The Phenomenally Successful Dramatist Ronnie J. Johnson
Ronnie J. Johnson a craftsman playwright/producer/director is bringing to the stage the dramatic inspirational play, The Cost of Love coming this spring 2012. Ronnie Johnson is the founder and owner of an urban inspirational theater & film production company entitled New Level Productions. Under the tutelage of David E.Talbert known for hit stage play “Love On Layaway,” it was only a matter of time before Ronnie Johnson would hear the call to begin his own company. Ronnie Johnson has had the opportunity to work with such great talented artists and actors such as Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, LisaRaye, LaShun Pace, Latrice Pace, Ernest Thomas, Kirk Franklin, Pras Michael, Deborah Cox, David Hollister, and many other artists just to name a few. Ronnie Johnson continues to benchmark with his gospel theater company by producing plays designed to take you to the next level. Next Level Productions current project is creating excitement. The Cost of Love is designed to really bless you. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Ronnie Johnson regarding his desire to establish a hierarchy of values on stage.
NI: Wow, a playwright. How does one begin to put together the plot, characters and music together to promote for a play? I know about film but I’m not so familiar with stage.
Ronnie: It’s a long process. You have to have a good story and the casting has to be right. Then it’s word of mouth and you basically promote it like anything else. The catch is the title.
NI: What is it like being on the road promoting a play?
Ronnie: Its best if you connect with a promoter in the state you wish to go to. I try to do it myself but it’s more effective to have a promoter in that city to help. They know more about the city. I am looking to take The Cost of Love to my home Virginia, where I am from originally. I would like to have it seen in Atlanta, Florida, Los Angels and San Diego. Overall it’s exciting being on the road doing what you love.
NI: Music for the play. Who oversees that? Most plays have great music associated.
Ronnie: I usually write a song title where I would like the music to be and then I give it to the musical director Ron Black. Ron goes to my church and he is experienced in music production.
NI: What are some of the difficulties you have obtaining finances for a play?
Ronnie: I do mostly out of pocket. I try to find sponsor but it is difficult. Financing for a play is very difficult. If you have a big name they bend just a little bit. To get sponsors you want to make sure the show is quality and help the sponsor to see it as a good investment.
NI: George Lucas has proven it’s okay to invest in the folks. You said one of the key elements to a play is the title, how did you come up with The Cost of Love?
Ronnie: The title was actually longer than that. I had to shorten it because I am working on the movie aspect of the play.
NI: (Lol) Right! Plays have names like “Don’t talk to you mother like that or you will get a whipin child.” sorta like the Wayne brothers “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking your Juice in the Hood” okay let me stop. So, tell us about The Cost of Love.
Ronnie: The Cost of Love is a romantic comedy stage play. Provokes the question does love cost? and if so, then what are you willing to pay for it? The main character Rochelle Williams a successful magazine owner will learn the price of love. The principle theme is natural love and God’s love. I can’t give you too much you all have to come and see the play. The cast is great and everyone will enjoy it.
NI: Amen. Gospel plays have been under the radar but still seem to do alright. How do you reach the people across the board? Those who don’t go to church.
Ronnie: Like I said the title is important. For the record they don’t say gospel play anymore. The title has been changed from Gospel play to Urban Inspiration Play to reach mainstream. When it comes to an inspirational stage play to reach mainstream, you have to have a real matter and add Jesus. Nobody, wants to feel like they are in church and being preached too. I want the audience to understand how to deal with what they are going through and make right decisions, should they experience what they see on stage or know someone. The goal and message is to be encouraged and know that Jesus is the answer to every situation. I focus on real situations that we all can relate to but may not talk about.
NI: Do you get flack from Church folks?
Ronnie: No not really. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but the storyline is based on real matters. When you see the play you are more likely to identify with on some level. You may know someone who has been through a similar experience. The point of the play is to let the audience know it will be okay and encourage them to go through it with grace.
NI: It seems like playwrights have it difficult in the business, let alone achieving major successes. However, Tyler Perry has put it back on the map. What do you say?
Ronnie: Overall, Tyler Perry is a genius. He changed the game and opened doors for playwrights. I enjoy his work. I’m happy for him. Not everyone can be him. He has brought life back to the inspirational urban plays. It is his work which created the term “New Urban Inspirational Stage Play.” He is a pioneer and a wonderful colleague. Tyler Perry is the only playwright I know who has played in arenas. He has opened the door for struggling actors/actresses who were out of work for a while and giving new aspiring artists work. By far he has made a great contribution to the playwright community.
NI: I agree, well said. He did help raise the bar for Urban Inspirational Stage Plays and African American theater. They have become more innovative and practical and not so silly. I have seen some foolishness and was thrown off about going to see Urban Plays overall. Inspirational plays are more sound in production and have a valuable message. How do you keep on message with your stage plays and what role does it play in your Ministry?
Ronnie: The way my plays contribute to my personal Ministry. I enjoy telling someone about the good news of Jesus and spreading the Word. It may not be behind an actual pulpit but my pulpit is the stage. The messages in my plays are my “sermons’ sort of speak. For example in church when the preacher includes real life situations in the sermon to reach everyone, the same goes for me. The messages in my plays are to reach the overall man, it could be Keisha from the block, Jimmy from the corner store, grandma Bessie from the little house on the corner to Phil from the brokerage firm to Sally from the human resources office. I am here to reach everyone, no matter what level of faith they may have. More importantly you will enjoy yourself and I want people to come out and see The Cost of Love.
NI: Amen. It only takes a little faith. How did you come up with your company name, very appropriate?
Ronnie: I came up with my company’s name New Level Productions, was back in 2002. I just didn’t want any name, I wanted a name that would stand out and catch the eye of someone. I’ve been in the entertainment/theater industry for over 17 years and I’ve seen many productions and stage plays that were both good and bad. So, in coming up with my company name, I asked God to give me a name. He gave me New Level Productions, because He wanted me to take part in the urban theater industry and contribute in taking it to a new level in quality, in style and in storytelling. Overall, we do not just want to be entertaining to the people but encouraging to the people.
NI: It must be fun to provide daily practical life issues and present them using positive features like the love of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Helping people with self awareness in comedy or drama. The stage play The Cost of Love will be out this Spring 2012, so I want readers to check for it. Ronnie, it has been great talking to you and thank you for joining the Urbanbuzzmag.com “Where Key Players Speak!” family. Where can people keep up with you and future projects.?
Ronnie: People can follow me on facebook http://facebook.com/newlevelproductions.
NI: Thank you Ronnie for sharing. If you would like to comment or reach out to Ronnie Johnson you can email us at Urbanbuzzusa@aol.com. Ronnie we Salute you this Black History Month.