By Paul Medina
Students, colleagues, family and friends gathered in the quad outside the Theater Arts Department for a memorial ceremony of esteemed Theater Arts faculty James Johnson.
Johnson taught at East Los Angeles College Theater Arts Department for nearly 20 years. His roles included being a staff member, a performing arts technician, an adjunct faculty member, stagecraft and a set & lighting designer. He died on October 13 after a short battle with cancer.
The service took place May 4 on what would have been Johnson’s 62nd birthday.
Johnson impacted the lives of many students and colleagues during his time at ELAC.
Theater Arts faculty member Rodney Scott recalled Johnson’s work and how he went above and beyond in his duties while assisting him in past play productions.
“No one had done so much for any of my productions, and he did it all himself. He stage-trained managers on how to call shows, showed me what to look for, how to spot what I like and how to voice what I wanted,” Scott said.
“Here was a man who built all our sets, did all the lights, trained all these stage managers. He knew so much more about the craft of acting than anybody I knew,” Scott said.
According to the ELAC Theatre Arts Instagram page, Johnson was a native of Colorado. He did theater arts work in San Diego, before settling in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. In 2001, he began working at ELAC.
Aside from experience with technical and stage work, Johnson directed and acted in some ELAC plays
Performance East Club President Timothy Reyes said Johnson, “was loved by many and inspired those around him through his actions and personality.”
Reyes said that, “Above all, Jim was a teacher and mentor to everyone and anyone who sought him out. I remember him as a man of relatively few words. The ones he spoke were filled with kindness, wisdom and humor. I’m sure that many students have similar or deeper experiences that would allow his memory to live on.”
During the memorial program, a band composed of ELAC Theater Arts and faculty members played songs that Johnson enjoyed listening to.
Johnson’s wife Julianne Foster spoke at the tribute with touching words about her late husband.
“He was creative and passionate. He loved me and our cat Jackson as well as Legos and Star Wars,” said Foster. She would go on to talk about the gentle inner child in him and the love for the trains and toys he had.
“He was only 61 years old and was just taken from us too soon. I loved him more than anything else,” Foster said.
She also thanked the crowd for sharing memories of him and for being in attendance.
According to Reyes, student members in Performance East are working with the department to dedicate a plaque in his name and hope that it will be placed outside his former office, known as the Black Box control booth.
“Thank you God for blessing this department with Jim’s presence. He will definitely be missed,” Scott said.
A poignant short story written by Johnson in 2016 about a ‘theater ghost’ is available on YouTube via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMY-nKbKs4I
Johnson is survived by his wife Julianne, his mother and three siblings.