Callie Johnson is still pinching herself.
The Genoa native won a Joseph Jefferson Award, or a Jeff Award, on Nov. 4 for her role in playing reporter Melba Snyder in the musical “Pal Joey” at Porchlight Music Theatre in Chicago.
Johnson was the only person nominated in her category. She recently spoke with reporter Andrea Azzo about the honor.
Azzo: What exactly is the award you won?
Johnson: The Jeff Award is like Chicago’s version of the regional Tony Award. I played Melba Snyder, a reporter who has this showstopping number, like a strip tease number. She’s this woman who has glasses, walks strangely and talks about famous people she’s interviewed.
Azzo: What was it like winning?
Johnson: I didn’t know I could even be nominated. Porchlight Music Theatre is an equity theater comany with an actors’ union. I’m not part of the union. I’m a nonequity member, so I didn’t know I could be nominated. When the list came out, I was the only one in my category, which ultimately meant I won.
I was so shocked and excited. When I told my mom, she didn’t believe me for half a second. I emailed her the nomination list, and my mom immediately bought tickets for the ceremony.
I can’t even describe the feeling.
The ceremony was Nov. 4 at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook. Everybody who’s anybody in the Chicago theater community was there. It was unbelievable seeing all these people I had seen in shows. It was a huge night for Chicago theater.
Azzo: What are some things you’re doing now in terms of theatrical performances?
Johnson: This has been a really exciting year for me.
The past two summers, I spent time at a Wisconsin theater working there. I just closed “A Christmas Carol” at a theater in Munster, Ind. I’m in rehearsal for “The Tempest,” which will play Feb. 4 at the City Lit Theatre Company in Chicago. After that, “Carrie The Musical” will play May 29 with Bailiwick Theater Company at Victory Garden Theater in Chicago.
Azzo: Why do you perform?
Johnson: There’s nothing like being on stage. There’s no feeling quite like it. I love performing in front of an audience, but I also love the rehearsal process, doing research on show characters and being able to explore things in the rehearsal room.
There’s no job quite like it. I’m excited to go to work every day.
The people are so wonderful. We don’t do this for the money. We’re there to create art and to change people. I do theater because of the effect theater has on me when I see it. I walk away reflecting on my own life experiences and gaining a new perspective on life. It’s one of the most magical art forms.
I’m still Callie from Genoa, Illinois. I don’t feel any different. I still feel the same.
The thing that matters to me is doing good art and having my family and best friends with me. I feel more excited about life.