Actress Seeks To Inspire Chicago Youth

Jasondra Johnson is taking off her cap and gown and putting on a church dress and a "crown." 

The recent St. Xavier University graduate has found a unique way to put her clinical psychology degree to good use by engaging in a "role-playing" exercise.

Johnson plays "Velma" in the return of Regina Taylor's Crowns at Goodman Theatre--opening Saturday, June 30.  The popular stage play was written by Taylor but adapted from a book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. For years, the production has been a crowd favorite because of its integration of church fashion, gospel music, and African-American culture. 

This time, the setting of the play changes from Brooklyn to Chicago's gritty Englewood neighborhood--where Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson grew up. The main character, Yolanda, played by Marketta P. Wilder, moves from Chicago to the South where she receives "musical therapy" and "hatitude" from a group of women which includes Johnson's character, "Velma." 

 In April, Ms. Taylor told the National Association of Black Journalists Chicago chapter that she wanted a local focus and local talent for this particular run of the production.

That's how Johnson learned about the opportunity. The Thornwood High School graduate got a call from her speech coach--who was involved with the auditioning process that nonprofessional actors were invited to try out. The 22 year-old Goodman Theatre newcomer followed through and the rest is history.  

Last week, she spoke with Zack's TV about what it means to be apart of such a historic theater project.

 How has it been to work with Regina Taylor?
She’s amazing! She’s such a warm spirit; she’s very easy going and very cool and calm, collective, and I feel like I’ve already began to get so much inspiration from her—just working with her doing workshops and everything—so I’m really excited to begin practice and you know, work with her and just to pull from her energy.

How have you grown as an actress while preparing for this role?

I find myself really trying to focus on discipline and as far as learning the script and memorizing lines and pushing myself to be the best that I can be as far as acting and pulling out the emotion that is needed from my character. Even while singing the songs, I just find myself trying to push myself even more and become more dedicated as a person and it’s establishing itself in many different areas of my life as well.

How can this inspire teens from the city?

Specifically, Chicago, I think that a main issue that folks are facing right now is teen crime and the teens dying in the streets and everything. And that is a part of the play, another layer of the play in which the main character loses her brother to the streets. So, I think it is something that the teens who come to see the play will be able to relate to because so many of them have lost friends to gang crime and all different types of things.

So, I think that basically they’ll get a lot of inspiration from the play because they’ll find that even when you’re facing adversities such as teen crime and losing a friend and your loved ones—there is a way to come out and you can do better for your life. This [play] is definitely going to be an inspiration to many youth of Chicago and they are facing similar situations as Yolanda.

What’s your ultimate dream as an actress?

You know, I actually—I find myself wondering and thinking about that question more so now because I hadn’t at first [given that] I’m a clinical psychology major. So now I think my goal as an actress—I’ve always been a person who just wants to inspire and touch as many people as I can. And I think that being an actress and doing plays and such will allow me that outlet to reach many people and just inspire them to do whatever they feel they would love to do—follow their passion and their dreams. But I don’t want to do this only to get accolades from my peers.

Tonys? Oscars? Emmys?

I think that receiving a Tony in the future will be amazing. An Oscar or anything! But I would say my main goal is just to inspire lives. I think that would be the greatest reward for me.

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Crowns opens Saturday, June 30 and runs through Sunday, August 5 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL .

For tickets, call 1.312.443.3800 or visit the official Crowns website

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