In preparation for Rep Stage's upcoming reading of NOMS DE GUERRE as part of their commemoration of the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, I connected with our company about their careers in the theatre and the relevant themes of the play. Click here to learn more about the reading and please enjoy this wonderful interview with cast member James J. Johnson
JACQUELINE LAWTON: To begin, why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
JAMES J. JOHNSON: The Cosby Show was the spark. I was in 4th grade when it premiered. Not only did I never miss an episode throughout all 8 seasons, but I started to read everything I could find on Bill Cosby. I decided I wanted to become a stand-up comedian. In high school, though, I found theatre during my junior year and, suddenly, the itch was about more than just making people laugh.
JL: NOMS DE GUERRE is a socio-political drama that addresses the U.S. military policy and the damaging impact of PTSD on veterans and their family. Why do you feel this play is relevant to today’s audiences?
JJ: As Americans, we have seen war play out before our eyes for over a decade non-stop. Personally, I’ve seen friends and family members go and return from these wars. A few years ago, I reconnected with a good college buddy who joined the military and spent some time fighting overseas. He told me about his battle with PTSD after returning to the States. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t had a loved one involved in the military, in the past decade.
JL: NOMS DE GUERRE also addresses women’s rights and recent restrictions placed on health care for women. It’s been 50 years since the Women’s Liberation Movement swept the nation, where do you feel we are in terms of gender relations in the U.S.?
JJ: As with any movement—Civil Rights, Gay Rights—progress certainly creeps along. Like, I can look back and wonder, “Wow, there was a time—less than a century ago—when women couldn’t vote!” That seems so strange to me. Then I look at today and wrack my brain as to why there are still people that don’t believe in equal pay for equal work. The hardest part is always the changing of people’s attitudes, but, in the meantime, we have to fight and reason to change the laws and policies.
JL: Which character are you playing? What, if anything, do you have in common with this character’s passions, values, intentions or belief system?
JJ: I am playing “Cooper Belizaire.” The main connection I sense is the value that Cooper puts on friendship—and relationships, in general. He does not take a friendship lightly and will do all in his power to support, yet stay honest. He is committed! He also seems to value the importance of humor. I aspire to those values, because that’s what I want, in return.
JL: What’s next for you as an actor? Where can we follow your work?
JJ: I am in a film, Nocturnal Agony, which is slated to hit stores in January. It stars Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, Vernee Watson, Hezekiah Walker, DC’s own Deidra Lawan Starnes, and many more. Directed by Shuaib Mitchell. jamesjjohnson.weebly.com/
About Rep Stage
Rep Stage, a professional regional theatre in residence at Howard Community College, is celebrating its 22nd season. The company is a member of the League of Washington Theatre, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and Theatre Communications Group. Rep Stage is recognized by Theatre Washington as professional DC Metro area theatre company and is eligible to be nominated for the Helen Hayes Awards. Performances are made possible by Howard Arts Council, Howard County Government, and the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the Stage of Maryland and National Endowment of the Arts, as well as through generous individual contributions. Rep Stage is proud to be a partner of Howard County Tourism and promotion. Rep Stage’s Artistic Leadership is helmed by Co-Producing Artistic Directors Suzanne Beal and Joseph Ritsch.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!