Originally published in March/April Encounter.
Joanna Kingsbury, a resident of Omaha for the past three years, has dipped her toes into many creative fields: acting, singing, dancing, and DJ-ing. She recently completed a role as Sarah Trecek, the conservative girlfriend of the main character in the local, independent film, Flyover Country.
But now she seeks to add another line to her resume: Air Force enlistee.
On Jan. 5, Kingsbury took a break from singing, acting, dancing, etc., to train in aerospace physiology in the United States Air Force for the next four years. It’s a career move that seems crazy to most, but on a dreary winter morning, Kingsbury is eager to explain why it’s a perfect fit for her.
“I love being a contradiction so much,” Kingsbury says with a grin.
While an acting career didn’t pique her interest until high school, she’s always felt at home in the arts. One of six children, Kingsbury hails from a naturally creative family in the Chicago suburbs.
“We’re the kind of family that when we get together, we always do a talent show and do like handstand competitions,” says Kingsbury. “We’re kind of just a goofy, crazy artistic family.”
It’s also family that brought Kingsbury out to Omaha in the first place. Kingsbury’s older brother, also a member of the Air Force and a DJ, lived in Omaha alongside other military members with an interest in the arts. Kingsbury visited her brother’s house in 2010, and was surprised to discover a vibrant underground arts scene in this so-called flyover country.
“I was just like, man, it seems fun in Omaha. My brother’s DJ-ing, they’re doing all these gigs, and he has all of these friends that are doing all of these really cool things,” says Kingsbury.
A year later, Kingsbury decided to take a leap of faith, move out to Omaha from Chicago, and hit the ground running. She joined acting groups on Facebook, formed a cover duet band with a man she met on Craigslist, and eventually landed her role in Flyover Country.
The film, which examines the friendship between main characters straight Russ and gay Todd, didn’t just conveniently land in Kingsbury’s lap. Although she “blew” her audition for the role of Sarah the first time, the director and producer saw that Kingsbury was passionate about the project, and encouraged her to try out for a second time.
This vote of confidence didn’t keep Kingsbury from being plagued with doubts during filming. It was her first time playing a speaking character on film, a character who was saying “some of the worst things ever” about the LGBT community. But Kingsbury tried to focus on the fun, rather than the fears, that came with stepping outside of her comfort zone. “I love to push myself,” she says.
Thus, whether it’s DJ-ing late into the night at a club or modeling for pin-up magazines, Kingsbury is enjoying her wild ride. Her journey is about to get even tougher over the next four years, as she will be serving her country among the nation’s finest.
But Kingsbury is adamant that being in the Air Force, where discipline and perseverance are championed, will make her a better actress and singer. Her goal is to make the Air Force Choir, and naturally, she is relishing her unorthodox route.
“I know it sounds totally ludicrous to anyone that wouldn’t be in the military, but you can be in the military and you can pursue artistic things,” says Kingsbury.