Please Meet Karen Toto-Hockenberry

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We have known Karen for many years – in fact our paths have crossed in many ways from directing to choreographing to performing together in a production or two. She has a ton of energy and keeps herself busy with a lot of interesting stuff. The proud mom of two amazing sons and the wife and co-pilot to an incredible guy – we thought her story would be great for our “Step Into Your Limelight” interview series. It’s always nice to see a person hit their stride several times in life – and Karen definitely fits that bill. Enjoy!

Karen – welcome to the “Step Into Your Limelight” interview series. You always seem to have a positive outlook – What is making you smile these days?

Playing Electra in Gypsy at the Media Theatre and finding out that my name (Karen Toto) is on the Billboard on highway 95 as one of the Burlesque Dancers…what a hoot!

That’s awesome and fun – we have seen it and it is a hoot! You have had such an admirable professional performing career – tell us about some of your fondest memories and productions.

Wow – there are so many it’s difficult to pick…I loved touring with both My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison and 42nd Street starring Barry Nelson…in addition to the thrill of performing in those productions I had so many fantastic experiences seeing the country, hanging out with the MOST FUN people, and doing what I loved, all at the same time. I went Hot Air ballooning in California, did aerobatic gliding over the desert in Arizona, and went to the Magic Castle in L.A., just to mention a few. But the epitome was definitely Opening Night of My Fair Lady on Broadway…My Dream come true!

It’s a lot of fun looking at your old pictures from those productions – you can immediately tell you were enjoying every minute and were surrounded by incredible people. You were a bona fide triple threat (singer, dancer and actress) in the business on stage and television – yet you switched gears in life and pursued a career in helping people find their dream homes – what prompted this life change?

John and I wanted to have a business together as we were about to start raising a family and wanted more control and to not have to travel away from home …I always had a great interest in Real Estate so it seemed like a good transition.

Tell us how your experience in the performing arts has contributed to your success as one of the nation’s top rated Realtors? What tools do you find yourself using today that are a result of your arts education and experiences?

Hard work, discipline and great preparation are needed in both …also every time you go on a Listing Presentation it’s similar to auditioning. You need to be totally prepared. So I went from auditioning for Shows to auditioning for Listings!

That’s a lesson we hear a lot – the preparation process of being in a show helps with the preparation of so many other aspects in life – love hearing you make that connection again. Recently you put your toe back in the water and landed a role with Media Theatre’s “Hello Dolly” with Philly’s own Andrea McArdle – how much fun was that?

It was a fantastic experience! Andrea was super nice, very down to earth and we had a super cast! It was a blast!

Was this your first performance in a long time? How nervous were you auditioning?

Yes, I was nervous but since I have a day job, there is much less pressure. I really wanted to do it, but if I didn’t get it I figured there would be another opportunity in the future.

So share with your fellow performers what you did to help you prepare to nail the role? Did you take refresher classes?

I took singing lessons from Bill Mayo at Limelight. That was really helpful as I had not sung in a really long time. I teach Zumba so I do still dance and I workout, so I was not as concerned about my dancing.

So basically back to that “being prepared” thing, huh? What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself during the rehearsals and performances of that production?

The joy of performing never leaves you and I felt the same as I did 30 years ago when I did 42nd Street. The years just melted away.

Does this mean we can expect to see more of you on the stage?

Hopefully, I’m very fortunate to have my husband who can takeover when needed.

What excites you most about performing in front of a live audience?

There is an energy that cannot be duplicated when performing before a live audience. It’s great to hear their responses, their applause, their laughter…there is nothing like it!

Tell us, have you performed your dream role yet?

No, I have not performed my dream role yet… I would love to play Adelaide in Guys & Dolls. (tee-hee)

We hear you have exciting news about a new role you are preparing for. Can you share with us what’s on the horizon for you?

Gypsy rehearsals start Aug 31st. I was asked to be on the Board at the Media Theatre and I have accepted. And continuing to sell lots of homes & find folks their Dream Home. It’s a Busy life!

Wow – I guess you will never slow down – such exciting things ahead of you. Thanks for taking the time to share your story. 

Folks – make sure you get your tickets to see Karen knocking them dead in Gypsy – opens September 23rd at Media Theater!  Congrats and break a leg, Karen – We couldn’t be more proud!

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