Wednesday, March 2, 2016

PHX Stages Q/A: Johanna Carlisle

by Gil Benbrook

Native Arizonian Johanna Carlisle is one of the most beloved actresses in the Valley, and a woman that seems to never stop working.

She has played some of the most beloved major comical or villainous musical roles across the stages of Phoenix Theatre and Arizona Broadway Theatre over the past decade. She's portrayed Miss Hannigan in Annie and the comically delicious Madame Thernardier in Les Miserables at ABT and the evil nanny Miss Andrew in Mary Poppins and the just as evil Mayor in The Toxic Avenger at Phoenix Theatre.

But Carlisle is equally at home in dramas and comedies, having just appeared as the busty and bawdy Celia in Calendar Girls at PT, and two seasons ago delivered a knock-out, emotionally raw, performance in The Whale at Stray Cat Theatre. She's performed in numerous other Stray Cat plays as well as appeared in over a half dozen shows at Nearly Naked Theatre, including playing both Eddie and Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Show and the heartbreaking Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers. Johanna has also worked at other theatres across town and made her directorial debut directing the youth musical 13 at Theater Works last season.

Currently playing the lovable Yente, the matchmaker, in the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof at Arizona Broadway Theatre, Carlisle took a break from Fiddler rehearsals to sit down and answer the the PHX Stages Q/A:

Kat Bailes, and Johanna Carlisle in Fiddler on the Roof - Arizona Broadway Theatre 2016
photo: MikeBPhoto.net

Name: Johanna Carlisle

Where you were born and or raised:  Born in Tucson and lived in various parts of AZ, Paraguay and Iowa.

What made you decide to stay in or return to Arizona?  I came back after college to save money to move to NYC.  My family lives here.  That move is still pending LOL
 
What your parents did/do for a living:   My parents were all educators with PhD or EdD. My mom retired as Associate Superintendent of the Roosevelt School district, My Step-dad John retired as Superintendent of the Eloy Unified School District and my Papi taught modern languages at numerous Universities in Texas.  My Papi was also an Episcopalian Dean (Monsignor) and Dean of the Anglican School of Theology.

Siblings: 1 half-brother Vincent from my Papi’s second marraige  

Family/Children:  Maxx Carlisle-King, and, unfortunately a second son Geoffrey who was stillborn.
     
Day job/part time job (if not acting full time):  I am a working actor but I also bartend at Phoenix Theatre and hope to soon also be a Postmate.

First show you ever saw:  Hansel and Gretel at NAU ( I was 3)  At least this is the first show I remember.

Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:  I am not sure if there was a time I didn’t want to perform for a living.  But for sure when I saw A Chorus Line.  It changed my world.

The one performance you attended that you will never forget:  Seeing A Chorus Line at the Schubert Theatre in LA

First stage kiss: When I played Guinevere in Camelot

Best stage experience you’ve had so far acting?  Playing Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers

What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of your current/ most recent show?    I have always wanted to do Fiddler on the Roof.  I am so happy to work with this cast but honestly our ensemble make this the most fun!

with Damon Dering in The Whale
Stray Cat Theatre - 2014
photo: John Groseclose
Most challenging role you have played onstage?   Mary in The Whale
   
Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about?  I have something coming up but can’t tell what it is yet.

What was the first show you performed in and what did you learn from it that you still use today? When I was 6 and was the narrator in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  There is something glorious about a live audience reaction.  It feeds the soul.

Leading role you've been dying to play:  Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd (dying to play… see what I did there?)
   
Leading role of the opposite sex you wish you could play: Sweeney Todd, Javert

Guilty pleasure show you’d love to perform in:  I still would love to play Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and any version of Forbidden Broadway

Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:  I have an opening night ritual but it is secret.  Sorry.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:   During a dramatic moment in Naked Eye with Nearly Naked Theatre, I had to stomp upstairs in a ballgown and carry a huge wrapped picture in a frame.  During a preview, my heel got caught in the hem of my dress and I face planted on the stairs and broke the frame.  Glass shattered but luckily it was wrapped.  The audience and my cast all gasped and looked at me.  I got back up and hissed “I am fine” and proceed to stomp off.  Oy good times.
       
Worst costume ever:  When I was 12, I was Bumps the Butler in Sleeping Beauty of Loreland… it was this blue and pink outfit that was so not chic LOL

Best costume ever:   My costume for Miss Andrew in Mary Poppins was pretty damn epic.    

with Brad Rupp in Les Miserables - Arizona Broadway Theatre - 2015
photo: MikeBPhoto.net
Your go to audition monologue/song:  Monologue:  The Last Days of Judas Escariot (His Mom’s opening monologue)  Song:  "Brimstone and Treacle" from Mary Poppins

Worst audition experience:  It was in 1990.  Auditioned for Peter Pan.  The panel never looked at me.  Called me Joe-hey-na the whole time and while I was singing one person called to order a pizza.  WHILE I WAS SINGING.  I wrote a poem about it.  It was tragic.

If you could go back in time and catch any performer or show, what would they/it be?     Ethel Merman in Anything Goes  

Famous past stage or screen star(s) you would have loved to have performed with:  Gene Kelly, David Bowie and Alan Rickman

Actor/actress in the Phoenix area you'd love to perform with:  I have been so blessed to work with most of the people I love and admire.  I know Bob Sorenson no longer lives here, but I sure would love to perform with him.

Your personal acting idols: Carol Burnett, Helen Mirren, Kathy Fitzgerald, Robin Ferracane, Ethel Merman
               
Performer you would drop everything to go see:  Freddie Mercury but in reality Maxx Carlisle-King

Current/recent show other than one of your own you have been recommending
to friends:  Evita at Phoenix Theatre

Favorite play(s):  Noises Off, Polaroid Stories, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, A Midsummer’s Night Dream
     
Favorite musical(s):   Wicked, Something Rotten, Spamalot, Gigi, Pricilla Queen of the Desert, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George
   
Some favorite modern plays/musicals: I listed some above but I also like An Act of God, Hand to God, In the Heights and Tic Tic Boom

Carlise in The Toxic Avenger - Phoenix Theatre 2015
photo: Erin Evangeline Photography
Favorite showtune(s) of all time:  Ugh how can I possibly pick?  "I Hate Musicals" from Ruthless! is one I love to perform but I think I have to say "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.

Most listened song/music on your iPod/Phone?  Chrome by VNV Nation

First CD/Tape/LP you owned:    1st 45 was Abba’s Take a Chance on Me.  1st Album was the Bee Gees Sprits Having Flown.  First 8 track Star Wars and 1st CD was Duran Duran’s Big Thing.  1st Cassette was the Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bullocks

Last good book you read:  My Child the Doberman by Michael Sherwin

Must-see TV show(s):  Castle, Gotham, Agents of Shield, Grimm, Orphan Black, Sense8 (We watch a lot of TV on the computer), American Horror Story, American Crime Story

Guilty pleasure binge watching tv show:  Dance Moms

Last good movie you saw: Deadpool

Favorite movie:  Singin' in the Rain

Music/book/movie that makes you cry:   De-Lovely

Favorite restaurant in the Valley: Fez

Favorite cities:  New York, London, Bueno Aires

Sports teams you root for:  I really don’t follow a team but I used to be a Chicago Bears, Bulls and Cubs fan

Something about you that might surprise people:  I was a sorority girl (President my senior year too) and on the pom line in high school and college.  ( I lettered in HS and college)

Special skills:  I can touch my nose with my tongue

Career you would want if not a performer:  Marine biologist studying sharks  
with Brandi Bigley in
The Rocky Horror Show
Nearly Naked Theatre - 2008
photo: Chris Mascarelli

Worst non-theatre job you've had: Every job has it’s ups and downs but the worst was when I did telemarketing for the AZ Gazette (I lasted 1 day and quit)

Best non-theatre job you've had:  Bartending

Three things you can't live without: I can live without most things but let’s say eyeliner, my phone and my sock monkey footie pajamas.
   
Words of advice for aspiring performers:  Keep exploring the world.  Take time to people watch.  Find moments in life that bring you ever gambit of emotions and remember them when the time comes.  It is ok to not get the gig.  Learn from the experience of each audition.  It is ok to doubt your decision to be a performer.   We have great days and sucky days.   Never stop learning.

What you love most about theatre in Phoenix: I love the variety of theatres in the Valley from youth theatre to alternative theatre.  We have some amazing talent in town!

What you think needs to be changed/improved/different about theatre in Phoenix:  We need more people to come and support the arts.  We have lost some amazing theatres recently and that is a shame.  Support the arts like you support sports.  We are gladiators in our own arenas.

And, the “Inside the Actors Studio” 10 questions:
1. What is your favorite word?  Twitterpated

2. What is your least favorite word? Trump

3. What turns you on?  An intelligent conversation

4. What turns you off?  My ex…just kidding…Stupidity

5. What sound do you love?  My son’s laughter

6. What sound do you hate? Gum being chewed with an open mouth

7. What is your favorite curse word?  Fuck

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

9. What profession would you not like to do? Mortician

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?  Surprise…you made it!

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