Artist spotlight: Zach Johnson

In his five years at Lawrence, Zachary Scot Johnson has managed to pursue his rather diverse interests with a seemingly uncompromising determination in each of them. Whether he’s singing at the piano or parading around in a gaudy Oprah Winfrey costume, it’s clear that Johnson has found a second home on stage, and he’s only just getting started.Where are you from and what are you studying at Lawrence?
I am from Racine, Wis., a city much like Appleton. I’m a super-senior now and a triple major in theatre arts, music performance and psychology.
How long have you been involved with theater and/or music?
I’ve been doing theater since I was eight, so a good 15 years now. I’ve managed to do an average of four to seven shows per year since then. For music, I began playing violin at age six and piano at age eight. I taught myself how to play guitar when I began high school, or somewhere around that time. I began doing the singer/songwriter thing about then, too. I think, actually, my first songs were written while I was in middle school, but those tunes have not survived. That’s probably for the best.
What artist or performers have been most inspiring to you as an artist?
I listen to all kinds of music and am influenced by just about everyone, including my friends. The big ones for me have been Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams. I’m also a longtime fan of artists like James Taylor, Neil Young, Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon, etc. I also like a lot of under-the-radar artists like Mary Gauthier, Lori McKenna, Patty Larkin, etc.
For actors, Meryl Streep has been my guide. She’s the best actress of all time in my mind and of our age certainly. I have too many influential actors to list, too, but Pacino, Hanks, Diane Keaton and Julianne Moore would all rank very highly.
Are there any specific performances that have been particularly memorable for you?
Opening for Shawn Colvin was a very big deal to me. It was very moving to find that sometimes your heroes are even cooler and better than you’d ever imagine they would be. She was one of the kindest, coolest people I’ve met. Theatrically, I loved doing “Boomtown” by Jeff Daniels last year. That was a great experience. I think the most recent show, “Language of Angels,” was a very unique and special experience for all involved. Really, they’re all special and unique for different reasons.
You founded LUIT, the Lawrence University Improv Troupe. How has your experience with this group been throughout the past few years?
You know, LUIT will be, I think, my most fond memory of Lawrence University when I graduate. It has gotten more and more enjoyable as we’ve continued. We’ve had some rough patches, but I’ve loved every member of LUIT and it’s an amazing little family. I look forward to every rehearsal and every meeting, and I think when that kind of thing happens, you’re a part of something more special than can even really be explained.
What are your plans in the future, either with regards to your music and your work in theater?
I’d love to have them forever coexist in my life. I hope that happens. They’re equally important in my life and they’re all I really know. I’m putting out another CD later this year and will be touring some for it. It’ll be an interesting year and a very revealing one, I’m sure of it. I’m at a crossroads in my life and I can’t wait to see how it plays out and what comes of it.