“The Arts Change Lives:” Resident Actor Jhonika Wright on the Meaning of Live Theatre

We sat down with Jhonika Wright, a Season 45 Resident Actor with our company this season, to hear her express how the power of live theatre has impacted her own life as a human and an artist. Read on below:

I was just 3 years old when I saw my first musical, CATS. To this day I still remember sitting in the second row, completely mesmerized that my favorite VHS tape was being performed live in front of my eyes and not on a screen.

Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be a singer, and more specifically a Disney Channel star. I thought being on tv was the only outlet for me, until my mom put me in a theatre summer camp at 11 years old. When I realized this art combined my love for singing, dancing, and acting, I was hooked and never looked back.

Theatre has not only been a constant creative outlet and form of expression for myself, but it has shaped me into the person I am today. I discovered a love for myself through performance, as it allows me to be comfortable in my own skin and live authentically. Through theatre I discovered my voice and my desire to connect and impact those around me through storytelling and representation on and off stage. 

I believe that the arts have the capacity to save lives. The arts are our connection to our shared community and allow others to amplify their lived experiences to wider audiences. Theatre empowers us, uplifts us, and inspires us to continually give voices to those who need them. By living in others’ shoes and learning genuine expression, artists demonstrate the power of understanding. In a 2 ½ hour performance alone we have the ability to change someone’s perspective on life and the world around us, be the reason why someone chooses to go into the arts, and most importantly, make them feel seen and represented.

We are in an industry that is eye opening and constantly changing. As a performer who is a woman of color and plus-sized, I am always so grateful to represent on stage those who share these characteristics with me, and I hope to continue to impact audience members and future performers through the passion and joy of my work.

Jhonika is thrilled to be joining Charleston Stage as a Resident Actor! Originally from Maryland, she spent most of her life in Arkansas where she graduated from Ouachita Baptist University and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. Her favorite roles include: Wendla (Spring Awakening), Cairo (We Are the Tigers), Woman 1 (Songs for a New World), Grizabella (Cats), and Yertle the Turtle (Seussical the Musical). Sending all the love to her incredible family and friends for their endless support, “This one is for you!” To keep up with all things Jhonika, you can visit her Instagram: @jhonikaaaa

Get to Know Dr. Crystal Campbell, Board Member and Longtime Charleston Stage Supporter and Actor

We recently had the delight of sitting down to interview Crystal Campbell, a longtime educator, supporter of child and family development in the tri-county community, and member of the Board of Trustees for Charleston Stage. Hear about her beginnings with us and dreams for the growth of our theatre beyond the walls of the Dock Street.

Please share the beginning of your involvement with Charleston Stage.

I am a longtime educator and in retirement currently serving as the Executive Director of First Steps in Dorchester County, a non-profit organization supported by the state to ensure that young children are prepared for school success at age 5. Teaching has always been one of my passions, and Charleston Stage’s commitment to education is something that has always resonated with me.

I started with Charleston Stage (Young Children’s Stage Company at that time) in the 1980s–before the company was even a decade old. I was teaching 5th grade out at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School when a colleague of mine, Jean Glave, who was active in the theatre told me she thought I’d be very interested in it. She took me to the old Memminger Elementary School, where Julian Wiles (Founder and Producing Artistic Director) was hosting auditions for roles in his play, The Country Bunny. 

Julian had everyone line up to do cold readings. As I was reading the part of the Country Bunny, I messed up my lines–I think I got that part because I did, though! It was a wonderful production and I had a fabulous time. Since then, I’ve been hooked! Julian was gracious to let me teach at the TheatreSchool and offer me parts in several performances: Huckleberry Finn, A Woman Called Truth, and To Kill a Mockingbird, among others. Julian challenged me in such a powerful way–I remember in Huckleberry Finn he wanted me to play a woman in her 80s without using any aging stage makeup! I could not wear my glasses either. To rehearse the character, I observed the older women at my church and took mental notes. It was fun being so creative to prepare for each show I did with Charleston Stage.

What made you want to join us as a board member?

Becoming a board member was an answer to a prayer. In the beginning days of Charleston Stage, something Julian really strived for was to make it easy for children to come see theatre performances, so we offered (and still do!) weekday school matinees. My principal, Fleming Harris, supported me by allowing me to have leave time to do the matinee performances. Back then, Charleston County’s Superintendent allowed teachers to perform and to bring the students on field trips to the theatre. This was how I was able to perform in school matinees without compromising my teaching position at Sullivan’s Island Elementary. This was a major feat because no other theatre was trying to involve children as much, and it offered me so much joy to feel supported by Charleston Stage and my school. It was amazing having my students come see shows I was in. 

Then life happened. I moved to Columbia for a while and got more busy, but I still loved theatre. When I moved back to Charleston I knew I wanted to get back involved in it.

A few years ago I was talking to God when I looked in the mirror and said, “It ain’t over for me yet. I know I’m older, but I can still do this. I’d love to be in a performance again. I just want to be in theatre.” And that was just my simple prayer. Fast forward a week: I got a call from Julian, and before he could even finish I said yes to being on the board and getting involved again! It all feels really full circle.

What do you hope to see accomplished in Charleston Stage that you can help bring to fruition as a Board Member? 

I know that there are so many children in our community that Charleston Stage hasn’t even gotten to touch yet–families who’ve never been to a performance. I’ve taken on as much as I can to make that happen. 

One of the first things I did when I became a Board Trustee was connect Julian with First Steps, of which I am the Executive Director of in Dorchester County, and Tri-County PLAY Collaborative. Our sole purpose, in First Steps, is to help families with children 0-5 prepare for school success, and we created Tri-County PLAY in order to help families participate in cultural events within the community at little or no cost. We look at the entire family–not just helping them with childcare or purchasing school supplies, but also help them improve their status in life. 

Naturally, Charleston Stage’s CityStage program is huge for me. Ashley Palmer, our Production Manager, and Marybeth Clark, our Artistic Director Designee, have worked with some of our Resident Actors to host a theatre education program for First Steps, which is such a delight to me! When CityStage performed Treasure Island in St. George this spring, it was huge, because it’s a good hour away from downtown and many families can’t get to the Dock. The CityStage program allows us to, at a lower cost, invite families to the theatre and help provide transportation so that they can enjoy the cultural things happening in our community. 

Why is exposure to the arts integral to childhood development and the family unit?

It’s the number one thing for children ages birth to five years old. Academics are enhanced when children can learn through drama, music, and dance. I often tell the parents and educators I work with that we need a foundation to teach children their ABCs–their brains need opportunities to absorb everything. I don’t know a single child who doesn’t like jumping around, flipping, and dancing! Our job is to provide a safe environment for that all to happen in. If we want communities where people are thriving, then we have to have the arts in them–and I think drama is perhaps the best method because all you need is your body and voice to make all kinds of characters come to life–it’s the most accessible form of art.

Finally, what is your favorite show of all time?

To Kill a Mockingbird. Playing Calpurnia was just–ooh! It was perfect. I can still see myself in the green room peeking out as the busses of kids pulled up to the theatre–looking out for my own students who would see me in the shows. 

As a kid my voice was always “too loud,” I’d get in trouble at home and get kicked out of the library at Fort Johnson High School! But back in the day when we didn’t have microphones on stage, some people told me that my voice was the only one they could hear. It was so nice to have my voice celebrated in the theatre–I finally felt that my voice was an asset.

Charleston Stage Board of Trustees Member, Dr. Crystal Campbell.

“The Power of Hope:” Resident Actor K’nique Eichelberger on the Meaning of Live Theatre

We sat down with K’nique Eichelberger, a returning Resident Actor with our company this season, to hear him express how the power of live theatre has impacted his own life as a human and an artist. Read on below:


It allows all of our deepest buried emotions to rise to the surface; through theatre, people begin to hope again. This is exactly what this world needs: hope. 

To me, theatre provides a world of new ideas and imagination which takes me from everyday life to an entirely new place and fill me with hope. The theatre is a place where I can explore myself, lose myself in someone else’s world, and allows to undertake a journey through a time long passed.  

We all talk about Covid-19, but one positive thing it has brought us is more theatre into our homes. We’ve seen more productions filmed, more shows online, and inventive ways to express performing arts, which has greatly helped many people who don’t have the opportunity or money to see amazing productions. That said, live theatre will never be like any other! You can certainly feel something through a tv screen, but when passionate people on stage express a story to an audience, the audience has no choice but to feel what those actors are going through as they take them through a journey and leave not as they came. 

I believe it takes a strong, imaginative, hopeful human to create art. As a creator I want the audience to leave ready to make the necessary changes to think more deeply and make our world a better and safer place. All I want for everyone is to leave with hope–hope for a lifetime.

K’nique is originally from Columbia, South Carolina but moved to Brevard, North Carolina where he earned a B.A. in Music and Theatre. He is so excited to be returning to the company for a second year. His recent credits include: Kinky Boots (Lola), The Last Five Years (Jamie), Little Shop of Horrors (Audrey II), Into The Woods (Jack), Streetcar Named Desire (Stanley) and more. He is very thankful for his friends and family who have supported him throughout the years. K’nique is so excited to change lives through creating art at Charleston Stage! Stay tuned on Instagram @nique_tg3

“Limitless to Impact Lives:” Resident Actor Cody Elsensohn on the Meaning of Live Theatre

We sat down with Cody Elsensohn, a Season 45 Resident Actor with our company, to hear him express how the power of live theatre has impacted his own life as a human and an artist. Read on below:

As a kid I always wanted to be an artist. I used to lay belly-down on the floor with a sketch pad as big as my body and doodle for hours on end. I was known in my family as “the art kid” and would be gifted markers, pen sets, and paper for birthdays and holidays alike. As I grew, this shifted into painting–acrylics, watercolors, oils, canvases, and brushes filled birthday gift bags through these next years. After that, I was committed to becoming the next Cake Boss, so I would build dramatic cakes and decorate those in the following years. It wasn’t until late in middle school that I would transition from physical art to performance art.

I remember and credit so much of my inspiration to Disney’s High School Musical, as silly as it sounds. I thought, “Ohhh, I want to be a movie star,” yet I don’t think that as a kid I understood that what I loved in this “movie” and what I wanted to do was what the characters were doing IN the movie–live theatre. After the first production I performed in during high school, I never stopped aggressively pursuing theatre. At that time in my life I gained so much on a personal level from engaging in live theatre that I never considered the power and perspective woven deeply into this art form until I formally studied theatre in college. This is when the meaning of theatre became apparent to me, and when I started to develop a voice in my own artistry. 

I believe that theatre is powerful and limitless in its ability to impact lives and change perspectives. Theatre is home to creativity and collaboration. Theatre provides the space for people to be themselves, to play, to learn more about who they are by stepping into others’ shoes. The potential of what can be done with all this power is provocative. 

For these reasons, I’ve grown to value my artistic voice and prioritize making lastingly positive impacts in my work. I hope to use my artistry to bring joy, reflection, and change to a world from which so many feel excluded. I am proud to represent the Latinx community and the LGBTQ+ community on stage this season. I see an opportunity through the power of live theatre to push for progress, representation, and reform on and off stage for theatre practitioners, theatre patrons, and the general public alike. I am thankful to have the opportunity to make a career out of a deep-seated, innocent passion for expression and art, and I hope to continue to share my joy and love for theatre in meaningful ways to come!

Cody is ecstatic to join Charleston Stage in its 45th Season as a Resident Actor! A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Cody earned his B.F.A. in Acting from the University of Southern Mississippi in May of 2022. Some of his recent credits include Billy Cane in Bright Star, Jerry Hyland in Once in a Lifetime, Actor 1 in The Stinky Cheeseman, and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cody would like to thank his family, friends, and teachers who endlessly encourage and support him; it is highly valued! Keep up with Cody by following his Instagram: @cody.elsensohn

“A Vessel for Human Collaboration:” Resident Actor Jenna Barricklo on the Meaning of Live Theatre

We sat down with Jenna Barricklo, a Season 45 Resident Actor with us, to hear her express how the power of live theatre has impacted her own life as a human and an artist. Read on below:

Connection. Community. Collaboration. 

As we are re-entering this new COVID-ridden world, we have found that we have been missing these important things. There has been a shift for everyone, but especially for the youngest members of our society. Children who were not even in kindergarten yet returned to the classroom as 2nd graders are experiencing fractures in both their education and socialization. Simple things like working together, imaginative play, and classroom protocols have been a challenge for kids to learn. As a theatre educator, the most magical thing to witness is how theatre and creative play have been the best tools for students to learn how to be courageous, make bold choices, and be uninhibited. 

Theater allows kids to take on roles and test out their confidence. When they travel to invisible kingdoms and fight fierce dragons, they are learning how to collaborate to finish their quest. When they are given a challenge to create body sculptures, they are learning to communicate. These theatrical activities that appear to just be for fun are actually letting kids safely explore methods of communication. It is giving them an outlet to try and to fail, and to get back up again.

Theatre is an amazing tool for children to learn about themselves. They are challenged to play outside of their comfort zone within a structure in which they feel safe to be bold. Theatre asks them to interact as their most open and vulnerable selves. Playing dinosaurs is a fun game, and a child is actually practicing being a leader when they are guiding the story. These are opportunities that children missed while in Zoom school. As we continue to navigate this new world, theatre may be one of the greatest outlets for children to come into their own.

If there is anything we have learned from this pandemic, it is that humans crave connection. We want to be seen, heard, and understood. Not only are we desperate for this, but we naturally find ways to be together. During lockdown, there was singing in the street, virtual game nights, and socially distanced parties. Because children did not always have the facilities to create these opportunities for themselves, it is our job as adults to provide spaces for them to explore these new ways of connecting.

Theater continues to be a place where children and adults can come to play. It is a place where we can be supported by our peers. In a post-COVID world, theater educators are going to be the leaders in how children will adapt. We can be the beacons of light to guide children to feeling confident in their creativity. We can provide a place where children can re-learn to be children. I believe we all could use a little creative play in our lives as we continue to traverse this unknown territory.

Jenna is so excited to be joining Charleston Stage for its 45th season! She received her B.F.A. in Musical Theater from Shenandoah University. Professional Credits: Lisa (Mamma Mia!), Rosalia (West Side Story), Female Newsie (Newsies), Fannie (Mary Poppins). Jenna grew up in New York City and most recently resided in Boston! She is so grateful to her parents and brother for their endless support. Keep up with Jenna on her website and on Instagram: jennabarricklo.com / @in_jennaral

“The Power of Human Connection:” Resident Actor Cedar Valdez on the Meaning of Live Theatre

We sat down with Cedar Valdez, a returning Resident Actor with our company this season, to hear him express how the power of live theatre has impacted his own life as a human and an artist. Read on below:

Theatre means many different things to me. When I was a kid, it was playing in the backyard with my family and friends pretending we had super powers and could do anything. We’d step onto the trampoline and transform into whoever we wanted to be that day, spending hours creating senseless story lines that only a child’s mind could come up with. Nothing in the world could stop us! 

In high school, theatre was all about being up front, being seen, and receiving applause from an audience of people I had never even spoken to. It felt good, and I knew I wanted more of it, but I hadn’t fallen in love with the idea of theatre itself yet. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized what makes theatre so specifically special to my heart. 

To me now, theatre is all about human connection. And that looks different in every direction you turn! I still enjoy the audience’s support and applause, but in an audience you can be made to cry, laugh, snore, and freeze cold in your seat. And one way or another, in that moment you’ve made a connection with me. Nothing is better than finding out someone genuinely needed to hear a story that you’ve been able to tell, that’s beautiful. I believe with my whole heart that you were meant to be sitting in that audience and I was meant to be on that stage in the same moment, sharing that moment. 

I love that when I teach theatre classes I get to watch kids have some of their first sparks of excitement, confidence, and creativity. Not only do I get to pass on what I love to them, but I have the opportunity to re-learn from them how to enjoy this life I’ve been given. For this reason I consider the connections made in the theatre classroom invaluable.

The people that I have met and collaborated with in the theatre work field have been life-changing. They has helped me build my confidence in who I am as an individual as I watch their love and respect for themselves and apply that self-love to my own life. I see so much beauty in how theatre connections, whether onstage, backstage, or in the audience, bring a shift in your life, make you ask a question, or turn your perspective. When I am able to impact you or you are able to impact me, that’s when I believe the theatre has done its job well. I couldn’t be more excited and grateful to continue doing so for the rest of my life.

Seasons 44 and 45 Resident Actor Cedar Valdez

Cedar received his B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Ouachita Baptist University and is excited to be joining the Charleston Stage team for Season 45! Some of his previous credits include Bright Star (Jimmy Ray), Murder on the Orient Express (Hector MaQueen), Kinky Boots (Harry), Junie B. Jones the Musical (Daddy), and Fiddler on the Roof (Motel). Cedar is originally from Rogers, AR, and he wouldn’t be where he is today without his family, friends, and teachers that helped him get there. Remember to have fun and “do it with love!” www.cedarvaldez.com / @cedarvaldez