesser than? Was that difficult at all for you?
Oh my, it was so difficult to be so cruel at first! I would say in rehearsal, that I needed to do a cleansing every time I got home. But you've got to go for it. And as a cast, we love and trust each other so much, that we feel safe out there to go full throttle. Thank goodness!
What is it like creating a character in a brand-new piece and specifically while working with Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey?
Creating a new character, in a new play, is truly the most exciting thing to do. Ever. Working with Lynn [Nottage] and Kate [Whoriskey] on that is ideal. It is such an open collaboration, that you feel like you have a real impact on the process.
You worked with them both before in SWEAT, in which you earned a Tony nomination in 2017 (congrats!). How is this new show similar and different than SWEAT?
Floyd's is set in the same region as Sweat. I think the connection between the two plays, comes out of all the interviews that Kate and Lynn did with the people in Reading, Pennsylvania. There is overlap from Sweat, in Floyd's, and if you know Sweat well, you will connect that. But you absolutely don't have to have seen Sweat to get Floyd's!
You have an esteemed career (see Johanna's bio below!) on stage and screen. What lead you to a career as an actor?
What lead me to being an actor is a very long set of circumstances. As a wee child, I use to say to my family, that I was going to be an actor. With no real reason for that statement. I guess it was meant to be. I'm lucky!
FLOYD's plays through Aug. 31, 2019 at the McGuire Proscenium stage at the Guthrie. For more info and tickets, visit www.guthrietheater.org.
Johanna Day (Floyd) bio: GUTHRIE Debut. THEATER Broadway: The Nap, Sweat, You Can't Take It With You, August: Osage County, Lombardi, Proof; Regional: Peace for Mary Frances (The New Group), Peter and Jerry (Second Stage Theater), Appropriate (Signature Theatre), Poor Behavior (Mark Taper Forum), The Realistic Joneses (Yale Repertory Theatre), Choice (Huntington Theatre Company), The Rainmaker (Arena Stage), How I Learned to Drive (Vineyard Theatre). FILM/TELEVISION The Great Gilly Hopkins, How Far She Went, The Breatharians; "Madam Secretary" (recurring role for five seasons), "New Amsterdam," "The Knick," "The Americans," "Masters of Sex," "Alpha House," "Royal Pains." AWARDS Obie Award; Lilly Award; Helen Hayes Award; Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations