Joseph Sikora: From Stage and Screen to Behind the Scenes

Columbia alum Joseph Sikora ’98 on acting, performance reviews, and fostering safe spaces to create

You may know him from his roles on hit series Ozark and Power or from his appearances in numerous shows and films over the years, but Theatre alum Joseph Sikora ’98 started his career on the stage at the age of 10. Exposed to the then popular television series KIDS Incorporated—a show about a children’s musical group that started the careers of stars Fergie and Jennifer Love Hewitt—Sikora decided it was his dream to perform.

“I thought, ‘Who doesn't want to be an actor or a rock star,’” says Sikora. After expressing his desire to act to his mother, she told him that if he felt the same way in a month, she would look into it. A month went by, and he still felt the same way. “She pulled out the Yellow Pages. We didn't see much on acting, so we went to theater. She had found the name of some big theaters, and I went down and I auditioned for A Christmas Carol at the Goodman.” He auditioned for the part of Tiny Tim but didn’t get the role due to his inability to sing. His looks caught their attention, however, and he was told that he should audition for the lead role in The Little Prince at the Touchstone Theatre. He ended up booking the role for two years.

“The first year was really kind of learning the ins and outs of memorizing lines and where to stay and where to stand,” he says. “My dad always says, ‘The first year you were great, but the second year you made magic.’ I think there's something to that, you know, learning about the magic of the theater.”

That magic lasted him all the way until he was on Broadway where Sikora also learned the harsher side of industry. Upset by bad reviews, Sikora said a director decided to take out his frustrations on him  during intermission.  “I always say it almost put out my flame all the way down, and I had terrible stage fright from that day on, really until the next 10 years,” says the Chicago native. 

Sikora is now at a place where the reviews no longer get to him. “You’d search them out and read them, and it meant a lot if they were good, it meant a lot if they were bad,” he says. “I don't care anymore, and I cannot believe I got to that place. I still respect my peers and I like having the accolades, but I don't read [the reviews] because if you believe the good, you have to believe the bad.”

He credits what he learned at Columbia with helping him get his passion for acting back and for fostering a strong sense of self in students and preparing them for the professional world. “I give so much credit to Columbia because more so than any other classes I had taken, they really prepare you,” he says naming more than a handful of past and present Columbia faculty members who influenced him or guided him in some way. “Columbia teachers are actually professionals in the field.”

Sikora says he could usually rely on his natural propensity for acting. “But when all that is taken away,” he says, “you're still able to go on because you've developed these skills. I kept going at it just with the skills that I had until I finally got the flame brighter and brighter and back, and kind of really had to recreate that flame in a different way. I give a lot of credit to Columbia for fortifying that education.”

Now with more than three decades on stage and on screen, Sikora has taken on a new project with his brother, Albin—their production company, Black Fox. “We're both Chicago natives. We were born and raised on the far northwest side of Chicago in the neighborhood of Norwood Park. We love all things Chicago,” he says. “Our mission statement is to tell the world about the urban experience through the lens of Chicago, primarily. That doesn't mean white or Black or Latino or Asian…, but it is all of those things. It is not rich. It is not poor. It is not middle class, but it is, again, all of those things. So we wanted to explore and celebrate urban life and urban existence primarily through our stories and always with a focus on Chicago.”

Sikora has positioned himself and his new platform to make a safe environment for those who want to create. “I'm one of those people who is going to try to make that happen, and that's similar to Columbia,” he says. “I would argue that that was certainly [how it was] when I was here and I'm sure that that wonderful lineage is being passed on of making it a safe environment to create. And that’s really important.”