Greetings, Janesville! I would like to take a moment and RE-introduce myself to the artistic community of Rock County. My name is Callie Johnson-Schouten and I am honored to be able to return to my home town and host my theater workshop at the Janesville Performing Arts Center on July 16th! I have been so blessed to work in professional theater all over the world and am ecstatic to have the opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experiences to the theater community of Rock County.
I grew up like every other kid in Janesville. I took dance classes and vocal lessons locally, performed in the musicals and participated in cheerleading and poms at Parker High School. It was apparent from an early age that I “had something special”, but what was I going to do with it? As a child, my parents encouraged me in all aspects of the arts. I was in school all day, but in the evenings I LIVED at the dance studio, most of the time being there five hours a night, five days a week with private lessons on Saturdays and dance company rehearsals from 10am-6pm on Sundays. I look back now and wonder how I ever did that! But I loved it. It wasn’t work. It was the only place I felt “at home”. I had a full time job at 12 years old and didn’t even realize it! My mother carted me to Rockford, Madison, Chicago, Milwaukee for classes every single week. If there was an opportunity to perform she had me doing it. I remember being in middle school and performing one-man shows at the Senior Center! It was an outlet and she was going to be sure I took advantage of it! If there was an audition she was going to get me there whether I was appropriate for the show or not. The Fireside, The old Clock Tower Theater, Madison and Rockford’s “Nutcracker”, you name it she probably had me audition for it. Of course, as a tween and teenager it would get frustrating because I couldn’t go to the school dance because I was going to be at a competition in Indianapolis or the big basketball game because I had a show in Madison. I didn’t understand at the time that she saw something in me that I hadn’t yet. She was prepping me for a professional career in dance and theater. How did she do it?! My parents sacrificed everything, personally and financially, so I could have the chance to live my dream someday. Now that I’m an adult this is not something that is easily forgotten and I am eternally grateful.
But remember, this was in the ‘90’s, Friends! This is before the time of “American Idol”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, “Glee”, “High School Musical”, “The X Factor”, etc! Opportunities were few and far to come by. I am in awe of the leaps and bounds this community has made in the arts in the past 15 years! I tip my hat to all involved! The opportunities available to youth and adults in the arts now are phenomenal! I think it’s absolutely wonderful. But back in 1995, my mother had NO IDEA where to find that “window of opportunity” for me. I remember her telling me at 11 years old, “If you want to move to NYC tomorrow we’ll go.” If I knew then what I know NOW, we would have been living in a 300 square foot studio in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan! But then it was DREAM. It wasn’t real. How was I ever going to compete with New York City professionals? Sure, every summer I was on scholarship studying with some of the greatest choreographers and companies in the nation, but I was still Callie Johnson, the girl who grew up on seven acres of land out on Afton Road! It wasn’t realistic.
So, I continued through high school, attended a UW university in the theater and dance program and continued life as usual. But then in 2006 there were whispers around town of a dinner theater opening downtown. At first, I’ll admit, even I was skeptical! But I chose to post the audition notice for “Miss Saigon” and “Aida” on my theater department’s bulletin board. When I realized no one was planning to attend I heard my mother’s whisper in my ear, “Get your butt to that audition”. It was a long shot, but I thought what do I really have to lose. The answer is nothing. Director Jim Tropp called me a few days later, as I sat at my campus house with my stage manager major roommates, and told me I had booked the first paid, professional gig of my adult career. Their first question: “Do they need stage managers?!”
That’s where my REAL education started. You can learn a lot in a university program, but nothing will prepare you for the knowledge you receive surrounded by professional actors from New York City and Los Angeles. Suddenly I was surrounded by people just like me! They became my roommates, my co-workers, my mentors and my friends. It is at the Janesville Armory I met my professional mentor who has guided me through my own career in the past 7 years. It was her who booked my ticket during our run at The Armory to attend my very first New York City audition for the National (North and South America) Broadway Tour of “Cats”. And I ended up booking it. My journey had begun. Suddenly I was on a bus traveling the country with 30 other performers running around in spandex unitards and fuzzy wigs! Was this real life?! Am I really doing what I love AND getting paid to do it?! Even typing this now I am flabbergasted by how this could have happened to ME.
Before I knew it I was living in New York City and working in every aspect of the industry: national tours, regional theater, dinner theaters, theme parks, cruise lines, television. I was guest teaching and choreographing all over the country, working with show choirs, judging dance competitions and working in casting for major production companies.
In the past two years, my focuses began to shift a bit. I started to really enjoy the idea of casting. Having an eye for talent and knowing where each person fits into “the puzzle”, as I like to call it. This is when I started to receive messages and emails from the next generation of performers in Janesville. “Callie, HELP! What do I need to do to become a performer?” It still makes me chuckle because it always comes back to, “How the heck did I do it?!” I began mentoring Janesville high school students via Facebook, believe it or not! When you’re on a cruise ship for nine months at a time, sometimes not even in the same hemisphere, Facebook really does become your window to the outside world! I’ve helped kids choose the best college program for them all the way to having kids stay with me in New York City to attend classes and auditions! I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for the generosity of people I’ve met along the way. They always told me, “Just be sure you help out someone else when you’re in a position to do so. We’re one giant family.” This couldn’t be more true. From what audition song they should use for their upcoming audition to what opportunities are available to them without having to leave Wisconsin, I’ve received an email about it! It often makes for some interesting challenges for me!
After my wedding in March, my husband and I decided to spend a few months at his home in Holland. As I was discussing an email I had received from one of the kids I mentor from Janesville my husband simply said, “Why don’t you just hold a workshop in Janesville to get as much knowledge out there as possible to these kids?” … … … DUH! Why didn’t I think of that?! And this from my non-artistic, Nautical Engineer husband! Bless him.
I tossed the idea around in my head for a few days before I decided to contact some fellow performers in Los Angeles and New York City to bounce it off them. After some long phone calls via Skype and four hour Facebook sessions I finally chose to reach out to my connections still involved in the arts community in Janesville to see if there was even a market for such a thing. The response was overwhelming! I couldn’t believe how excited, positive and supportive everyone was.
So here I am! We arrived in Janesville on July 5th, just in time for “Hot-ocolypse 2012”, and am anxiously prepping for a two-session workshop for the theater community of Janesville in the comfort of a close high school friend’s air conditioned home! People continue to ask what I am hoping to achieve with these workshops. My response: “I’m not hoping to achieve anything. However, I am hoping for these performers to achieve EVERYTHING they can dream up.” The opportunities in Wisconsin alone are there. They just need to know where to look. This is not an easy task to figure out. You need to find that “window of opportunity”. Hopefully, this is a window I can slide wide open to provide a stepping stone to talented kids just looking for a chance.