Brandt Johnson stands a cool six-foot-six, but it’s his professional journey — from high school and college basketball to investment banking to acting — that represents the height of unusual. Each of those experiences inform Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters, a multicharacter one-person play that ran in the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival and has been rewritten and reconceived for its current Off-Off-Broadway run.
Yet, as the interview below makes clear, it would be inaccurate to state that Johnson used the precise details of his life to construct the play. His central character, Billy, appears forged through the actor’s classic technique of stepping outside themselves to gain perspective. Plus lots of great stories about playing against the Globetrotters.
So where does Johnson’s story stop and Billy’s begin? Great question — and it’s worth giving Give and Go a go in order to answer it.
Directed by Ron Stetson and featuring original music by Keith “Wild Child” Middleton, Give and Go runs at the Metropolitan Playhouse (220 E. 4th St.) through Feb. 27. For tickets, visit the show’s website or call 212-995-5302.
And now, 5 questions Brandt Johnson has never been asked — and a bonus question.
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
This is actually an observation someone made, rather than a question. Having seen both the 2007 production of Give and Go and the current show, one person observed that, in 2007, she saw various characters addressing William (the main character), but didn’t hear much from William himself. She felt that my giving William a more significant voice in the current version of the play made the piece more personal.
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Some people assume that Give and Go is a precise recounting of my life (it’s not, and the main character is named William Tyler). They ask me questions about my experiences, assuming details from the play are biographical facts. However, I wouldn’t actually call these questions idiotic.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Someone asked me if I would consider removing “Learning” from the full title Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters because he associated “learning” with “eating spinach” and other unpleasantness.
4) What are differences between Billy — the semi-autobiographical character you play in Give and Go — and yourself? If you him Billy the piece of advice that seems to tie your show together — “true success is not about winning” — would he listen? Why or why not?
The character of Billy loses touch with his sense of freedom and playfulness to a degree that I never have. His willingness to listen to my advice would depend on when in the show I offered it to him. By the end of the play, he has learned that true success is not about winning, so he would certainly listen then.
5) What’s the most surprising part of playing against the Harlem Globetrotters? What are some of the things the public doesn’t know about them that they’d be shocked or amused to discover? How much practice do they do to get that good?
One remarkable element of the Globetrotter tour was how much it seemed like a touring theater production. Each of us (the players on both teams, the coaches, referees, announcer, etc.) had a different role to play, but we were all part of the same show.
We would sometimes play pickup games against the Globetrotters when we arrived in a city early. The Globetrotters did not always win!
Practice was essential before the tour for the Globetrotters to develop their skills. But once we were on tour, we played so many games and traveled so much there was not a lot of time to practice.
6) Can you describe the similarities between playing professional sports, working on Wall Street and acting? Should more actors pursue traditional jobs before entering the industry? If so (or if not), how would it make them better actors?
Hard work and winning are paramount and clearly defined in professional sports and on Wall Street, but I think the measures of success in acting are less quantitative. Your body (its fitness, flexibility, responsiveness, etc.) clearly plays a role in sports and acting that it does not on Wall Street. The ability to perform in front of an audience, however, is critical in all three realms.
Pursuing a traditional job or any other non-acting activity before entering the entertainment industry can give an actor valuable life experience to draw upon when acting. However, starting an acting career without such a detour provides the advantage of more acting experience sooner. I think the choice depends on the personality, goals and abilities of each individual actor.