I have not disappeared loyal blog readers. The past couple weeks have been quite busy in mounting two productions in two different cities. While we have been getting a wonderful production of Song of Singapore on stage here in Springfield, I have also been busy directing the world premiere of a new play, Hanky Panky, as a part of the Kansas City Fringe Festival.

Herman Johansen

This brings me to around to the subject of my July “Five Questions With…” feature. (I know I’m a week or so late.) Over the past few weeks I have had the great privilege of reconnecting with a former Springfield Contemporary Theatre actor, director and co-producer, Herman Johansen as he was a member of the Hanky Panky cast.

Herman is another former Springfieldian that we often get asked about at the theatre. Springfield audiences may remember Herman from many productions he was involved with not only at the Vandivort, but also at Springfield Little Theatre and Tent Theatre. Here are my five questions with Herman:

RPD: Since leaving Springfield, can you give us a sampling of what you’ve been up to theatrically?

HJ: I moved to Kansas City in the spring of 2003 and was fortunate enough to get cast in the first show I auditioned for and it was at Kansas City Rep which is one of the largest professional theatres in the Midwest. Since then it’s been quite a journey…I’ve worked at several theatres in KC. in addition to the Rep: the Unicorn, New Theatre, MET, and some independent producers including this year’s Fringe Festival. I’ve also acted in five shows at the Great Plains Theatre in Abilene, KS and spent three summers doing summer stock in South Dakota at the Black Hills Playhouse. At BHP, I spent one of those summers as casting director and company manager as well. I’ve also been directing some, in and out of KC and even wrote an adaptation of a play that was produced at BHP. I’ve done some camera work, commercials and industrials and such. I’m in all three acting unions now: AEA, AFTRA and SAG.

RPD: After spending the past few weeks working with you, I know that you have upcoming projects lined up. Can you tell my readers a bit about what we might be able to see you working on soon?

HJ: The next projects I’ll be acting in include: Lend Me a Tenor at Great Plains Theatre, A Christmas Carol at the University of West Florida (as a guest artist) and The Odd Couple along side George Wendt at New Theatre in Kansas City. I am also producing a series of five staged readings in KC this fall. Then there are a couple of callbacks coming up this month that I’m excited about…

RPD: Can you briefly explain the journey you’ve been on to becoming a professional regional actor? For anyone wanting to pursue acting on a regional level what kind of advice would you have for them?

Herman Johansen in the Great Plains Theatre production of Harvey

HJ: The key is to audition. A lot. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? I’m constantly amazed at how many actors complain about the lack of work when they haven’t auditioned for anyone in a couple of years. It is easy to get discouraged and lazy, and those are dangerous things. To work regionally you need to audition in as many places as you can for as many theatres as you can. UPTA (Unified Professional Theatre Auditions) in Memphis and the Midwest Theatre Auditions in St. Louis were launching pads of sorts for me. That’s where I initially got cast in the projects outside of KC, which led to other jobs in directing and casting and such. I also audition in KC every time I can; even if the theatre has seen me before. I mail a lot of headshots and resumes out with cover letters to theatres, built a website (hermanjohansen.com) and other things to keep my name in front of people. As an example I got a call a couple of weeks ago from a casting director in Chicago who wants me to audition for some things up there in the near future. I had met her briefly a few years ago and stayed in touch. Who knows? I also read plays constantly. That is something my college acting coach, Howard Orms, instilled in me. That is so important and obvious, yet so many actors don’t do it. And I still work with acting and/or voice coaches when I get time.

RPD: Besides acting, I know that you also direct. From your experience as an actor, what do you take into the rehearsal room as a director? How does that influence how you work with other actors when directing?

HJ: As I get older I seem to enjoy directing more and more. Directing keeps me constantly engaged in every minute of rehearsals and all aspects of the show, which I find intriguing and fun. It is also a fantastic way to learn about acting! I sometimes see other actors with bad habits that I recognize in myself and resolve to correct.  Working as a casting director and watching over 500 auditions in a few hectic weeks was an eye-opening experience too.

Now, as to what I take in the room with me? I direct like I like to be directed as an actor.  I also have great faith and confidence in good actors to discover a lot of stuff on their own. So my blocking pace is fast and my process is quite collaborative. I like to lay down the basic foundation as quickly as we can and then flesh things out through repetition. I also know most of the things that go on in an actor’s mind; what they’re afraid of, what they struggle with, what they find frustrating. Some directors who have never acted seem to have styles that are more about the directing process than the collaborative process of exploring with the actors and technicians.

Herman Johansen with Ryan Hayes and Zack DuRant in the Springfield Contemporary Theatre production of American Buffalo

RPD: You spent so many years living, working and doing theatre in Springfield. Can you share with us some of your favorite memories of that period of your theatrical life?

HJ: Wow, between (S)MSU, Tent, SLT and the Vandivort I do have a lot of good memories.  I’d say some of my favorite projects, in no particular order, were My Fair Lady with Kim Crosby and Mick Denniston, Later Life at the VCT, which turned out to be Howard Orms’ last show. I loved doing American Buffalo at VCT, too. And I was very proud of Agnes of God, which I directed there with a fantastic cast. Free Man of Color at Founder’s Park directed by Mick and produced by Rob and Sally Baird was a highlight, too, even though I had actually moved to KC by then. I always enjoyed working with Mick; his directing process was very in-sync with my acting process. I’m Not Rappaport was one of the most challenging shows I had ever tackled and I loved doing it.

RPD: Herman, thanks again, for sharing so much from your experience with my readers. I encourage everyone to get up to Kansas City some time and see Herman at work.