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Abraham Johnson, 22, a senior theatre and English major at the University of Georgia, smiles for a portrait in a rehearsal room in the Fine Arts Building on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. Johnson recently wrote his eighth play, “Rootless”. (Photo/Julian Alexander)

 

While most traditional theater shows create an implied divide between the audience and the stage, playwright and senior Abraham Johnson hopes this will not be the case for his work, “Rootless,” when it takes the stage at the Memorial Hall Ballroom. 

“Rootless” will be Johnson’s eighth show produced by the University of Georgia. He’s had his shows produced by all seven theater organizations on campus. Johnson started writing the script for “Rootless” during his summer fellowship on queer spirituality under the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities with UGA theater professor George Contini.

Writing to cope

“Rootless” revolves around a bachelorette party in the forest that ends up going awry. Johnson wrote the script as a modern adaptation of “The Bacchae,” a Greek myth about the god Dionysus who lures the women of Thebes using godly rituals in the forest.

Writing the script for “Rootless” was a defining time for Johnson as a playwright. Shortly after he learned the play would be produced, his mother passed away.

Johnson said continuing to write the script for the show helped him cope with his mother’s death and heavily influenced the plot of the show by featuring aspects of motherhood.

“I should never doubt that I’m a playwright because if I can write through this horrible grief, then I can write through anything,” Johnson said.

“Rootless” is listed as part of the 2019-2020 season for the Thalian Blackfriars, UGA’s oldest student-run theater company. In 2017, the Thalian Blackfriars produced “Sunshine Town,” which Johnson said was his most “uninhibited” script of a dark comedy. The play questioned the ambiguity of morality and is molded after his own experience of finding a liberal community in a college which differs drastically from his conservative hometown. 

When he was a sophomore, Johnson won the New Georgia Award for New Plays for his work, “Dead Gay Body,” and was awarded a grant to produce the play.

Johnson wrote the script for “Dead Gay Body”  as an outlet to navigate his feelings in response to the 2016 shooting that occured at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub.

Johnson continues to work on his scripts even after they get produced. He first wrote “Sunshine Town” during his first year of college and started writing “Rootless” in 2017. Johnson considers all of his scripts works in progress and says that a play is “never ready” and “constantly evolving”.

“One of the great things to watch is how much Abe cares about his characters and the stories he’s trying to tell,” said Anthony Gagliardi, a fifth-year english and journalism double major who plays The Bear in “Rootless.” 

Stepping onto a bigger stage

Johnson has gone beyond Athens to seek playwriting opportunities. He interned at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut and will work there after graduating this fall. He was also invited by the Lambda Literary Foundation to go on the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices in Los Angeles.

In addition to finding his own opportunities, Johnson used his senior thesis to create opportunities for other playwrights. In April 2018, he founded the student theater group EXPLODE, which was a year-long project that resulted in 15 new plays by unproduced playwrights. EXPLODE was run by Johnson and other good friends of his that are now  involved in “Rootless”.

Savannah Hudson, a senior theater and entertainment and media studies major who plays Agave in “Rootless,” said EXPLODE was Johnson’s way of creating a “boom, or a big memory” for himself and all of his friends to remember during his final year at UGA.

While Johnson plans to return to Connecticut after graduation to work at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, he’s open to other possibilities for his career such as teaching or running his own theater. 

“[Abraham] has the resources of friends, colleagues and fellow artists. He’s going to do just fine because he has people that are there to help them,”  Contini said.

 

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