Even after performing on Broadway, actor Chike Johnson still has flashes of doubt about his career.
“I still have those moments where I question myself: ‘What am I doing with my my life?’ he says. “You just have to stick with it and do your thing. Create your own way.”
That’s exactly what Johnson’s done. While he initially planned to study to be a military reporter at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (he had served in the military for four years), Johnson quickly discovered his true passion at the Peck School of the Arts.
“I took Raeleen McMillion’s Intro to the Actor’s Art [an acting class for non-majors] and I fell in love with acting and creating characters,” he says. “After class, I approached Raeleen and told her the process of an actor deeply intrigued me. I asked her to tutor me; she gave me lessons once or twice a week.”
Johnson delved into the actor’s art. “[The program] opened me up as a person, especially coming out of the military. It really taught me what it takes to be an actor: understanding the text, becoming partners with those on stage and off, connecting with the audience. I had a very well-rounded education,” he says.
But Johnson’s nerves were always there, challenging his dedication. “I used to get so nervous,” he recalls. “I even thought about quitting. I found that once I got on stage, if I just focused I would be fine. The program helped me get over my nerves.”
In his final year at UWM, Johnson landed the role of King Ubu in a production of Ubu, Roi, and his confidence finally matched his talent. “It was my first lead role, and I thought, ‘OK, I’m moving toward that path.’ It pushed me into a different realm.”
After graduation Johnson spent a few years in Spain, traveling and acting on stage and screen. When he returned home to the Milwaukee, fellow theatre alum Patrick Sims recommended him for roles with Next Act and In Tandem Theatre. He worked at First Stage and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, before being offered a part in a reading of The Unmentionables at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. After relocating to Chicago and working on several projects, he performed in a production of Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, a collaboration between The Goodman Theatre and The Manhattan Theatre Club. Johnson then found himself in New York City, where he most recently appeared in the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway revival of Wit.
What advice does a Broadway actor have for aspiring thespians? Keep expanding your horizons. “Find out what life is about,” Johnson says. “Having time for yourself to do something different makes you grow. Having more experiences just adds to the work.”