Student’s search for the perfect role

By Eileen Gutierrez |Staff Writer|

For Nilan Johnson, the journey of life has cast him in a role he was born to play.

From a young age, Johnson was intrigued in theatre beginning with his infatuation with “Phantom of the Opera.”

Johnson, originally from North Carolina, attended a high school which placed a high emphasis on arts.

One of his first mentors, a teacher by the name of Windle Tabb, taught him the key foundation of theatre: vocabulary. Johnson has been able to use the vocabulary testing regularly on his switch to the west coast.

Johnson decided to come to the Los Angeles area, hoping that the change in coasts would give him a better opportunity.

After high school, Johnson originally attended UCLA. While there, he found that the theatre program was not for him.

At UCLA, students must work their way up onto the stage. Students normally begin stage acting junior year, but Johnson wanted more.

He transferred to CSUSB to pursue his dreams of theatre arts. Professors Kathy Ervin and Andre Harrington of the theatre department have truly taken Johnson under their wing and mentor him.

One of the most important things Ervin and Harrington have taught him is to separate the actor from the person everyday.

During his time here, Johnson has performed in 15 productions and has even directed two. One of his most notable plays is “RENT” performed along Mount San Jacinto College students.

Johnson played the character of Benjamin Coffin III, the opportunist who rides the waves and doesn’t make a stand for himself. Johnson described this character as being opposite of his personality.

One of the things Johnson likes about acting is that its an outlet.

“It helps me dish out the thoughts on my brain. The profession of acting also helps me to embody my ideas,” said Johnson.

A defining moment for Johnson is when Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker attended the opening night of “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men”.

“I was watching you as you were acting, I liked the choices you were making as this character,” Johnson said Whitaker told him after the show.

Johnson explained that’s one of the highest compliments an actor can receive.

Professors Ervin and Harrington provided Johnson with his letters of recommendation for University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Johnson will attend the school in the fall to attain his graduate degree in Theatre Arts.

Johnson has many goals. One of them is to own an acting theatre company. He wants to change America’s perception of colored actors, from African Americans to Hispanics.

The main drive behind Johnson has to be his mother, who played both mommy and daddy.

“At times we were homeless, but we had to stay driven and focused. I’ve watched her mistakes and learned from her. She’s easy to talk,” stated Johnson.

Johnson is not only an actor and director, but a singer and enjoys drawing as well. He tries to find every artistic outlet to express his ideas.

Johnson will walk this spring and continue his education back in his home state. “I’m so close to my dreams,” he said when asked what drove him everyday.



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