We had the good fortune of connecting with JJ Johnston and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi JJ, why did you pursue a creative career?
I was drawn to be a professional artist at a fairly young age. While I had always been quite creative and imaginative (performing self-produced puppet shows, creating elaborate soap operas with my action figures, drawing huge scrolling panoramic stories on entire legal pads), it was in seventh grade when I found myself drawn so strongly to theatre. I was attending a school performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to see a friend in the show, and right then and there I fell in love with live performance. The next year I auditioned for the school play and from there on out I was very active in the theatre department. I went on to study theatre in undergrad at Boston College, and a couple of years later I went to graduate school at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. to get my Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting. Ever since then I’ve been very active in the professional theatre community in Houston, New York, Washington D.C., and elsewhere. I’ve taught at all levels of schooling, and in 2008 I went on to found the Classical Theatre Company here in Houston. CTC is still the only professional theatre company that is dedicated to solely producing year round classical drama in the State of Texas. I think a large part of what fueled my imagination as a child, and fueled me creatively going forward from there, was my love of creating things. Whether it’s creating characters as an actor, creating stories as a writer/adapter, creating and artistic vision as a director, or creating places for other people in which to be creative. All told, there’s nothing I cherish more than building something in which others can take enjoyment/be inspired/be pushed to think. Being chained to a career that doesn’t allow me to have a creative outlet would be soul crushing for me.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Despite a large bulk of my training and experience having been as an actor, I have not done a great deal of acting over the course of the last 12 years. The reason for that is that I founded, and run, the Classical Theatre Company in Houston. My time has become overwhelmingly dominated by the administrative aspects of running one of the premiere professional theatre companies in the city, and as such, I haven’t had much opportunity to act. That being said, I’ve been able to exercise my artistic muscles by directing at least one production each season, and regularly writing and adapting scripts. Being involved in the creative process as a producer on all of CTC’s shows is another tangential way to scratch that artistic itch. Classical Theatre Company is the only professional theatre company in the State of Texas that solely produces year round classical drama. As such, we focus only on plays (or source material) that are at least 100 years old. CTC is unique in the region in that way, and we have garnered a reputation as one of the premiere classical theatres in the country, and one of the top professional theatres in the state. CTC has won several notable awards for its work over the years, though I am most proud of helming the company when it won the American Theatre Wing’s National Theatre Company Grant Award in 2016. The ATW is the organization that administers the Tony Awards, and it selected CTC as one of only seven companies in the entire country to receive this prestigious award. As you can see, my individual work and CTC’s work cannot be separated. There have been highs and lows over the course of 12 seasons, from financial collapses to losing our performance space at Chelsea Market to winning awards and garnering rave reviews in the press. It has been an uphill battle the whole way, but our mission, our supporters, and our audience keep us on target and motivated. And it will be they who get us through our greatest challenge yet – COVID-19 – and out the other side.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Being as I’ve lived in numerous cities over the years, I have quite a few friends scattered all over the country (and the globe). So, it’s not uncommon for someone to come for a visit. Now, some folks might take visitors to the Galleria or NASA or some other notable Houston landmark, but instead, I take guests on eating tours of Houston. For my money, the H has the best food scene in the country. Obviously we hit some Tex-Mex. I have different Tex-Mex joints for different times of day, but in no particular order, we’ll usually hit up Molina’s Cantina, La Mexicana, and 100% Taquito, For breakfast tacos, we’ll grab Chiloso’s and Rustika Cafe. Next, of course, comes BBQ. We’ll probably hit the Pit Room (let’s talk about that brisket taco), Killen’s BBQ, and Pappas BBQ. We might grab a late night bite at the House of Pies or Katz’s. If we’re looking for Asian food, ramen from Ramen Tatsu-ya or Chinese-American from Shanghai River are certainly on my list. Grabbing some kolaches from Christy’s or Kolache Factory are musts for breakfast, as is of course Shipley’s for kolaches and donuts. By the time we get to the end of this list, we’re certainly fat and happy. If the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is in town, I’ll definitely bring someone there. Again, it’s mostly to eat a tremendous amount of food, but it’s also cool to catch the rodeo events and the concert that evening. Since I’m a theatre guy, we’ll definitely hit up my company – Classical Theatre Company – if there’s a show running. And then probably at least one other production at a local company, whether that’s Catastrophic Theatre, Main Street Theater, the Alley, Mildred’s Umbrella, 4th Wall, or any of the other remarkable professional companies here in town.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’ve had a series of mentors at each level of my professional and personal development towards my theatre career. If I had to pick a single one, I would point to Dr. John Houchin. Dr. Houchin was one of my professors in the Theater Arts department at Boston College. We connected quite early on in my first semester at college because he, like I, hailed from Houston. We had a love of Houston sports, and basically all things H-Town despite being half a country away from the Bayou City. Dr. Houchin cast me in two of the plays he directed and pushed me far harder than anyone had previously. His coaching and mentorship helped guide me not only as an artist, but he shaped my early professional career as well. It was his encouragement that pointed me towards graduate school, and his lessons and advice that got me to reach my potential as an artist. His no BS approach to theatre was a fresh take on the craft, and I took it to heart. To this day I still subscribe to this attitude towards theatre both as an artist and an administrator. His non-nonsense, practical point of view is branded on my heart. In 2011, it was my greatest pleasure to be able to bring Dr. Houchin in to Classical Theatre Company to direct a production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. The production was a hit, and a remarkable experience. Both Dr. Houchin and I being able to reconnect some ten years after my time under his tutelage was something that I will hold close to my heart forever.
Other: Personal Twitter: https://twitter.com/johnstjh Personal Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/johnstjh/
Jeff McMorrough Photography Pin Lim Freddie & David