Actor Jeffrey Johnson has taken the proverbial road less travelled and though it brings inevitable challenges, he’s found a way to make it work. As artistic director of Ganymede Arts, Johnson wears many different hats (and wigs). He’s directing “Naked Boys Singing,” the company’s current show, which runs through mid-June at Playbill Cafe (ganymedearts.org), he performs as his drag alter ego Special Agent Galactica at ACKC Cocoa Bar, recreates Edith Beale’s nightclub act in “After the Garden” at various venues here and in New York and more.
“We’re always looking for funds and that’s stressful but at the same time I’m extremely happy and extremely fulfilled,” the 42-year-old Horseheads, N.Y., native says. “So I guess I just define success differently than a lot of people do. For me it’s not about big vacations here and there or a hefty paycheck. To me success is doing what I love.”
Growing up as an only child he was a swimmer and a loner. “I’ve always kind of been that way,” he says. “I basically spent my life face down in a pool or up in my room wearing out records. I played ‘Evita’ more times than Patti LuPone but in my bedroom.”
He went to college in South Carolina, eventually dropped out but stayed there 11 years working on various theatrical endeavors. He came to Washington 13 years ago and took over Ganymede (formerly the Actors’ Theatre of Washington) in 2003. He’s been in two long-term relationships but has been single for several years. Johnson lives in Adams Morgan and enjoys low-key activities such as hanging out with his dog, Cleteus, and watching movies in his down time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Twenty-four years. My Dad. It wasn’t so much that it was hard to tell him as it was just a matter of waiting for the right time.
Who’s your gay hero?
I’m not sure I have a specific, “gay” hero but over these last few years I have had the honor of meeting and becoming friends with some truly influential LGBT people (Holly Woodlawn, Charles Busch, Justin Bond, Del Shores) and what I find is they have made a very successful life for themselves being who they are and celebrating it. To me that’s heroic.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
That’s putting me on the spot! No comment! (Though many of them have been very supportive of me and Ganymede Arts!)
What’s your dream gay wedding?
You know, I’m still not used to the idea of getting married, though I’m stoked we can! I’m not sure if I am a “marrying” kind of person. I am a hopeless romantic though, so I guess the right guy could influence that fairly easily. I never really thought about it but for shits and giggles let’s say on a beautiful beach somewhere.
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
The imbalance of arts funding. I mean, there is so little of it and what there is is channeled to the organizations who are not in as great a need of it.
What historical outcome would you change?
I don’t know. I don’t really think that way. My philosophy on growing up is that things happen for a reason and lessons are learned — you move on stronger and wiser. I suppose I think that way about history as well. Many horrific things have happened but in changing those outcomes what’s to say it wouldn’t happen just at another time? If I have to have an answer I guess I could do without the movie “Yentl” ever being made.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I guess three things I can remember having some kind of impact on me are Elvis’ death, the Challenger explosion and Reagan getting shot.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
That I just found out a co-worker’s sister invented cinnamon toast. (Or at least they think she did.)
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
How many volumes are we talking?
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
That’s something I think about a lot. I don’t believe in organized religion, that’s for sure. However, I do understand that life holds much that is unanswerable. Unexplainable. And that’s OK, in fact for me it seems right. There is a power in not knowing. The magic that lies in the possibility is far more beautiful and empowering than some fabled answer.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
History and acceptance. Today’s generation of LGBTers seem to take their lives and freedoms for granted. When walking down the street holding hands, let’s say, I don’t think they (or even my generation for that matter) take a moment to realize the pain, suffering and strength it took previous generations to get us to this point. Knowledge of our own history is very important. I believe there would be less infighting and more acceptance and compassion toward each other if we see ourselves and those around us in our own community as fellow travelers on the same journey. A community that shares a common story.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
Most anything that I am passionate about.
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
What’s your favorite gay movie?
Well “Maurice” had a huge impact on me when that came out. Though I also have to put “The Hunger” into the fave gay movie category as well for “that scene.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
My first paycheck as a full-time employee of Ganymede Arts and not just a glorified volunteer with a stipend. (We’re working hard on that!)
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
You know I guess I have always accepted that life teaches you what you need to know when you are ready to know it. At 18 there is still so much fantasy and vitality to life that knowing more than that would be a pity. We grow up too quickly so why rush it?
At the time I moved here there were many reasons. I’m still here after 13 years because it has been very good to me. Washington has given me many opportunities and taught me many lessons. I’m attached to it and so far that’s a good thing.