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Rising Stars: Meet Melissa Dawn Johnson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa Dawn Johnson.

Melissa, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I started as a small-town Southern girl headed to study neuroscience and psychology at Yale only to return to my childhood love of photography and acting. So, right after graduation I moved to L.A. to pursue passion instead of people-pleasing.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Is any road ever completely smooth? I don’t think so. I think that is part of the beauty of life! I definitely have had some incredibly challenging moments- getting established in LA can be really tricky. Finding housing, a “survival job,” and creating community were all their own separate challenges. I think the biggest struggle in L.A. for a lot of people though is retaining your confidence and sense of self in the face of rejection and uncertainty. I think if you can do that- if you can stay secure in who you are and what you love, every other challenge can be overcome.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I suppose I am one of those notorious (or dreaded, depending on your perspective, haha) multi-hyphenates. I am a SAG-AFTRA actress, writer, and photographer. To be honest, I think I am most proud of the fact that I never let myself give in to all of the people that told me I had to choose one or that I couldn’t pursue all of my interests. I have a master’s degree in screenwriting and another in film and media production in addition to my BFA from Yale in photography and psychology. I also made it into the actor’s union and have great talent representation that I love. While acting is my number one love, I am also writing and directing pilots, web series, and short films- some of which are traveling the festival circuits. Also, because I have a survival job as a stand-in, I am able to take photography jobs for the fun and passion of the craft instead of having to take whatever in order to pay the bills. I think, at least I hope, that this shows up in my photos- that I do it for the love of it. For me, at least, holding on to that love and the conviction that I am meant to do what I love keeps me in the game.

Do you any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
My favorite childhood memory in this moment, I think, is probably the season I participated in my first (and only) community theater production when I was in the fourth grade. It was Annie and I played one of the orphans. I knew before then that I liked acting, but I remember having a moment playing after school knowing that I would get to go to rehearsal for the show every afternoon that week and just feeling so much joy from that realization. I think I fell in love with acting that spring.

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