Jay Armstrong Johnson
Jay Armstrong Johnson

Characters who typically take the sidelines (read: chorus) in musicals take center stage in Working, which just finished its run at 59E59 Theaters. The six-actor cast portrayed 36 ordinary Americans, from construction workers and bricklayers to waitresses and washroom attendants -- characters based on radio broadcaster Studs Terkel's interviews, compiled in his 1974 bestseller Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. Before the New Year, TheaterMania interviewed six members of the ensemble cast about their former gigs as non-actors, from cleaning barbels to checking the coats of drag queens. Next up: Jay Armstrong Johnson, who will hit the stage again this March in Hands on a Hardbody, and who may have previously sold you a cashmere sweater.

What was your first job ever?

When I was thirteen years old I played John Darling in Cathy Rigby's Peter Pan, back home in Texas. I was paid a $300 stipend for the entire rehearsal process and run of the show. I was rich.

Were you good at it?

All I knew [was] that I was having fun and making friends with ridiculously cool people who were great at what they did.

What did your parents do for a living when you were growing up?

Dad was a sales manager for Nabisco foods, and mom was a middle school nurse. Now Dad runs his own BBQ catering business, Fast Freddie's BBQ, and mom works for the City of Fort Worth.

What was the worst job you've ever had and why?

It wasn't terrible, but I was a sales associate-slash-cashier at the J. Crew on Fifth Avenue. The only reason it was the worst was because I wasn't doing what I loved.

Who is the hardest working person you know and why?

Right now, I would have to say Donna Lynn Champlin. Anyone who is able to make a living in the arts is a hero, but to watch DLC do such incredible work -- on top of being a new mom -- absolutely blows my mind.