He’s played fathers, brothers, peddlers, preachers and police inspectors. He’s portrayed a conniving attorney, a crafty magician, a smarmy hotel clerk, an inquisitive pilgrim descending into hell and a complaining Southern housewife.
This summer, Durango native Geoff Johnson, 31, will appear in two character roles – first in Farmington then Durango. Last night (June 15), he opened in the Sandstone Production of “Shrek, The Musical” as Farquaad, King Harold. In August, Johnson will portray Dennis, the owner of a Hollywood club, in another musical, “Rock of Ages,” at the Durango Arts Center.
Born in 1986, Johnson attended Needham Elementary and Miller Middle schools. He graduated from Durango High School in 2004, and earned his drama degree from Fort Lewis College in 2008. Not content with that, he returned to FLC and got an engineering degree in 2015. Johnson said yes, he could be in a big city maximizing his education and theatrical interests, but he hasn’t felt the pull to a metropolis.
“I like this area, and I like the people and the work I do here,” Johnson said. “Finding a job in Denver or some other big city is not an immediate concern.”
Johnson supports his passion for theater with two day jobs. He works in the offices of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Strater Hotel.
But performing in a variety of productions is what calls him. His acting résumé runs three pages. In elementary school, Johnson developed an interest in music followed by his first acting role in middle school: Inspector Seek in “Dr. Jekyll Please Don’t Hyde.” In high school, Tom Byrne, Johnson’s first stage director, inspired the freshman to perform in the undergraduate gala and laid the groundwork for solid vocal technique.
Johnson credits his next director, Mona Wood-Patterson, for instilling standards of excellence that have remained with him as a professional actor.
“Mona taught all of us to strive for the best – in preparation, rehearsal and performance. She never let up. She helped me establish good habits that I continue to practice,” he said.
In high school, Johnson performed a variety of character roles, ranging from Shakespeare’s Snug in 2002 to Iago in the 2004 production of “Othello.” In between, he auditioned for the villain in “Les Misérables,” That big musical stretched everyone, Johnson said, and he decided to study voice with Nick Sandner, another DHS graduate who was a music major at FLC at the time.
As a college freshman, Johnson attended the University of Northern Colorado, where a drama teacher pointed him in the direction of character acting. He encouraged Johnson’s versatility and emphasized the importance of vocal technique.
“I took all that seriously, and I continue to do a half-hour vocal warm up for every performance,” Johnson said. “If you’re in a show six nights a week, as I was two years ago at the Strater, you have to keep your voice and body in good shape.”
When Johnson decided to return to Durango and complete his theater degree at FLC, he landed major roles in six consecutive shows over six semesters.
“I got to explore different styles,” he said. “It was a very positive atmosphere.”
In 2006, Johnson played leads in both parts of “Angels in America.” He was Estragon in “Waiting for Godot” and Virgil in “Dante’s Inferno.” Simultaneously, he started performing in Durango’s annual “Rocky Horror Show” as well as various Merely Players’ productions under Wood-Patterson.
After graduation, Johnson joined the local improv group Durango Dot Comedy.
“It’s changed a lot over the years,” he said. “It started out mostly with improv games, but now we do long-form improv. I’ve been in all the shows this year.”
Thanks to Theresa Carson’s artistic direction at DAC, Johnson has been cast in just about every play from 2011 on, most notably “Cabaret,” “Greater Tuna” and most recently “God of Carnage.”
DAC’s “Rock of Ages” will open Aug. 17, about two weeks after “Shrek” closes. For a theater rat, the schedules dovetail conveniently, and Johnson has the added bonus of performing alongside his fiancée, Mohriah James. She plays multiple roles in “Shrek” and most likely will be involved at DAC for “Rock of Ages.”
“We met in college and we’ve been in a lot of productions together,” Johnson said.
Sounds like a Durango plan.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.