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Peter Johnson is the Man

“I know I am still considered a new face in Buffalo theater,” says Peter Johnson, who is currently starring in the Subversive Theatre Collective production of I Am a Man. And yet, over the past six years, Johnson has been seen on stages all over town. He’s worked for the Kavinoky Theatre in A Few Good Men. He was in Ruined with Ujima Theater Company at TheatreLoft. He did Hambone at the Paul Robeson and has worked with Theater for Change.

He is featured especially prominently, however, in Oyamo’s play, I Am a Man, in which he portrays the leader of the sanitation workers union in a play about the 1968 garbage strike in Memphis that culminated with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The production has been directed by Annette Daniels-Taylor and uses video and shadows projected against an expansive screen to evoke the drama and violence in a pivotal moment of American Civil Rights history.

By day, Johnson is a personal trainer at the Jewish Community Center. While Buffalo is his home town, and his family is here, including a 15-month-old son, he did leave for New York City to study at the New York Film Academy. He has also enjoyed a substantial hip-hop career with a number of recordings under the name “Traz.”

“Dreams change and people grow,” notes Johnson, who adds, “Hip-hop is really for young guys. I know I look young, but I’m getting too old for hip-hop.”

“Stephen McKinley Henderson pulled me into acting,” he explains, referring to the Tony-nominated actor and member of the UB theater faculty. “I did some acting in film school, working for little or nothing, and I immediately found it fulfilling. A lot of times in the arts you begin doing it because you love it, hoping that there might be a payoff somewhere down the road.”

Artistically speaking, I Am a Man is certainly a payoff for Johnson. The production features him prominently and to excellent advantage.

“About a year ago I did the Subversive Shorts and Kurt Schneiderman [artistic director at Subversive] spoke to me about doing I Am a Man. Then, I got Ruined at Uima, Annette [Daniels Taylor] played the lead, and so she got to see me work and decided that I could do this part.

I Am a Man may be a turning point for Johnson, who has taken his entrepreneurial spirit, honed in music and documentary filmmaking, into the theater as well. He’s got a 40-minute documentary about the 1958 UB football team making the rounds, and he will be producing and starring in Charles Fuller’s Zooman and the Sign, coming up at TheatreLoft. In Buffalo theater, Peter Johnson is a man to watch.

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