By Catherine Woo
Welcome to NYWIFT, Christine Toy Johnson!
You might recognize NYC-based artist Christine from the stage, the page, or the screen. She played Diane over one thousand times in the first national tour of the musical Come from Away. Other roles span from Sherry Yang in the Netflix Marvel series Iron Fist to Maria in West Side Story. She hosts The Dramatists Guild’s Talkback podcast, where she shines a spotlight on conversations about equality and inclusion. She also participated in The Writers Lab 2016, the screenwriting program co-produced by NYWIFT.
Riding out the Storm, Christine’s newest film, follows a woman forced to decide whether to evacuate the house her late husband built for them on the day Hurricane Sandy is set to hit Staten Island. The film screens October 30 at the Tribeca Screening Room – tickets are available now!
Read more about artists she admires, advocacy for other artists, and new movie musical here!
Describe yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!
I’m a writer, actor, and advocate for inclusion. I live in NYC, my favorite city in the world, with my husband Bruce (also a director and actor) and West Highland White Terrier Joey (who thinks he’s the director of our house), my favorite guys in the world.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
I was a participant of the 2016 Writers Lab, which brought NYWIFT back into my life; I had been a member many years ago and am happy to return. I’ve been on the road with a Broadway national tour for the past five years (minus that pesky shutdown) and just produced my third film – a movie musical short that I also co-wrote – so it made sense to rejoin the NYWIFT community at this time.
You’ve had an incredible journey that spans across TV, film, and theater. Do you have any roles that stand out as favorites to you?
I absolutely loved playing Diane 1160 times (!) in the first National Tour of Come From Away, which I just recently completed. On television, I loved playing Sherry Yang in the Netflix Marvel series Iron Fist. And one of my favorite roles I’ve ever written was for the late great Lynn Cohen in my play The Secret Wisdom of Trees [editor’s note: also a NYWIFT member!]; an intrepid and fiercely funny septuagenarian, who tries to prepare her family and herself for her journey into Alzheimer’s by planting trees at the locations of her biggest memories.
From your extensive experience, is there a connection between acting and writing? Has working as an actress influenced your creative process as a writer and vice versa?
Absolutely. I excavate and explore characters that I’m writing in the same way that I do with characters that I’m portraying. It’s all about finding out what makes them tick, what their essential wounds, hopes, dreams, and fears are, what they need to overcome, how they choose to navigate their challenges, and of course their moral needs, objectives, obstacles, battles, opponents, self-revelations, and new equilibriums they discover along their journeys.
Your whole career, you have advocated for the positive effects of inclusion. What advice would you give to other performers or creators who have been largely excluded from the landscape of American storytelling?
Become your own gatekeeper, make your own opportunities, don’t wait for other people to give you permission to create, and tell the stories you’re compelled to tell.
If you were to write a musical about your life using pre-existing songs, which ones would have to be included and why?
So many songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon! I’m a self-professed pathological “cockeyed optimist” and I’ve always loved the poetry and lyricism that Oscar Hammerstein created in his writing. Though there are many elements of what’s known as “golden age musicals” that are problematic today, Rodgers and Hammerstein were ahead of their time in the many ways they expanded conversations about race and politics in commercial musical theatre. And singing their songs gives me so much joy!
As host of The Dramatists Guild’s Talkback podcast, who would your dream guests (living or deceased) be?
I am so fortunate to serve as an Officer of the Guild’s Council alongside almost every living writer I’ve ever admired, and have had a chance to talk to many of them on Talkback! That being said, a dream situation (keeping in mind that this podcast is meant to illuminate dramatists who write for the theatre) would be a conversation with the late legends Oscar Hammerstein and Steve Sondheim alongside my dear friend and living legend John Weidman, who of course wrote several enduring works of art with Steve (including Pacific Overtures, which I was lucky enough to do with both of them in the room).
Her new film, Riding out the Storm, will be released in the fall, you can check it out at www.ridingoutthestormmovie.com starting at the end of August. You can learn more on Instagram @ridingoutthestormmovie
She is having a free screening of her new short movie musical on October 30 at the Tribeca Screening Room. Riding Out the Storm, a short original movie musical directed by Bruce Alan Johnson with screenplay and lyrics by Christine Toy Johnson and music and score by Michael Mott, will have 3 screenings at the Tribeca Screening Room, 375 Greenwich Street, on Monday October 30, 2023. Executive produced by Christine Toy Johnson for Moongate Productions, screenings of the 15-minute-long film will occur at 6 pm, 7 pm, and 8 pm, with a panel discussion between the creative team at 6:30 pm.
On the day Hurricane Sandy is set to hit Staten Island, a woman must decide whether to evacuate the house her late husband built for them.
Admission is free. Please reserve for the specific screening you would like to attend by visiting: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/riding-out-the-storm-screening-and-panel-tickets-678441265087?aff=oddtdtcreator
Welcome to NYWIFT, Aisha Amin! Aisha is an NYC-based writer and director. As a director, her work expands across narrative, documentary, and experimental forms to tell authentic stories built from real experiences. Her past film projects have explored and highlighted overlooked communities particularly in New York City, including formerly incarcerated mothers and communities struggling with the presence of gentrification in their neighborhoods. Amongst her directing, Aisha is an emerging screenwriting and was selected to participate in Cine Qua Non’s 2022 Screenwriting Lab. She is a 2022 recipient of NYFA’s Tomorrowland Grant and a 2021 recipient of the NYFA Women's Fund grant. She was a recipient of the 2019-2020 Sally Burns Shenkman Woman Filmmaker Fellowship at the Jacob Burns Film Center where she directed two short documentaries. She is also a recipient of The Shed's Open Call Fellowship where she expanded her film practice to installation art. Aisha spoke to us about her favorite styles of storytelling, the intersection of narrative and documentary, and her latest projects.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Lorena R. Valenica! Lorena R. Valencia is a Mexican writer-director based in New York. Her directorial debut and MFA thesis film, Cuanacaquilitl (Dandelion), received the 2022 National Board of Review Student Award and is an Official Selection in several international film festivals, including the Morelia International Film Festival, the Atlanta Film Festival, the New York Latino Film Festival, and the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles Film Festival. Lorena is passionate about both narrative and documentary storytelling and is interested in addressing issues such as reproductive rights, identity, and belonging. Currently, she is directing Mi Ranchito, a documentary short film that explores resilience and love for the land, while she is developing her debut feature film, Mayahuel. Lorena spoke to us about inspiring empathy through storytelling, the overlap of narrative and documentary filmmaking, and her latest projects.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Mary Skinner! Mary is a New York-based filmmaker whose projects include the widely-celebrated 2010 documentary Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers and Cuba Cubano Cañibano. The former was showcased at many festivals and events before being acquired by PBS and presented in many languages worldwide, in addition to receiving accolades that included the Best Documentary at the UK Jewish Film Festival and the 2012 Gracie Award for Best Public TV Documentary by and about a woman. The latter was an Official Selection of the United Nations Association Film Festival in 2017. Having graduated from UC Berkeley with a specialization in theater, Mary was one of the founding members of the Riverside Shakespeare Company in New York and the producer of the play Coming to See Aunt Sophie. Previously, she worked as a corporate marketing executive in New York and San Francisco and established 2B Productions in 2003. Read more about Mary as we discuss her close friendship with a legendary historical figure, the relationship between her artistry and family’s connection to the Holocaust, and the magic of both theater and PBS!READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Rose Vincelli Gustine! Rose Vincelli Gustine is Director of Operations and on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts (SVA) MFA Social Documentary Film program. She is currently producing the feature documentary The Sum of Our Parts and was consulting producer for Busy Inside (PBS America Reframed, 2020). She directed the documentary short What We Discover Along the Way, which is looking ahead to 2024 festivals. Rose was a programmer for filmmakers’ support organization IFP (now called The Gotham) and for AFIDocs Festival. She lives, cooks, and walks in Brooklyn with her family and cats. Rose spoke to us about what it means to be a filmmaker advocate, her own creative practice, and what she loves about the art of documentary filmmaking.READ MORE