Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, California | Leading By Design

Valerie Gordon-Johnson

Film '78

Valerie Gordon-Johnson has been involved in many of the top Broadway and off-Broadway shows of the past two decades. She has served as associate producer, producer or general partner on the London productions of Crazy for You and Over My Dead Body, and the New York productions of Execution of Justice, The Secret Garden, The Engagement, Crazy for You, The Who's Tommy, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, The King and I, Titanic: The Musical, Hamlet (starring Ralph Fiennes) and Topdog/Underdog (with Mos Def).

As a director of the New York Theatre Workshop, she worked on the development and production of Rent, various plays by Tony Kushner (Angels in America), Doug Wright's Quills and various projects with Paul Rudnick, Susan Sontag, Athol Fugard, Caryl Churchill and Lisa Kron. Her productions and co-productions have won many Tonys, Obies and assorted international awards.

Gordon-Johnson graduated from Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia, before attending Art Center College of Design. She is married to the theatrical producer and graphic artist Doug Johnson.

How did you end up coming to Art Center as a film major?
I was just out of college and working for a political campaign in Wyoming, which is where I'm from. I was tagging around with the guys who were doing the commercials for our candidate, and I was fascinated by the way they were shot and edited. I had been toying with the idea of attending Art Center for photography-which I'd done quite a lot of-but after the campaign wound down I switched to film. I had been interested in theater since I was a child, so I was already fluent in telling a story in a narrative way.

What are your thoughts about the responsibility of artists and designers?
The epiphany that I had at Art Center was that you could be an artist and you could make a living at it. And I think that's a responsibility. In commercial theater, for example, you're responsible to get your show up and running, get it as well-reviewed as possible, bring as many people to see it as you can, and feed your actors and designers.

Are there specific things from your Art Center experience that you still draw from?
Solving problems is one of the things that Art Center gives you a real grounding in, because you're working with professionals, and you're working in such a way that you can develop your skills and be able to depend on them later.

What's the attraction to this genre?
The opportunity to tell a story about real characters in a clean, simple way with a lot of impact. Keeping it small, because the less budget you work with, the better your chances of making something interesting. As Thoreau said, "Simplify, simplify."

Gordon-Johnson was interviewed in the 2006 issue of Boundless.

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