AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Actor Javon Johnson, an Anderson, South Carolina native, is not only in front of the camera and on stage, but he also puts in work behind the scenes as well.
Javon Johnson sits down with WJBF to talk about the theater production that he has written, produced, and directed, Sanctified.
Thank you for being here on Celebrating Black Excellence. Now, let’s get started with the beginning of your career. How did you get started with acting and production?
I am from Anderson, South Carolina, which is a very small community. A lot of people know it now because of the late, great Chadwick Boseman, who was our Black Panther and a lot of other iconic roles also, as his birthplace, and we were really close friends. That community didn’t offer much as far as aspiring artists. Young black boys didn’t really talk about being on TV, acting and performing, or spoken word, or anything. We thought about playing collegiate football, or collegiate sports, or going into the industrial textile industry. That was pretty much the culture there. So, I didn’t grow up in a community where I was nurtured to do this. I kind of just felt like I was called to do it. I didn’t know what I was doing as I was kind of matriculating into this field. I wasn’t going to go to college. My high school choir director at the time saw me walking through the hallway my senior year and said, “You’re going to go to college.” Most people on my mother’s side of the family, which I was raised on, that wasn’t the goal. We didn’t really go to college. So, that was a foreign idea to me, but I ended up going to South Carolina State University because he got me a choir scholarship… and I can’t sing. So, a lot of things when I look back on it is like the pieces, you know, logically didn’t make sense, but I was being set on a path. For the most part, I was at South Carolina State University in the music department, but I saw this big theater building, the Henderson Davis Theater, every day, and I was like, “I got to go in there.” I went in there, and just kept going from there.
Now, you have a play called, Sanctified, which is written, produced, and directed by you. Could you please tell us about that production?
It’s a hilarious gospel musical comedy. So, you’re going to get a lot of your old traditional hymns, but you also get a lot of other genres of music. It’s about a young pastor, who comes into the church with some grand ideas about the upcoming revival, and it’s a small Southern church that has been running on tradition for the last hundred years. So, we’ve got the elders in the church who want things the way they they’ve had them, and you’ve got a young pastor saying, well, we got five people coming to church every Sunday. We need a shift. And it’s like, how do we find our way to accept the new versus what is the old and how do we hold the integrity of tradition verses how do we evolve? And therein lies the conflict in the story with the young pastor bumping heads with a lot of the older folks about what’s to happen at this upcoming revival.
Now, what made you write and produce this play?
You know, it’s inspired by my church: my small family’s southern church. It’s hard to see things when you’re in it all the time. But because I travel so much, I could see every time I come home and go to the church, I say, “Things are different.” I saw a young pastor come in, and I saw him last about three years before he was gone. He came in with a lot of young energy and brand-new ideas that didn’t sit well with everybody at the church. I saw where the youth was involved at one point, and then later on, there was no youth present at all in the church. So, there was some people that had a voice, and after a while, they no longer had a voice. So, I said, “There’s something happening here that we need to pay attention to.” I think it is a call for change. It is a call for: how do you keep people engaged? Traditional hymns are great, but sometimes that contemporary sound speaks more to people sometimes. So, how do you how do you stay open without the politics of it all so that we keep people in the church? All generations!
Sanctified will be taking place at the KROC CENTER on Saturday, November 11th with two shows: 2 P.M. and 7 P.M. Now, why do people come to see the show?
Listen, you should come see it simply because you don’t want somebody else to tell you about the great time they had when they saw it, and you didn’t make it because that’s what’s going to happen. Most people come back and see the show two or three times as they can. It’s just hilarious and fun. So, it’s for everybody, all generations: for young people, for grandma, for grandkids. You don’t want to bring the baby. You got to hold him, you know, with the little milk bottle. (Laughs) If they can talk, walk, and understand, they probably are going to enjoy the show. This is just a good, fun time with something to say. It’s a play that has something to say about the state of the church, and it’s beyond the church. It’s about the mindset when it comes to evolving just in life because life has to evolve.
Now, why did you choose the city of Augusta to bring your play?
Well, you know what? The city of Augusta kind of chose to play. Denise Williams, who some people might know from her productions with Denise Williams Productions, saw the production in Atlanta and inquired about bringing it to the Augusta area. So, I was very open to it, and so I said, “Yeah, let’s do it. So, now we’re here.
For those who do not know, you graciously appeared on the cover of an issue of VPNMAG. How does it feel to be acknowledged for the things you’ve contributed to the arts community?
Well, you know, it’s kind of twofold for me. One, I’ve been told they appreciate that, which I do, but also my mindset is that I don’t do it for that, you know what I mean? Because my acknowledgement is in the effectiveness of what I do. Did I inspire somebody? Did I encourage somebody? Did I help somebody else grow? Did I contribute to humanity in a way that’s positive? That is my gratification. That’s my acknowledgement. I teach as well as consult. I do a lot of things. So, when I see other people grow into their dreams, into their passions, and into that purpose, that’s really all I need. So, if I get a thank you for that, or if I get acknowledgment for that, that’s great. It’s kind of like the icing on the cake, but it’s not the cake for me, you know?
What advice or words of encouragement can you give somebody who wants to get into film, TV or theater?
Pray. (Laughs) You should pray anyway. (Laughs) I said it jokingly, but it’s a tough industry. I mean, the entertainment industry across the board is just a tough industry. You really have to know why you want to do it. Know your purpose. Right? Because the truth of the matter is there’s a lane for everybody. You know, you don’t all have to be Oscar-caliber people. You know what I mean? Some people just can be good storytellers, or some people just want to be famous. Some people just want to be seen. So, there’s nothing wrong with any of those things. You just have to know what you are going into this industry for, so that you can then make every decision that leads you to getting to that. Part of that decision is learning the business and learning how to deal with. A lot of people are artists so much so that they don’t understand the business, and they get called up and fall through some loopholes and things like that and find themselves in bad situations. So, it’s about educating yourself once you know where you want to go in this business. There a lot of lanes. So, you got to pick one and say, “That’s where I’m headed. This where I need to educate myself to get to this point, and these are the moves I need to make to get there.” One thing I will say in this business is, please don’t be a desperate person chasing opportunities because that will guarantee you that you will get preyed upon and used, and a lot of people don’t realize that until it’s too late.
That’s some good advice. Now, if people want to follow you and follow your journey, how can they do so?
So, they can follow me on all social media: @IAmJavonJohnson. Most of everything that I’m working on is posted there.