BWW Interviews: Starina Johnson, A Life in the Theatre

By: Mar. 18, 2010

If Starina Johnson is a little slow in returning your phone calls this week, give her a break! This week, she finds herself in hell - of a sort - as she and her co-stars prepare for the opening night of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the third offering in ACT 1's (Artists Cooperative Theatre 1) 20th anniversary season. Opening Friday night, March 29, and continuing through Saturday, April 3, at Darkhorse Theatre, Virginia Woolf features Johnson in the role of Honey, as she shares the stage with First Night Award-winning actress Melissa Bedinger Hade as Martha, real estate wiz and local TV personality Ed Amatrudo as George and Matthew Scott Baxter as Nick.

Obviously, the cast is being put through their paces by director Michael Roark in anticipation of the arrival of audiences later this week, but for Johnson, it's just another day at the office. She stays busy onstage, thanks to her burgeoning stage career, and on-set, thanks to her thriving film career, but somehow she found the time to respond to our questions in order to give readers a glimpse into her "Life in the Theatre." Read it, savor it and then go see the real thing for yourself, in person and onstage at Darkhorse Theatre through April 3. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. (CDT) with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. at Darkhorse Theatre, 4610 Charlotte Avenue in Nashville. For reservations, call (615) 726-2281, and for further informatin about ACT 1, visit the company's website at

What was your first taste of theatre?
Growing up I was always in school plays, but I remember in sixth grade our teacher decided to do a very short play version of The Nutcracker. The girl who was cast as the lead didn't memorize her lines and I kept having to feed them to her. I was horrified someone would not take a lead role seriously. Yeah, anytime a sixth grader is horrified about something it's pretty serious. But then again everything is serious to an eleven year old.

What was your first real job or responsibility in the theatre?
Acting. I discovered in college I had a knack for being a properties artisan (which I really loved), but acting has always been first and foremost in my life.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in theatre?
In truth I always tried to do other things. In college I was originally a psychology major, but theatre kept paying the bills (which I've been told is not normal). Plus all my scholarships were for acting and public speaking, so I decided to try and stick with it.

Why do you pursue your art in Nashville? What are the best parts of working here?
I have to be honest, I really don't pursue live theatre in Nashville. There is not a lot of paying live theatre opportunities here, and those opportunities seem to go to the same people in town. Because of that I have a tendency to only audition for roles I really love, as opposed to other cities where I would audition for anything just because of my general love of theatre. Don't get me wrong, the paying live theatre scene in Nashville has gotten better since I moved here in 2004, but in truth the whole reason I started performing in film was because of a lack of paying theatre opportunities here. So really my stuff lives in Nashville, but I get paid to perform outside of this town. The theatre people I have had the honor of working with here have been amazing though. And I firmly believe Nashville has the best community theatre I've ever encountered. In most cases I'd rather see the community theatre shows than the professional shows here. Also, the film people in town are absolutely the best. Their creativity and ingenuity never ceases to amaze me.

If you could play any role, direct any work, design any production, mount any production...what would it be and why?
Mourning Becomes Electra. I have always wanted to play Lavinia. It is my dream role. Her character is so complex, and I love O'Neill. He's works absolutely entice me. I recently had a discussion with a director friend of mine about the use of character stage directions within a play; O'Neill is genius at this and was my prime example. My friend's theory was that these directions were harmful to actors because you then "act" that emotions or direction instead of being present within the play; I disagreed because how a character reacts in a situation tells an actor exactly what kind of person the character they are playing is. To me those directions are pure gold in terms of character development.

Who would play you in the film version of your life story?
Apparently Amy Adams. I keep being told we look alike. Oh course I also keep being told I look like Danica Patrick, but I somehow don't think she'd be willing to trade in her NASCAR experiences for a film role.

What's your favorite play/musical?
My favorite play is Mourning Becomes Electra. My favorite musical is a toss-up between City of Angels and Big River.

If you could have dinner with any three figures (living or dead, real or fictional) who are a part of the theatre, who would you choose and why?
1. David Auburn. Ever since I played Catherine in Proof I have had a very serious question to ask this man. It's actually bordering on an obsession. You see, the only fact about mathematics I know is that you never say the word "and" in numbers because it indicates a decimal point. For example 107 is written out "one hundred seven" not "one hundred and seven." If you say "one hundred and seven" it would look like 100.7. In his play he writes out a number using "and." The only way I could get through it was to say it mockingly towards Hal (who had said it just before Catherine). She's the daughter of a math genius! Why would she, or any of the other mathematician characters say "and" in a number?!? They would know better. So I really want to know why he put that in there.
2. Oscar Wilde, because I think it would be an amazing experience. I find his personality fascinating.
3. Eugene O'Neill, because I love his work and think the conversations would be incredible.

Imagine a young person seeing you onstage or seeing a production in which you played a major role coming up to you and asking you for advice in pursuing their own theatrical dream...what would you say?
Work hard, listen when those more experienced talk, and have fun.