Dwain Johnson

Dwain Johnson: the Centenary

"And if we teach discipline and the truth... and if we accept the fact that the results will be good... and if we demand and insist that it will be good, then we can produce solid, artistic theater." - Dwain "Mr. J" Johnson

Curriculum Vitae

Actor
  • Antic Spring [The]
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
    Joseph Kesselring
  • Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court [A]
    John G Fuller
  • Detective Story
    Sidney Kingsley
  • Gillean
    Cumming Kennedy
  • Imaginary Invalid [The]
    Moliere
  • Life With Father
    Clarence Day, Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse
  • Macbeth
    William Shakespeare
  • Thunder Rock
    James Ardley
Director
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum
    Stephen Sondheim
  • An Experimental Play
    author unknown
  • Annie Get Your Gun
    Irving Berlin
  • Anything Goes
    Cole Porter
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
    Joseph Kesselring
  • The Bad Seed
    Maxwell Anderson
  • Because Their Hearts were Pure (or The Secret of the Mine)
    Morland Cary
  • Blithe Spirit
    Noel Coward
  • Bye Bye Birdie
    Michael Stewart, Charles Strouse
  • Calamity Jane
    Ronald Hanmer, Sammy Fain, Phil Park, Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster
  • The Cat and the Canary
    John Willard
  • Charley's Aunt
    Brandon Thomas
  • Clown and His Circus [The]
    playwright unknown (childrens' show)
  • Clown Who Ran Away [The]
    playwright unknown (childrens' show)
  • The Crucible
    Arthur Miller
  • Cyrano de Bergerac
    Edmond Rostand, Brian Hooker (translation)
  • Dark Victory
    George Brewer, Jr. and Bertram Bloch
  • David and Lisa
    Eleanor Perry, James Reach, Theodore Isaac Rubin
  • Detective Story
    Sidney Kingsley
  • Dino
    Kristen Sergel
  • The Doctor In Spite of Himself
    Moliere
  • Everybody Loves Opal
    John Patrick
  • Glass Menagerie [The]
    Tennessee Williams
  • Harvey
    Mary Chase
  • Hansel and Gretel
    Lillain and Robert Masters, Barbara Weiland
  • The Heartless Troll
    playwright unknown (childrens' show)
  • The Imaginary Invalid
    Moliere
  • Life With Father
    Clarence Day, Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse
  • Li'l Abner
    Norman Panama and Melvin Frank
  • Love Rides The Rails
    Morland Cory
  • The Man In The Bowler Hat
    A.A. Milne
  • Medea
    Euripides, Robinson Jeffers
  • The Miracle Worker
    William Gibson
  • Monkey's Paw [The]
    unknown, based on the story by W. W. Jacobs
  • My Three Angels
    Samuel and Bella Spewack
  • Night of January 16th [The]
    Ayn Rand
  • Oklahoma
    Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers
  • Once Upon A Mattress
    Marshall Barer, Mary Rodgers, Marshall Barer
  • Our Town
    Thornton Wilder
  • Saint Joan
    George Bernard Shaw
  • Slaughter of the Innocents
    William Saroyan
  • Tartuffe
    Moliere
  • Teahouse of the August Moon
    John Patrick, Vern Sneider
  • Time Out For Ginger
    Ronald Alexander
  • The Unsinkable Molly Brown
    Richard Morris, Meredith Willson
  • Where's Charley?
    George Abbott, Frank Loesser
  • Winnie the Pooh
    playwright unknown (childrens' show)
  • The Wizard of Oz
    Elizabeth Fuller Cjapman

"He feels morally obligated to teach the art of theater to the students"

Dwain Johnson saw high school educational theater is a legitimate and vital component of young persons' civic development at a time when it was largely considered a quaint after-thought. He went further--- sincerely believing that high school aged men and women were capable of turning out quality performance that could rival the professionals. He was a fierce advocate of discipline and focus, felt the theatrical arts could direct tastes rather than merely reflect them and was a passionate pursuer of truth.

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"Kevin, we did it!!"

Kevin Fjelsted was blind since birth.

He was a pretty amazing teenager already when he volunteered to re-wire the Mayo High School auditorium's sound board and signed up to work in the school's new television studio. He had a solid group of friends as well--- friends that not only accepted Kevin as an equal but proved it by helping Kevin have a bit of fun with his lack of sight. (Kevin got behind the wheel of someone's car in the Mayo parking lot one day after school. With one pal on the floor operating the brakes, another lying down on the passenger seat helping Kevin steer and a third in the back seat navigating, the blind student drove past a group of Kevin's buddies as they waited for the bus.)

So, it was not surprising when Kevin decided that after being on the technical end of Mayo's theater productions, he wanted to try being on stage. He auditioned for Sidney Kingsley's Detective Story and won the part of Endicott Sims.

This was 1973. There was no great national conversation about equity or awareness of the differently abled. Kevin was still referred to as "the blind kid" more often than not. There were a lot of doors closed to people like him. Except for those doors that were routinely opened by educators like my father.

You see, there was absolutely no reason for my father to ask Kevin the question he asked shortly after Kevin had been cast--- absolutely no reason not to slightly modify Endicott Sims to fit Kevin.

Except my dad didn't assume Kevin wanted Endicott altered.

Instead, my dad looked at an extraordinary young man and left the door open for him to be challenged to succeed once again.

"Kevin, would you like to play the role as blind or as sighted?"

Kevin thought for a moment and replied, "I'd like to try playing him as sighted.

And so, my father embarked on the task of teaching a 17-year-old who had never seen a day in his life how to appear to be sighted. Kevin did not know, for example, that sighted people swung their arms when the walked. Eye contact was a big undertaking. My dad had to teach him how people looked at their watch... The only obstacle that bested Kevin was a long cross from downstage right to upstage left. Keven just couldn't do it without a hesitant stutter-step. The solution? A one-inch-wide strip of carpeting was put on the stage floor that Keven could follow with his foot.

The night before dress rehearsal at Mr. J's Mayo was always "Picture Night." Families were invited to come and take all the photos of their kids they wished to and my dad turned that into an actor lesson as well. Photographers were encouraged to get up on the stage and walk amongst the actors in order to get close-ups. Actors were expected to focus and concentrate. If a cross needed to be made and a photographer was in your way, it was expected that you adjust and adapt in character.

The media--- who am I kidding?--- the newspaper was invited to come as well. These were back in the days when the Rochester Post Bulletin would give as many column inches to educational theater as they did to the civic theater and even the Guthrie. They wrote about the themes of the plays and the message the directors were trying to make. And they wrote about the participants.

The Post Bulletin photographer didn't know much about Kevin that night. He may have been a last-minute substitute; I can't remember for sure. He arrived at the start of the show and spent two hours getting the shots he needed and then waited to do his interviews.

At the end of the rehearsal, he sought out my father and asked, with complete sincerity---

"I heard you have a blind kid in the show. Which one was he?"

My father turned toward his cast member and raised his two fists in triumph---

"Kevin, we did it!!"

Remembering the Scopes Monkey Trial
Rare interview of Clarence Darrow, circa 1932

Dwain was inspired by trial law and particularing by Clarence Darrow. He wrote several papers on Darrow's work, including the Scope's Monkey Trial.


Where's Charley?

Mr. j directed both Charley's Aunt and Where's Charley during his career. I confess I don't really see much in the latter other than as a great vehicle for Roy Bolger's dancing. I don't know. maybe you'll think otherwise.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Brian Hooker's superb translation of Edmund Rostand's classic. In many ways, this was the highlight of my father's career. Here is the full movie, free.


Time Out For Ginger

Mr. J directed Time Out For Ginger a year after this episode of Jack Benny's was aired. It was always a footnote in my dad's career, but it did feature one special element: the show's technical director was his wonderful new wife, Noreen.


Life With Father

Life With Father was one of the shows that Dad acted in first and then revisited as a director.



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