Pauls Valley Democrat
Pauls Valley, Oklahoma —
Addiction is a condition one usually tries to avoid or seek treatment for, but when it comes to theater, Pauls Valley native Vaughn C. Johnson only seeks to feed the habit.
Originally a way to emulate his older brother La Don, he quickly developed a passion for delivering stories on stage on his own and was well bitten by the acting bug by the time he graduated from Pauls Valley High School in 1975. Of all the changes he made throughout his life, including several changes in what to settle on as a major in college, he always made time to find his way back in front of an audience.
“Back then it was oh you’re La Don’s little brother, now it’s oh you’re Vaughn’s bigger brother,” said Johnson, who first earned his bachelors of arts in speech education at East Central University. “He was my hero, I wanted to do everything he did... I did everything I could do to get into a play.”
Teaching was the career Johnson eventually decided on and one he would embrace, but it wasn’t long before he was back in college at Central State in Edmond for an English major and once again pursuing theater through his masters at Kansas University. He likes to tell people how ending up in the Houston area for one season as an actor there was supposed to be temporary before moving on to bigger gigs, yet it eventually added up to around 25 years including four years in the local Shakespeare festival.
“After I got out of school I decided I was too immature to teach High School,” said Johnson, who also taught mostly middle school after he discovered how he needed to make a steadier income than the convenience store work he did to support his theater habit. “After being robbed twice I said I’ve got two college degrees so I’ll do something else.”
In fact after 20 years as a teacher, most of it in Texas, theater was one of the first things Johnson got involved in when he moved back to Pauls Valley at the beginning of 2009. A friend of his in the area had season tickets to the Ardmore Little Theater and his praise of their work was encouragement enough to give auditioning for them a try.
Something must have clicked because Johnson was then cast in ALT’s 2011 spring run of “The Best Little Whore House in Texas” and then in the November play “Social Security.” Those who wish to see him again will get a chance when he portrays Sir Danvers, the father-in-law to be of Dr. Henry Jekyll in the musical “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” Feb. 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, and 19 at 7 p.m.
One of the things Johnson enjoys the most about participating in a production is getting to pretend to be someone else. Other than some former students who might say otherwise, he considers himself quiet and shy, though does not get as nervous when he takes on the life of a fictional character.
“I enjoy being able to play characters not like me,” said Johnson. “When I have someone in the audience I know it makes it that much more enjoyable... It’s the audience that gives you the energy.”
In the end, it is Johnson’s roots here he continues to thank from influences like his music teacher Nadine Hogue at Jefferson to his band teacher, Jim Winkle. Since he returned he will gladly point out what has changed and how proud he is of the direction the community is heading.
“I’ve always been proud of Pauls Valley,” said Johnson. “I’ve always been nostalgic.”