In our Alumni Q&A series, we caught up with Kendall Johnson MFA ’14 to discuss what he’s working on professionally, his favorite USC experience, advice for students and more.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I am from the South Side of Chicago and actually have an undergraduate degree in Psychology. I did one play reading in college, and backstage before our first show, I just started crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t explain why other than I felt like I was fulfilling my purpose. So, from that day forward, I decided to get more training and move to L.A. I looked into the USC MFA program and absolutely fell in love with it. I was accepted into the MFA Acting Program on my birthday!
What are you currently working on professionally?
I am working on a semi-biographical screenplay. It’s about a guy who has to learn how to process his trauma in a way that doesn’t hurt other people. It’s also about sexuality, gender, race, and the interplay of those dynamics. And, though I’m not currently working on it, I have a recurring role in A League of Their Own that premieres on Amazon Prime on August 12.
What was your best USC experience?
The solo show with Luis Alfaro changed my expectation of what was possible from my acting. It was just me telling a story with my body and voice to the best of my ability. I felt so free. In some ways, it started a separate journey for my writing. Some of the themes that I explored in that piece are in the screenplay I’m writing.
What do you miss about college, SDA specifically?
The rigorous training. The training was so relentless. I miss the structure of it so much. Much of what we do on the other side of this program is figuring out how to just exist in between those few moments we do actually get paid for our art. I miss not having to put so much time and effort into figuring that out because in school, the days were already planned out for us.
What (if any) productions did you work on?
In 2014, my MFA Rep shows were Tartuffe directed by Andy Robinson, Trojan Women directed by David Bridel, and Our Town directed by Cameron Watson. In my second year, Lisa Wolpe directed my class’s version of The Taming of The Shrew, and John DeMita directed us in 27 Wagons Full of Cotton And Other Short Plays.
What was your favorite theatre at SDA? Why?
I really liked the size and scale of the Bing theatre. It was difficult to perform in, but it was just so grand and unlike any other theatre at the school. It feels like performing on some huge opera stage.
What can students do during their training to prepare themselves for the professional world?
Audition as much as possible! Get on Actors Access and Casting Networks and submit. Specifically, getting a good self-tape set up. That includes a tripod, blank wall or background, a quiet area to film in, and two or three reliable friends you can call on to read with you.
What lessons from your SDA training have you applied to your professional life?
I was having a tough time in my first year and I sent a professor a largely incoherent email. But in one of the clearer parts of that email, I asked, “what is a great actor?”. That professor responded, “For me, it’s never far away from a great human being.”