If you’ve seen a sampling of mainstream local theater in New Orleans, you have probably come across the talents of actor/crooner Clint Johnson.
An award winner for his recent performance in Southern Rep’s production of “Next to Normal” and a staple at The National World War II Museum in shows like “The Andrews Brothers,” Johnson has been ubiquitous on stages throughout the city over the past few years.
And for those unfamiliar with his work, if you go to the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane this summer, you won’t be able to miss him. In one evening alone, he will be playing, among others, King John, Macduff, Polonius, Benvolio and Juliet.
Because along with the character of Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and participating in the festival’s experimental Luna Series, Johnson joins fellow actors Brendan Bowen and Andrew Vaught next week in recreating their roles from last year’s successful farrago of a show “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”
An ever-popular staple of Shakespeare festivals around the country, Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield’s “Complete Works” is a wild ride through Shakespeare’s entire canon with particular attention paid to “Hamlet.” Essentially, it is the theatrical equivalent of an idiot’s guide to the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon.
Johnson is thrilled to be able to spend an entire summer exploring the works of the playwright he most adores.
“I love these 37 plays. The scope of humanity and the ability to track the stages of man through these works. He covers the agony of both youth in work like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and old age in ‘Lear.’”
The actor has been performing Shakespeare since he was 15. His first taste of the Bard came as an actor in The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, New York, where he played the male ingénue Claudio in “Much Ado About Nothing.”
From that point, he was hooked. Counting Puck, Feste and Iago among his favorite roles, the young actor hopes some day to play the title character in “Richard II.”
Hailing originally from Oklahoma, Johnson, 26, came to New Orleans from New York in search of a more laid-back lifestyle, warmer climate and a chance to explore the possibility of a career as a jazz vocalist.
He is excited to be working with “Complete Works” director Carl Walker again. Known for his strong work with actors, Walker, who most recently helmed “Golda’s Balcony,” created an energy in the room that delighted Johnson.
“He’s a blast. The atmosphere of last year’s rehearsal was throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks,” Johnson said.
Along with a creative openness, the rehearsals, Johnson says, also were marked by the knowledge that the interaction of the three actors was dependent on routine and familiarity.
“Carl understands it is a big show in regards to the three performers. So, he makes sure we run it to the point of never having to think about it. And that familiarity allows you to search for new jokes and turns the experience into a living, breathing, evolving organism.”
Johnson hopes the show spurs greater interest in these plays. He believes the potential of Shakespeare for New Orleans’ theater has only begun to be tapped.
“New Orleans has genuine similarities to Elizabethan England. The city has a fresh, exciting relationship with the arts.”
Because of this, Johnson believes Shakespearean actors can write their own future in performing the plays.
“Doing Shakespeare here is still an opportunity to create something new.”