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She runs the Civic Theatre. And owns a foldable kayak

Steve Lange's 10 (or so) questions with ... Misha Johnson, managing director at Rochester Civic Theatre (and a 1999 Mayo grad).

Misha Johnson
Misha Johnson on Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rochester, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
We are part of The Trust Project.

When can your soul trust again? When can you let me in?

What’s that?

When can your soul trust again? When can you let me in?

I am not sure how to answer that.

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That’s from a song you wrote, called “10,000 years.”

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Oh, yeah. As a voiceover artist, an actress, a director who sees and reads hundreds of hundreds of scripts, and writes hundreds of songs a year, and does hundreds of voiceovers a year, they really do come in and they go out.

The answer to “When can your soul trust again?” is “Not until you’ve crawled in my skin.” Or “Not at least for 10,000 years.” Just so you know, I guess.

I love that you’re quoting me. That’s hilarious.

Were you involved in Rochester Civic Theatre when you were little?

Doug Sween (longtime theater set designer) talks about me as a little kid in the shop with my dad (Roger) helping paint sets. And my mom (Sandee) started the art gallery at the Civic Theater when it was connected to the Civic Center. She also was one of the founders of SEMVA.

I’ll give you some names: Katherine Boyum, David Bradley, Moira Donovan, Rebecca Duenes ...

Those are Mayo speech team members. Wow. What research. Mr. Talley was our speech teacher. A wonderful, wonderful teacher.

You all won the Speech Honor Plaque. OK. Tell me about the University of Colorado Boulder.

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After high school, I was actually going out East to study songwriting. I was in Colorado (taking) some acting classes and met a professor in the theater department. He said “Let me teach you how to make a living doing theater.” So I stayed in Colorado for college. It was a really small conservatory program. I spent four years training in all aspects of theater — costume, lights, building sets, learning voiceover. I was a union actress in Denver for about 16 years.

And during that time you spent two years in Thailand?

Yes. I was working with a program that oversees teens as they do service projects. We worked with monks, worked with an elephant nature park and helped organize projects. We lived in a very small fishing village helping teach English. My two kids — Lorelei (now 18) and Kay (now 16) — were with me and it was an amazing experience.

What was your takeaway from living in Thailand, besides learning how to fish?

That I did not learn. I learned how much I love other cultures. That I love living minimally. That I love the interaction with people. Even if you don’t speak their language, you can still interact. And people are so helpful.

You came back to Rochester?

My mom got sick. I came back to Rochester to be with her. She’s fine now. But in that process, I went to the Civic Theatre and said, “Hey, do you guys need some help? I have lots of theater training.”

They brought me in and so I directed “The Addams Family” and “Shrek.”

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Now you’re the managing director with a new business model for the theater. Can you nutshell that?

Before, the Civic Theatre did six to seven shows a year, and that building was only the Civic Theatre. Now we’ve opened up the doors to a series of other nonprofits, so we host over 20 different community groups throughout the year, which means we’re ridiculously busy. We have dance groups and theater groups and other nonprofits who need meeting space, or space for one-off events. We’re really now a true performing arts complex, in my opinion.

Right on. Weirdest hobbies.

I am a kayak fanatic.

Hey! We just bought three of those really cheap inflatable kayaks. I’m guessing you don’t have one of those.

I have an Oru kayak. One of the foldable ones. An origami kayak.

That’s way nicer than my inflatable. The Oru kayaks are awesome.

It is awesome. And everyone watches as you set it up. They do not believe you are going to float.

But you do, right?

Oh, yeah. You definitely do. I love going down the Mississippi. I love the outdoors. My daughter laughs at me because I can get dressed to the nines for all my theater shows. But you throw me in a backpack and my kayak and, “See ya!” I’ll be just fine.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

Related Topics: PEOPLEODDCHESTERROCHESTER
Opinion by Steve Lange
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