Theater instructor shares his experiences in the industry
By Jeana Rose Meneses
Ron Johnson Jr., better known as Mr. Jay to the students at Summit Rainier, is the instructor for the Modern Acting and Theater Expeditions course. In addition to his work with the Expeditions team, he is also a professional actor and has been in a number of films and segments such as Funny or Die. He is also a rapper, and you can find his original songs on websites like Spotify and Sound Cloud under his name. While he is at Summit Rainier, he is always trying to inspire his students to believe in themselves, whether they pursue an acting career or not.
1. Since you are an actor, at what age did you know that you wanted to be an actor, and was it a big “aha” moment?
“Well, to me it wasn’t so much as being an actor as it was being an overall performer,” Mr. Jay said. “I wanted to be a professional performer, meaning I sing, I dance, I rap, I act. I just want to be doing that for the rest of my life and I’ve known that since I was about 4 or 5 years old.”
2. Were your parents in the acting business as well?
“My mother was a singer, and my father used to play an instrument, but that’s as far as they went,” Mr. Jay stated. “They didn’t really know how to help me or start me off because they didn’t really take the path themselves.”
3. Can you describe your current status right now?
“My current status right now is that I’m auditioning for pilot seasons for television shows and I have my own production company with my wife,” Mr. Jay said. “I’m also a screen actors guild franchise producer, so I can make my own movies if I want.”
4. What’s something that stands out to you in a script?
“Something that stands out to me in a script is when characters are written for specific purposes but they have room to grow,” Mr. Jay explained.
5. Have you ever had that one character that you just had to play?
“I can’t say that I’ve actually played one of those yet, but I can say that my dream is to be a detective on Law and Order,” Mr. Jay said smiling. “I think I could kill that.”
6. On the opposite side of things, what is something that stands out negatively in a script that makes you not even want to interview?
“What stands out negatively to me in a script are false images of groups of people. Stereotypes. They bug me,” Mr. Jay explained. “For example, if we were going to watch Law and Order, 9 times out of 10, the person they’re going to bring in for drugs, rape, abuse, murder is somebody black that looks like they’re from the hood. When we know for a fact in real life the highest murder rates come from white neighborhoods. To use people of color, to stereotype them, to serve your purposes in a story, that kind of bugs me.”
7. When you are going to an audition, what goes through your head?
“What goes through my head is making sure that I’m not overdoing it, you know? A lot of actors, when they start out, they feel like they have to stand out or they have to be different from everyone else. When in reality, if you just do it the way you internally feel about it, that is when you have the most success,” Mr. Jay elaborated.
8. What is going through your head after the audition?
“The first thing I do after I do an audition is that I take the script that I used to audition with and I just throw it out,” Mr. Jay exclaimed. “As actors, we are our own harshest critics, and so we always feel like we can do something better, and so when we think about the same things over and over again, we leave no space for new things, and it’ll drive us crazy if we do not get rid of it. Out of sight, out of mind, and, if I do get picked for the job, then it is like a pleasant surprise.”
9. After getting a role, what goes through your mind?
“Well, you know it’s always excitement. But then it immediately turns to OK, I’m happy about this, but this is still a job and I have to do it the right way. So if I get a role I immediately start doing research,” Mr. Jay said.
10. What has been the hardest part about your acting career?
“The hardest part about an acting career is momentum, you know? It’s cycles of building up momentum and then dealing with rejection,” Mr. Jay explained. “You have to be really patient, and you have to go on a lot of auditions. It’s hard not to take it personally, you know what I mean? It will eventually happen it is just all about frequency.”
11. How have you overcome that yourself?
“I try to keep myself remembering why I love to do it in the first place and part of that is teaching,” Mr. Jay said. “When I go out there to Hollywood by myself, it’s very lonely, but the thought of me getting to bring what I’ve learned back to my students keeps me in a mood where I’m happy enough to keep moving on.”
12. Since you write your own songs, what is the motivation behind them?
“I try to rap about awareness, knowing your rights, being a good person, not letting people dictate who you are, themes about injustice and sometimes I get political,” Mr. Jay said. “I just rap about the things I think people should hear.”
13. Does your knowledge on the behind-the-scenes affect how you see movies and other things?
“Before I got involved in the industry I would watch the movie and leave. Now that I know how hard these people work, I stay until the end of the movie and I watch all the credits. Every last name,” Mr. Jay reflected.
14. Do you have any noteworthy stories about the industry?
“I had been in an audition waiting room and was told to wait outside the door. As I was waiting outside the door, the door was cracked open and I heard the casting directors. The director [was] talking about all the people they have seen in an audition and they seemed upset. Every actor they had seen today had apologized for something,” Mr. Jay explained. “These three people were actually making bets, putting money in a pot, about how many people would apologize to them in a day. So that’s what I teach my students. I teach my students to be confident.”
15. Why did you become a drama teacher?
“I don’t really consider myself a teacher. What I consider myself as is an instructor who teaches vocational training. I don’t teach the history of drama; I teach you how to use it to become a professional,” Mr. Jay said.
16. What is the message that you want to give your students?
“The message that I do give my students above all else is about being your own person and making strong choices and dealing with those consequences,” Mr. Jay said. “I truly believe that learning the process of acting and learning how to be a performer can help you be a better person, no matter what profession you go into.”
17. Is there anything else you would like to share?
“Come see our show at the end of the year!” Mr. Jay said.