I have been going to the theater since I was 3 years old. The first performance I remember seeing was at the Alliance Theater where they performed a stage collaboration of The Snowman, it was amazing. I told my Mom and Dad that I wanted to be up there – on the stage. I started giving my Mom and Dad mini theatrical performances in the kitchen and would make an announcement so they could get ready for the show. They were always ready – ready to support and encourage me.
My Game Warden Dad and Park Ranger Mom not only taught me how to camp and fish but took me to the theater, the ballet, and the symphony. I started to dream of being on the stage, of performing. Then at age 9, I had my first audition at The Holly Theater and was cast in the role of Mowgli in The Jungle Book Kids. I was hooked!
The next audition did not go as well. My mom and I arrived at the Holly for Into the Woods Jr. auditions and immediately I noticed a lot of the talent was teenagers. I immediately felt insecure, scared and uncomfortable. I wanted to leave. My Dad texted me and encouraged me to never quit, so, I stayed. I was not cast, but, little did I know, my mom met the mom of Haden Rider, co-owner of Play On Players. What I thought was a terrible experience turned out to be an incredible blessing in my life. Two months later I met Haden’s sister, Heidi and she cast me as Jack in Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark at the Holly Theater. I then auditioned for and joined Play On Players (POP) – Petite Poppers children’s theater troupe in 2016.
Things were going good and I was performing in more shows. Then I saw an announcement for MelloDrama auditions for Tarzan the Musical. I auditioned for and was cast as Young Tarzan. Ok, at this point in my life, I had never gone without a shirt. So, as everyone knows…..Tarzan only wears a loincloth. My mom received the phone call from the Director who had already picked up on my modesty and was concerned about my wearing the costume…or lack of. So after hearing the costume explanation, I said, “Wait, so I am not wearing a shirt and I am not wearing pants?” It took some time to think this over. Again I had this feeling of insecurity. After more than a month of rehearsals, I then had to start with dress rehearsals. I literally broke out of my shell. Tarzan was an amazing production and another life-changing experience. I was able to overcome another fear and grew as an actor. What seemed like a bad idea at first turned into something great. I even did a toe touch in my costume!
Next up was my first iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival (JTF) in January 2017. Wow. Another life-changing experience. JTF is three days of the most fun in the theater world! It is a celebration of all things theater as well as workshops and…..adjudication. Our show was Lion King Kids and I was cast as Young Simba. The kids in my theater troupe were and are so talented and encouraging of one another. The Petite Poppers and the older troupe of POP also presented Mary Poppins Jr. during the New Works Showcase on the main stage in front of all 5,700 participants! It was an incredible experience to be with so many talented kids on the stage, and off stage from all over the country. Our performance of Lion King Kids won Outstanding Performance. Wow! To add the icing to my cake, I met Mary Pope Osborne the author of one of my most favorite book series, The Magic Treehouse. She even took a picture of her and me with her phone!
At this point I knew theater was going to be a big part of my life, it was my niche’ and happy place. I then received an invited audition for the Alliance Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol – which I have personally seen every Christmas 9 years in a row. Unfortunately, my parents could not work out the intense performance schedule. I was so disappointed and thought I had lost any chance of being involved with the Alliance….and then I received a call from the Alliance asking me to be their PR Tiny Tim in Atlanta’s Christmas Parade! It was like being in the Macy’s Parade and another example of how something that seems like a bad experience turned into another great opportunity. I got to visit with their costumers and be fitted in their amazing costume shop. It was a little glimpse of what it would be like to work with them. And, I earned my very first paycheck!
In 2018 my theater troupe Petite Poppers took Beauty and The Beast Jr. to Junior Theater Festival and I was in one of my dream roles as Lumiere. We won Best in Ensemble and I was selected as All-Star. It was an incredible JTF. I also met Paul Williams! After JTF I submitted my video audition and waited. We finally received the invitation to New York, it was my biggest dream come true! I was cast in the iTheatrics Junior Theater Academy in “Drowsy Chaperone” – I was not familiar with this musical and I informed my mom in error that I was cast in “Lazy Chaperone”. For some reason, she thought this was very funny.
I am so excited. I am 12 years old, have been in 23 musicals and now I’m in New York City for iTheatrics at the 52nd Street Project and while there will celebrate my 13th Birthday!! I can’t wait to see what I will learn from iTheatrics! Through this theatre life so far, I’ve learned to never give up, to keep chasing my dream and sometimes the biggest disappointments might turn out to be the best blessing in life.
–Ian Johnson — Speakeysie Guest Contributor
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