Kevin Ray Johnson
I would like you to meet Chelsea Williams. This recent Graduate from The Juilliard School will be making her Broadway debut in the upcoming Revival of Oklahoma (directed by Daniel Fish) as an understudy for the roles of Ado Annie, Laurey Williams, and Gertie Cummings. Other credits for her include Girl From The North Country at The Public, X or Betty Shabazz V. The Nation at The Acting Company, at Unknown Soldier at The Williamstown Theatre Festival. I honestly have such deep respect for Swings and Understudies on Broadway (or anywhere for that matter) because at any moment notice their name can be called and when you are covering or understudying several roles you always have to stay ready. The strength (mental and physical) of an understudy I feel sometimes can be overlooked by a theatre fan so it was quite an honor and privilege to have the chance to interview this very talented actress!
How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a performer?
Honestly, my love for performing goes as far back as my ability to remember. I remember being a kid running around the house singing into a TV remote (my microphone) and a broomstick (my mic stand). One of my fondest memories as a child was sitting in a car seat in the back of my mother’s Volvo singing along with Whitney Houston, Bebe and Cece Winans’ “Hold Up the Light.” My mom played that song until the cassette broke.
Where did you study? Are there any mentors that genuinely helped make you the performer you are today?
I’m a recent graduate of The Juilliard School. Before that, I attended Florida A&M University (Support Black Colleges!). Before that, I attended New World School of the Arts HighSchool, and before that, I was a magnet student at Norland Middle School in Miami, Florida. I have been fortunate to have many mentors and notable teachers, but one of my earliest drama teachers Tanisha Cidel had an enormous impact on my life. It was in her middle school Drama class that I began to get serious about being an actor/singer. It is no surprise that Ms. Cidel discovered the two youngest lead in Best Picture Winner Moonlight, a movie she also acted in! She is an angel, and I am only one of the many artists she inspired!
Congratulations on Oklahoma! What are you looking forward to most about this show?
This production is truly special and I am so very grateful to be a part of it as it moves to Broadway! I am most excited about the story and the way it will affect people in 2019. It’s human and deeply honest. It is existential of America.
What would you say is the most exciting and challenging part of being an understudy?
The joy of being an understudy is knowing that you are supporting the ensemble and honoring the story (at a moments notice). I get to learn three distinct characters. I sort of make my own rehearsal schedule outside of rehearsal and the more I watch and study the more I discover my own process as an actor. It all takes discipline and focus. I also take Fish Oil supplements because my grandma used to say that helps with memory haha.
Are there any shows (Prior to Oklahoma) that you have done in your career that will always be near and dear to your heart?
Girl From The North Country (The Public Theater) and Seven Guitars (my final year at Juilliard) both Life changing experiences. I could actually write a book about it.
What advice would you give young performers who want a career in this business?
Work on your craft! There are many things that may attract you to a career in Acting, but I will say you must love the craft above all. Get in a class. Get a mentor. Go see shows (Not just the ones you could be in but also the ones that you may not see yourself in). Meet people! First, believe in yourself. Then, surround yourself with people who believe in you! Become financially literate. Write your own story. Don’t be phased by rejection. You will most likely receive some form of it. Instead of asking “why me?” Ask “what is this teaching me?”. Carve out time to be somewhat normal. Learn to cook. Read a book. But most importantly get spiritual (whatever that means to you) and take care of yourself.