K. O. Johnson is a theater director, producer, playwright and filmmaker residing in Austin, Texas, where he managed/directed several theater companies.
He was born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, where he attended Saint Mary’s Catholic School. It was there that he became involved in theater. Jokingly, he was called Orson Johnson, because he wrote, directed and played the lead in many of the school productions. In his senior year he won the Best Actor award at the one-act play festival held in San Antonio.
Port Arthur had a very active community theater with some very talented directors. He learned so much about the craft of theater from those gifted local people.
Johnson did a stint in the Air Force in Minnesota, where he started the first community theater in the Air Defense Command. After service he attended the University of Minnesota as an English/Drama major where he played the lead in Romeo and Juliet. It was, also, there that he won a Creative Arts Award for an original one-act play called The Last Man Home, about a Civil War soldier’s return home - reminiscent of, and before, Cold Mountain. Sadly, he has lost that play script.
In the 60’s he was affiliated with Theater East in Los Angeles, where he showcased two original plays. A House Of Sand was a play he wrote about his mother’s bar in Port Arthur and some of the characters he had known there. Duet In B-Flat is a two-character comedy based on an actress friend and her artist bisexual husband. That play has had several productions. It received a “Critic’s Choice Award” for its Austin, Texas, production.
Before he went to Los Angeles Mr. Johnson had written an original musical comedy revue, Sweet & Sour.He had been working right out of high school, at Theater Inc, a musical comedy theater in Houston, Texas. Tommy Tune was acting in a production of Once Upon A Mattress at that time and the choreographer was Patsy Swayze, mother of Patrick Swayze. The cast for Mr. Johnson’s revue were young actors he had met in Houston. Sally Rand, the fan dancer, was performing in a production of Gypsy. She came to see the show, and took the cast to Chicago with her. It was after the run in Chicago, when he discovered that they had been working for the Mafia, that he ended up in Los Angeles. Over the years he has written several other original, satirical revues, one, which starred the actress Bibi Besch.
In the late 60’s, after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Johnson was hired by the Mississippi Arts Commission to help desegregate the local theaters. Hodding Carter III of the Pulitzer Prize winning Delta Democratic Times wrote,“Mr. Johnson’s work reflected solid perfection and professionalism, both rare in a theater which must depend upon unpaid amateurs for its actors.”
While in Los Angeles he wrote, produced and directed his most successful play, Final Touches, (“A big welcome to this play that touches the heart,” LA Times). It starred Dana Elcar of MacGyver TV fame, and Christopher McDonald. The play, based on family characters, was nominated for 15 L.A. Drama Critic Awards, and was winner of 4 Drama-Logue Awards, including “Best Play.” The play also had productions in Austin, Texas and in Richmond, Virginia. The Texas production won 8 Austin Circle of Theater Awards - and still holds that record for most awards after 20 years.
Other original plays include: American Realism, (“American realism gives the playgoer a look at how things used to be, how they are and how they should be. Funny and touching.”); Jesse’s Closet, based on a real incident when his friend, actor Jesse Pearson (Bye, Bye Birdie) died of AIDS (Johnson has penned another intense drama of family strife.); A Way Back Home, a musical based on the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale-- this received a “Critic’s Best Bets” Award; The Bitter Taste Of Morning (“What does a Jewish Vietnam Vet and a black transsexual have in common? More than you’d imagine.”), a serious play about the repercussions of war and has yet to be produced.
Most recently, Johnson wrote, produced and directed a monologue play called, Conversations While Dining Alone. The production included 12 actors and 25 monologues. The local critic called the play “A mosaic of the human heart.”
Mr. Johnson’s original films include the film version of Jesse’s Closet which won a “Jury Award” at The Hollywood Black Film Festival and El Abandonado, a Spanish language film which played the Cine Los Americas International Film Festival and has been seen on Netflix the past few years. His short films have appeared in film festivals across the US, including PBS.
Highlights from his 100 directing stage credits include Macbeth, A Streetcar Named Desire, Camelot, West Side Story, Butley, That Championship Season, Man Of La Mancha, and Oliver.
In his home town of Austin, Texas Mr. Johnson has worked with the LBJ Presidential Library where he directed the “Conference On Women In Public Life” with featured speakers Gloria Steinem, Barbara Jordan, Sara Weddington and Liz Carpenter. He also directed “Lady Bird Johnson’s Eightieth Birthday Celebrations,” which featured notables from around the world, and a performance by Carol Channing.
Mr. Johnson was also the recipient of “Partners In The Arts and Humanities Award” from the City of Austin, and a “Certificate of Appreciation” from the City Council of Austin, Texas, for his contribution to the city’s cultural programs.
Mr. Johnson is currently busy writing his 12th novel.