Jef Johnson explores Open Space complete with clown makeup.
Jef Johnson explores Open Space complete with clown makeup.
Photo by Jennifer González, Mexico City

Expect a Whole Lot of Improvisation With Jef Johnson in Open Space at Main Street

Some kids (and grown-ups) are scared of clowns. Some people don't like clowns. Performer Jef Johnson is having none of that as he wears clown make-up throughout his shows.

"I don't think anyone is scared of clowns. I think people are scared of disguises that seem tricky," he says. "For me clowns represent the universality of all people, a state of surprise and possibility. When we're free from the social mask and free from a state of judgment."

Clearly this is a performer who takes a different path. He believes in minimal structure — "All my shows are improvised" — so audiences attending his performances of Open Space at Main Street Theater should realize that ahead of time and come prepared.

Johnson, who identifies as a Houstonian — he also spends a lot of time in Mexico — travels the world doing his show which can vary greatly in length. He predicts this one will last about 90 minutes with no intermission.

Asked why he's taking up alternative theater, Johnson says that after working as an actor for a number of years he started questioning traditional methods. "Why have we become so fake? Why is the audience so distant?" So he decided to get everyone more involved.

Dressed in white with a clown face, Johnson's shows are fluid, influenced by the setting he's performing in as well as how the audience responds to him. In the case of Open Space he'll be exploring shared physical space and the space in the theater. He wants the audience to play with him, he says.

"I am trying to do a more free way of performing that relied on me being more present in the moment ... instead of leading to over intellectualized pre-rehearsed ideas. It was for myself also to challenge myself. Over time it became something really exciting for me too. It's a natural evolution of my own work over the last eight or nine years.

"The open space we encounter, anything can happen."

Open Space will be performed at 7:30 p.m. December 10-11 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information, visit mainstreettheater.com. $20.

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