By TJ Armour
Accomplished actress and theatre veteran Donica Lynn has appeared in a number of well received and popular productions throughout her career.
The Chicago native most recently appeared opposite Andre de Shields in Confessions of a P.I.M.P. at Victory Gardens and at The Goodman Theatre for Crowns and Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Other productions that she has been a part of include Caroline or Change (Court Theatre), Hairspray and Aida (Drury Lane), Once on this Island and Suessical (Marriott Theatre), Fiorello (TimeLine), The Color Purple and Barnum (The Mercury Theatre), Queenie Pie (Chicago Opera Theatre), Hair (The Paramount), and Black Nativity and Santified, (Congo Square).
Her next role will be as Effie Melody White in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of the classic, Dreamgirls, which runs April 8 – May 15 at Stage 773 located at 1225 W. Belmont Ave.in Chicago.
How’d you catch the acting bug and get started in the world of theater?
I performed plays in elementary & high school (loved it) but my professional path was not headed towards the bards; law school in fact. I always say that I tripped and fell into acting as a career. A beautiful piece of work [Train Is Comin] had been written by McKinley Johnson (a member of my church) he asked me to participate in the reading, the show was then produced by Chicago Theatre Company and ran for almost 4 months. A few different directors saw my work there and invited me to audition at ETA Creative Arts where I worked for a number of years, see I tripped and fell.
Who are three actors or performers that have greatly influenced you?
Leonardo DiCaprio he’s my generations version of an emersion actor; Billie Holiday, she sang from her soul each time she opened her mouth she was telling you a story; Diane Carroll, she is THE quintessential actress, breaking down barriers (television, film); Stevie Wonder
What’s your dream role and why?
I don’t know that I have “dream” role in as much as I have an affinity for certain roles. I’d love to play Elephaba [Wicked] the role is not specific to race, and speaks to that which probably lives inside all of us -fear of rejection. Caroline [Caroline or Change] I had the opportunity to understudy the role once and the show itself for me is life changing.
Tell us about your first “big-time” gig that gave you butterflies?
May 2010 Aida at Drury Lane, I’d known since our first rehearsal that I was going to be performing the title role weekend before last, but I was also running my own character track as Nehebka. Despite all of the prep time, rehearsals and advanced notice, I was still terrified. The show had already been running for quite sometime, and as ANY understudy knows there is a harmonious blend that happens with a cast of people telling a story. I was so afraid to throw off the rhythm of the cast, it was my first time actually stepping into a leading role. The cast gave me a beautiful card showing love and support, by the time the overture began the “butterflies” had gone away.
Do you have a pre- show ritual that you use to prepare?
I can’t say that I have a pre-show ritual, no. I usually arrive an hour earlier than necessary to allow myself time to just sit in the space, then I look through my script, check my props, and in my mind I walk through my show, call my youngest daughter, then pray.
Have you always been a fan of Dreamgirls? Talk about playing in a production of such a classic story?
I HAVE always been a fan of Dreamgirls, since I first heard the music in 1984, it’s undeniably moving. I love the story of family, change and growth that Dreamgirls represents. It’s a privilege to still be able to tell this story, as it’s a classic but still relevant, the era may have changed but the central theme is the same “anything worth having is worth working and fighting for”. As a vocalist/actor I’ve seen both the show & business side of the industry, it’s scary to think that bright lights and the idea of fame could blind a person to what’s MOST important, in this case family. In a day and age, when artists are made via social media, I thinks it’s paramount that THIS generation of up and coming artists see the struggles, and tests that paved the way for them. Dreamgirls depicts that story.
How were you able to connect to the character of Effie?
I’m able to find a connection to Effie on a basic level of womanhood (sister, mother, friend, performer) I’ve been in an all girl group before, and everyone has a voice [spoken] that matters, having tunnel vision serves no purpose. I try to give Effie an understanding persona, but she IS difficult to manage at times (Lol) I find MY connection to her through the words I sing, the stories I tell with her voice. She’s somewhat protective of her would be two sisters Deana Jones & Lorrell Robinson, and her brother C.C. and when all else fails she (I) go to the place that makes the most sense, the music. It’s the music that changes Effie, both good and bad, leaning into the WORDS of the song connect Effie and I.
Jennifer Holiday or Jennifer Hudson: Which portrayal of Effie do you lean towards most and why?
The two Jennifer’s (I knew that was coming -lolol) I’m a live theatre performer, i’ll always take a live show over a movie, but I believe there’s something to be taken, studied, and appreciated from both performances. I tend to lean towards Jennifer Holiday, specifically because it was her vehicle, it was HER truth to tell. Everything was raw and visceral and I love the original production.
In your opinion, what makes Effie so relatable to audiences?
Effie is relatable because she’s the “every woman” she’s either the girl you love or the girl you hate. You either KNOW her, or you ARE her. We can look at Effie and see that girl who won the talent contest in school, or that girl that everyone wants to be friends with because she’s’ so outgoing, or the girl you can’t stand because she’s too outspoken. She’s a “normal ” girl with man problems, she’s smart and yet still finds herself on the receiving end of a broken heart, dream, and life. She finds a way to pull herself up by her bootstraps and bounce back. She is the picture of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
Best advice you’d give to young artists?
Best advice I can give young artists is to always be true to yourself, never stop learning from the people around you regardless of age, be courteous to everyone. Don’t go into an audition wanting to book THAT job, leave something in the room that will make them want you for EVERY job. Train/coach with someone as often as you can, there’s a new generation of actors graduating everyday with a skill set that you may not have. Don’t rely on critics, awards, or reviews to benchmark your career, let the work speak for itself.
Any favorite quotes or affirmations?
“It’s not what you read that makes you smart, it’s what you retain” – Unknown
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life” – Virginia Woolf
“You can’t be neutral on moving train” – Howard Zinn
“Be YOU, everybody else is taken” – Donica Lynn
What’s next for Donica Lynn?
Sunday April 24th Breakthrough for Brain tumors 5k (I’m a 3x survivor) my team Songbird B.L.U. Believers walk this every year. I, along w/my God sister Leah Pawlik will sing the National Anthem.
Then Monday May 2nd at The Mercury Theater my annual Today’s A Good Day benefit concert for anyone touched by cancer it’s now in it’s 4th year hope.abta.org/goto/songbirdblu for details, and ticket information.
Saturday June 12th Noyes Cultural Center Juneteenth Celebration
Then off to Fort Wayne Indiana for a production of HAIR as Dionne at Three Rivers Music Theatre from July 7-18th.