Dynamic Duo

Sweat Stars Michelle Wilson & Johanna Day Talk Creating Complex Characters, Birthday Traditions, and Their Tony Award Nominations

May 24th, 2017 by

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Sweat Stars Michelle Wilson & Johanna Day Talk Creating C...

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat explores life over eight years in Reading, Pennsylvania and what happens when a factory that is the town's life source decides to no longer employ the local community. The story unfolds through the lense of a longtime friendship between Cynthia (Tony nominee Michelle Wilson) and Tracey (Tony nominee Johanna Day) and their two teenage sons.

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Michelle Wilson Sweat GIF- Messy Complicated Awesome GIF

Both Michelle and Johanna received 2017 Tony Award nominations for Best Featured Actress in a Play for their incredible, heartbreaking, and raw performances. BroadwayBox caught up with the dynamic duo to talk about their onstage and offstage friendship, performing the piece for the community of Reading, PA, and the first things they did when they found out they had each been nominated.


My first impression of her:

Michelle:
She was so beautiful and brassy.

Johanna:
I noticed her freckles and her open beautiful smile! And I thought, “Wow, she's really little.” But quickly realized she is "giant".


The biggest way our performances have changed or grown from the downtown run at The Public:

Michelle:
We still break each other’s hearts every night.

Johanna:
Kate Whoriskey continued to chisel away at the scenes. Fine tune everything. So, everything is deeper and richer, and continues to be that way.


One thing Lynn Nottage told me that informed my performance of this character:

Michelle:
Use the contractions!!

Johanna:
So much! I think something that is actually described in the script, is that Tracey is a laugher. Sort of her protection. In exploring that, I've been learning a lot more about her.


A small moment we share in the show that I love:

Michelle:
The moment before we go on for 1:4. We tell stupid jokes and pantomime John Earl Jelks monologue before we go on.

Johanna:
I love the moments that we show affection—that our deep friendship shines through.


The scene in Sweat that challenges me most as a performer:

Michelle:
One?!! Have you seen the show? Jeez!

Johanna:
More than one. But, the scene in the first act, that I come in during Jessie's birthday party, because there is a lot going on with Tracey and not many words to communicate those things. 


My favorite birthday tradition is:

Michelle:
If my mother remembers to call me, I know that my brothers or daughter has called to remind her. She remembers none of our birthdays, seriously, ask my therapist.

Johanna:
When first in New York, my friends and I would always say our birthdays last a week. And I continue to try to make that happen!!


The most memorable performance we’ve shared of Sweat:

Michelle:
The night we travelled and performed for the Reading, PA audience. It was a stripped-down set, and our ensemble was nervous that they wouldn’t buy us representing their communities’ crisis. It was the most generous, invested and present audience to date.

Johanna:
There are two. The performance at The Public the day after the election, and we had a talk back—It was deep. And when we performed in Reading, Pennsylvania. Amazing.


The most surprising thing Sweat has taught me about myself:

Michelle:
I have a huge capacity to hold space for folks I don’t always agree with, but still love deeply.

Johanna:
That I was much more ignorant about what was going on in our country. Much more.


I’m in awe of her ability to:

Michelle:
Johanna Day can hold so much pain and fear as if it was her own. She moves herself out of the way and channels a depth of emotion that is spellbinding.

Johanna:
Michelle is a hard ass working actress. She is so passionate, and she has so much empathy for everything. She notices all. That makes her a great actress!!


The first thing I did after finding out about my Tony Award nom:

Michelle:
I called Johanna and we laughed without talking for what seemed like an eternity, and that’s how long I hope we are friends.

Johanna:
I screamed. Texted a lot. And had a sip of champagne. And said thank you.

Don't miss Michelle Wilson & Johanna Day in 'Sweat' at Broadway's Studio 54.