Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A LIFE IN THE THEATRE: Actor Volier Johnson on his passion for the stage and growing older and wiser

TIME TO REFLECT: For Johnson, 64, the stage is a perpetual playground. Below, with Same Difference costar Maylynne Lowe.

Volier ‘Maffie’ Johnson performed in his first theatrical production, a Trevor Rhone-directed version of A Christmas Carol, way back in 1969. Some forty-seven years later, the devoted actor is still going strong. In fact, Johnson, who recently celebrated birthday number 64, shows no signs of slowing down, and his youthful stamina is one of the many highlights in Dahlia Harris’ latest ensemble dramedy Same Difference (DMH Productions), now playing in Kingston. TALLAWAH caught up with the happily married family man, one of our favourite theatre icons, to talk about chemistry, creative spaces, and celebrating some big milestones.

TALLAWAH: What’s the secret to having a long-lasting career like yours in the theatre?
Volier Johnson: Acting was always my pastime. When everybody was playing football I wanted to be on the stage. It’s a natural love I have for the theatre. I never wanted to be a big star; just to be able to do what I love and live a good life.

TALLAWAH: This month’s Same Difference marks your second consecutive commercial production with writer-director-producer Dahlia Harris. What do you like most about working with Harris?
V.J.: I like Dahlia’s writing. She always picks nice situations to explore in the story, and we always work well together. She’s one of my longtime friends in the theatre, and we always get along. 

TALLAWAH: You’ve played the leading man to a fantastic array of Jamaican actresses, including Audrey Reid, Deon Silvera and Barbara McCalla. With whom did you have the most natural chemistry? 
V.J.: Barbara and I are very good together, but me and Audrey are coming from far, so the bond between us is more natural. As an actor, I don’t look for perfection in my costars. As long as you are professional and can do the job well, I will work with you. And I don’t mind working with younger folk; as long as you have the potential and the respect. I’m not in any competition. I just want to give a good show. 

TALLAWAH: What’s missing from the Jamaican theatre right now? 
V.J.: We need more theatre spaces. Please! At this point we have to call on the government. But in the meantime what we might have to do is identify some more of these school auditoriums and convert them to use as theatre spaces. All we would need is just proper lighting.

TALLAWAH: Reflecting on your career, chock-full of highlights, which role that you’ve brought to life always brings a smile to your face? 
V.J.: The first one is Toy Boy, one of my favourites. And I enjoyed playing Lord Bag and Pan in the pantomime Operation P, and doing Guava Jelly with Audrey and Oliver [Samuels]. 

TALLAWAH: Speaking of pantomime, this year the LTM is observing its 75th anniversary. How do you feel about such a milestone? 
V.J.: I think it’s a wonderful achievement. Before I hang up my gloves I might do another pantomime. I had promised them I would do one more. As long as the script is alright and the character to my liking I’ll seriously think about it. 

TALLAWAH: What is the core principle that guides your life? 
V.J.: I think you should just enjoy every moment of your life and cherish the work that you do. I like to go out there and make people laugh. It’s fun.

TALLAWAH: You turned 64 recently. How did you celebrate? 
V.J.: Rehearsal! (Laughs). But after rehearsal my daughter took me out to dinner, then me and my wife danced up a storm.

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