For John Bruce Johnson, problem-solving is fun when it's...

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

April 18, 1993|By Sandra Crockett

For John Bruce Johnson, problem-solving is fun when it's 0) theater work

John Bruce Johnson keeps coming back.

Year after year and season after season, Mr. Johnson has volunteered his time at Vagabond Theatre at 806 Broadway. The 62-year-old retired Baltimore County schoolteacher has been president of the theater for 26 years.

"It's a tremendous amount of work," he says. "But I meet a lot of really interesting people. And it's a group effort. It's the problem-solving aspect of it I like. If I wasn't doing this, I would probably be home doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. And this is a lot more rewarding."

After being discharged from the Army in 1954 -- he had served as a Chinese interpreter in Korea -- Mr. Johnson returned to Baltimore and got involved in local theater.

He managed to squeeze some theater into his day job as well. During his 31-year teaching career at Parkville Middle School, the former seventh-grade teacher wrote and directed 22 musicals.

Mr. Johnson, who also has acted in plays, prefers the behind-the-scenes jobs such as directing and administrative work.

"I like bringing things together. And you don't have the aggravation of memorizing lines or getting butterflies in your stomach when walking out on stage," says Mr. Johnson, who was instrumental in bringing the current comedy, "I Hate Hamlet," to the theater.

Currently, Mr. Johnson is in the midst of planning for "a major" renovation that is scheduled to start in the summer including making the theater accessible to the handicapped, he says.

"It should be finished by the time we start our 78th season in October," he says.

Mr. Johnson doesn't expect to slow down any time soon. "I am," he says, "very young at heart."

@ When Margo Humphrey was first asked to illustrate a children's book, she declined. Drawing African-American children in a downtrodden neighborhood didn't interest her.

Then the publisher made her an offer she couldn't refuse: to write a book of her own.

She obliged, and the result, "The River That Gave Gifts," is now featured at the Peale Museum in an exhibit of children's books drawn by African-American women artists.

"I wanted to create heroes that teach lessons to kids, particularly Afro-American kids," says Ms. Humphrey, 50, who teaches drawing and printmaking at the University of Maryland, College Park.

She used her own experiences growing up with her mother and grandmother in Oakland, Calif., for the story of a young girl who rallies neighborhood children to help a wise older woman who becomes ill.

Thanks to the influence of her mother, a milliner and interior decorator, Ms. Humphrey pursued art in school, eventually getting her master's from Stanford University in California. Her work has been shown at the Smithsonian, the Chicago Art Institute and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"I think I have a special gift. I want my art to represent me and my culture -- and the intelligence that comes from my culture," she says.

She now spends many evenings in her Hyattsville home working on "The Collard Green King," a fanciful tale of a character who saves a garden from evil forces.

Her 11-year-old twins -- Aaron and Thais -- have played a large part in the writing of this second book.

"I need to discuss that with the publisher," she says, "whether their names should be on as co-authors."

Mary Corey

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