Jojo Brown Takes on Seven Questions About Her Trippy Charm Experience, Trans Inclusion, & Living Her Dream in NYC
October 5th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Jojo Brown gives a breakout performance as Jonelle, a gender nonconforming college student in Chicago attending etiquette classes with other LGBT youth, in the must-see off-Broadway play Charm.
The talented young trans actress and advocate grew up in the section of Chicago where the true story is set, and she shares with BroadwayBox what that experience was like, how Charm helped her achieve her dream, and more!
1. How did Charm first appear on your radar?
In November, not long after I came out as a woman, I went to a panel event at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where many folks from the theatre community discussed Trans Inclusion. It was an amazing and game-changing event for me. As a young trans woman of color, I had so many fears about being uncastable, when I've been working so hard for this my whole life. At the event, I learned that there are many amazing artists out there during the work towards positive inclusion.
Philip Dawkins who wrote Charm spoke at this event and talked about his process for writing the play. I remember sitting in the front row thinking "I have to be in this play!". A month later I saw a post on Facebook saying MCC Theater was casting the NY Premiere. I sent a tape, flew in for a callback, and here I am!
2. What’s it like bringing this hometown Chicago story to NYC? What did you want New York audiences walking away knowing from the piece?
It's so trippy! I was raised in the neighborhood where the play takes place. During my childhood and adolescence, I was too scared of meeting other folks in my community. I was afraid to be myself and face more adversity than I already did growing up brown. I experienced a lot of regret about not reaching out. I'd go to the Center on Halsted and look at their full menu of LGBTQ youth programming, but was too shy to pursue. Now, working on Charm, it's like I've gotten a do-over, and in a way I can process even better: On the stage!
I would like audiences to walk away knowing that there is no real way to accurately make assumptions about people we don't know. To know they must listen and trust people when they speak their truths.
3. What’s been the most rewarding part of your Charm experience?
The most rewarding part is spending all of my time doing what I love, and to be with so many other transgender people of color like myself every day.
4. What have you enjoyed most about living in New York for the run?
I love it here, and I'm definitely staying! (So, hire me!) My hometown, Chicago, is a beautiful place but I really believe that I faced more hostility, and in blatant ways. In New York, people don't have time to mess with me. They either tell me I'm "gorgeous" or just let me go on my merry way without bugging me.
Growing up I always wanted to move to New York, but when I became old enough to actually make those kinds of decisions, I decided I would move here if a job took me here. I never expected it to happen so soon for me, and for to be such an amazing piece of work. It also delights me to be here because my ninety-year-old grandmother lives on Long Island, and I get to visit her every Monday—it's a dream come true!
5. What’s life like backstage at Charm? Are you a close crew? Does the party continue into the wings?
Oh, we're all so in love with each other! We all clicked very fast and now we're very close. My fellow cast mates and I constantly uplift each other and help each other when we are in need. We're so corny that we even all hug and kiss each other before every show—it's kind of become our little tradition.
We definitely try to stay chill backstage but it can also become a party! So many of us love throwing shade (with love in our hearts of course!) and we even have songs we've made up together that we sing every day. We are so goofy.
6. What’s been your most memorable audience interaction after a performance of Charm?
I became very good friends with a trans senior citizen who attended the play a few times. Meeting her after the show and hearing her stories was so enriching.
7. For people who saw Charm and want to continue better understanding this community, what do you think are the next three books, movies, etc they should seek out next?
•Tangerine is a super fun film that I love because it stars two amazing women who are black and trans. Not super informative but very great. It's a celebration of drama and sisterhood. Favorite movie.
•Transparent has trans writers and story editors on their team and they do a great job at speaking on some of our issues. Unfortunately, the show stars a cis man playing a trans woman, but there are several supporting roles filled by excellent trans talent. It also features a mostly white cast, but if you can see past it, there are very interesting themes surrounding intersections of gender and Judaism.
•Last but certainly not least- Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. I believe everyone everywhere should read this book regardless of their situation. Janet is a fierce activist in the community and she explains her experience of transness and womanhood in such a nuanced and honest way. Reading this book was a life changing experience for me and many of my peers. Read it!
Don't miss Jojo Brown in Charm at MCC Theater's Lucille Lortel Theatre through October 15.