Q&A: Rob and Jen Johansen of IRT’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Indy’s dynamic acting duo stops and smells the aroma of their lives together, on and off stage.

Look alive: Veteran thespians Rob and Jen Johansen are about to explain how they juggle marriage and their shared work in the competitive Indy theater scene. How does this dynamic duo keep a healthy balance of work and
romance? Well, their mutual respect and understanding of one another was apparent as they filled us in on their secrets in this IM exclusive. (Yes, they finish each other’s sentences.) See them in their latest roles in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, playing now at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

SHANA NGO: Tell me how you two met.

ROB JOHANSEN: We met at the Phoenix Theatre during an audition. Jen got the part, and I didn’t – which
was a good thing.

JEN JOHANSEN: Yeah, I think it was good that we weren’t both in that play. We wonder about that, but it
wasn’t too long …

RJ: … Maybe six months until we started dating?

JJ: Yeah, I think so. At the time, I was seeing somebody.

RJ: And I was just a mess.

SN: What drew you to each other?

RJ: I remember hearing her talking about dogs, and dogs have been a big binding factor for us.

JJ: Well, it was a common interest in theater and love of dogs, I think.

RJ: We are avid dog lovers and sports enthusiasts. And then we have other things that are more “Jen” and more “Rob,” but we share so many things beyond the theater, and that makes life really rich.

SN: Tell me about the roles that you both are playing for Midsummer Night’s Dream.

JJ: Well, I play Hippolyta and Titania, queen of the fairies, queen of the Amazons.

RJ: I play Starveling, queen of the Mechanicals [both laugh], and and I also play a fairy made of
cobwebs. A big side thing for me is I’m a fight choreographer. The lovers in Midsummer have a lover’s quarrel, and I choreographed that. Comedic fights are my favorite, and hopefully with Midsummer, the audience will laugh plenty.

SN: Is there ever competition between you two on-stage?

JJ: One of the challenges is when one of us is having a really great spate of interesting roles,
and the other one is going through a little bit of a down time. But marriage is about many things beyond career—a deep friendship and communication, and we just try to support each other the best we can through the good and bad.

SN: Are you sort of each other’s acting coaches?

JJ: We really try to help each other because you don’t always have a lot of time to prep. We might talk to other people, but more often than not, it’s really just at home.

RJ: You can’t help but talk about things, but you’ve got to be careful of that. You don’t want to become their director or undermine what’s going on in rehearsal.

SN: Do you have any before-show rituals together or separately to prepare for a performance?

JJ: I don’t have a set way. Sometimes it’s just the drive down to the theater. We don’t always travel together, so that, for me, is really my headspace time. Rob has a pretty set warm-up for himself everyday, which I admire.

RJ: Yeah, I have a pretty constant ritual. I start with 50 push-ups, a head stand, a full vocal warm-up, a little jogging around the mezzanine, a bunch of tongue-twisters; things like that.

SN: So, Jen, tell me something he’s really good at, and then Rob, tell me where she really shines.

JJ: Beyond acting, he really shines as a teacher. He’s got an incredible, great big heart, and a real desire to see success. He’s someone who has always known himself, and that’s one of the most striking things to me because I didn’t have that sense of myself. That’s a really big deal for me—and his sense of humor.

RJ: I’ve seen Jen face obstacles with each stage of growth in her career where she’s had to break through something. And each time she has an obstacle, she doesn’t go around it—she breaks through it. Each time she does that, she has this exponential growth that surprises me and excites me.

SN: I can tell that you two are really content. That’s a great place to be.

RJ: There’s a great philosophy of being content and moving forward—getting better. You want to make sure that you’re moving forward at a healthy pace. I think you’re right. We are very content, but one of the reasons we’re content is because we’re working.

JJ: What I’m trying to continue to hone is my ability to be here, right now. This is a good place to be, and this is what we have. I want to continue to cultivate becoming fearless. I think fearless 40s sound pretty good to me.

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through May 12. Show times vary. Indiana
Repertory Theatre. 140 W. Washington St., 635-5252. irtlive.com

Top photo courtesy Rob and Jen Johansen; bottom photo by Scott Kimmons.