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Nicholas Johnson and the Theatre

Johnson was included in the cast of a number of Janet Schlapkohl’s original Combined Efforts’ plays beginning in 2010. Photos and comment regarding plays in which he played a role are listed below, by year in reverse chronological order. References below to “outdoor performance” are to Janet and Dave Schlapkohl’s farm outside Iowa City, known to some for its “Country Camp,” that provides many locations around the property where scenes could be set.


Nicholas Johnson’s first association with the theater involved a role in a high school play for which, thankfully, there appears to be no record. His second was his role as an unacknowledged “technical advisor” to the musical, “The Selling of the President,” which opened in the Walnut Theater in Philadelphia, and closed three days after its Shubert Theatre opening on Broadway, March 22, 1972. Here are a couple pieces about that show:

“I attended its second-to-last performance at the March 25th [1972] Saturday matinee and, would you believe, I liked it? Politically-minded and well versed in all-things Nixon, I liked the overall concept, even if it was flat-footed in its execution. Instead of basing it on Nixon, it created a fictitious midwestern Senator running for President, George W. Mason, and in musical form, told the story of how he was packaged as a presidential candidate. Not only did Karen Morrow not sing in her role as a Kellyanne Conway-type, but neither did the actors playing Mason and his wife — Pat Hingle and Barbara Barrie. All the musical numbers consisted entirely of commercials and were sung by the chorus. Political junkie that I was (and still am), the fifteen year old in me was intrigued by it all. In my review, I wrote: ‘A very funny and exciting spoof of how powerful the television media really is.’” Ron Fessler, “The Selling of the President,” Theatre Yesterday and Today, Jan. 31, 2017, [Source]

Donald Johnson, “Ads in ‘Selling of President’ Musical Irk McGinniss,” The New York Times, March 3, 1972, p. 28, [Source]

During his years at the FCC and beyond he had a partner, number of friends and acquaintances in the entertainment industry, and he is now listed in the movie and television industries’ database for his TV series “New Tech Times,” late-night network programs, and bit parts in some documentaries. Internet Movie Database [IMDb].

After his return to Iowa City (1980), and marriage to Mary Vasey (1991), he became involved with a theater group she helped to create and for which she was its first board chair: Combined Efforts, https://combinedefforts.org/. Its Web site’s drop down menus — “Who We Are,” “What We Do,” and “Calendar” — provide background on the organization. Its most distinctive element is its inclusion of people with and without disabilities in its productions. Here are three paragraphs it provides on Combined Efforts history:

“Combined Efforts was founded in 2002 by Janet Schlapkohl, then a special education teacher at City High School in Iowa City. Students in her classroom displayed dramatic talents that only needed an opportunity for performance so she wrote an adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, tailored to their skills and opened auditions to all students. The show was presented in the Little Theater at City High. She was assured that there wouldn’t be a very big audience but soon carts of extra chairs were frantically set up five minutes before the show opened to a bursting house.

In 2009 CE had assumed non-profit, section 501(c)(3) status, and expanded to include members of all ages from the local and nearby communities. The season went from one play a year to three major productions and two smaller shows. The Company now performs in various venues both indoors and outdoors in the area. A long range goal is to find a permanent home for all of the Company activities and performances.

The Men’s Choir and the Dance Team formed in 2012. They perform at large and small gatherings and are a part of the Theatre Company productions. Recent Additions include The Writer’s Group, Expressive Arts and Ulterior Motifs.



Dickens and Donuts 2020

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve 2016, Uptown Bill’s Coffee House [UptownBills.org] hosted a live reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a project organized, compiled and directed by Josh Sazon. Volunteers were assigned sections of the text, which they read aloud in front of a live audience. For the next three years the reading was held every year, on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas  — and always with doughnuts.

Unfortunately, given the global COVID-19 epidemic and associated circumstances, Uptown Bill’s was unable to host a live reading December 2020. Instead, Josh went Zooming ahead with a virtual Dickens and Donuts. Volunteers were assigned sections of the text to read aloud while recording their efforts using video cameras or smart phones while sheltering at home.

Nicholas, and his wife Mary Vasey, were both asked to contribute bits to the 1:39:39 YouTube production, found by searching YouTube for “The Uptown Bill’s Experience” and then clicking on “Dickens and Donuts 2020.” Mary’s bit is from 35:02-36:48, Nick’s from 56:14-1:00:43. The project was organized, compiled and directed by Josh Sazon.



Nicholas Johnson played the role of Batman to Derek Johnson’s (no relation) Robin, in Derek’s play, “Nesting Instinct,” January 26, 2020. It was a part of Combined Efforts’ annual “LEAP! 2020” variety show at the Coralville (Iowa) Center for the Performing Arts. (Only available video was on an audience member’s phone from the back of the theater. Gregory Johnson, ResourcesForLife.com, who was not present at the performance, volunteered to enhance the audio and produce what is posted here.)



Combined Efforts presented its winter variety show, “Winter Wonderful,” at Iowa City’s famed Uptown Bill’s, December 20, 2019. The show included Nicholas Johnson and professional actor Jason Grubbe in this comedic version of “The Night Before Christmas.”


[Above] Nicholas Johnson as both “Mill Owner” and “Rector” in “Children of the Moors” (Combined Efforts Theatre’s first radio play), Opstad Auditorium, City High School, Aug. 2, 3, 4, 2019 (“’This summer we wanted to try something a little different and novel in doing a radio drama,'” said Schlapkohl, the founder of Combined Effort Theatre and the script’s author. “‘The premise is that you’re a guest at a live radio broadcast.’” Isaac Hamlet, “Radio Killed the Broadway Star,” Iowa City Press Citizen, Aug. 1, 2019, [Source]


[Above] Nicholas Johnson and Mary Vasey performing Mary’s sketch, “The Refrigerator,” Uptown Bill’s, Iowa City, April 1, 2016

[Above] Nicholas Johnson in “And the Winner Is,” a Mary Vasey sketch in Combined Efforts’ Annual “Leap” variety show, Coralville Performing Arts Center, Feb. 29, 2016.


[Above] Nicholas Johnson as “Mr. Fezziwig” in “A Carol for Our Time,” Johnson County Fairgrounds, Exhibit Hall A, Iowa City, Dec. 16, 17, 18, 2016 (“From Dec. 16-18 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, Combined Efforts will stage four productions of Schlapkohl’s adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Jacob Marley.

“A Carol for Our Time” is a play with a dystopian look at the classic tale.” Zach Berg, “Combined Efforts Presents ‘A Christmas Carol’ With a Dystopian Twist,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dec. 13, 2016, [Source]

“Fezziwig symbolizes all the good that a human can possess, particularly a human who is a business owner. When Scrooge revisits his past, he is reminded of what a boss can and should be. He treats both Ebenezer Scrooge and Dick Wilkins wonderfully, telling them ‘No more work to-night,’ in direct contrast with Scrooge’s constant effort to work every last second out of his own employee, Bob Cratchit. He throws a wonderful party . . ..” “What does Fezziwig symbolize in A Christmas Carol?” enotes [Source]


[Above] Nicholas Johnson as Alcaeus (Master of Ceremonies) in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” July 23, 24, 25, 2015, outdoor performance (with Bob Shaffer).


Nicholas Johnson, excerpts from “Trubblesume Tymes at the Faire,” Iowa City Annual Americans With Disabilities Act Celebration, Ped Mall, Iowa City, July 26, 2014 (with Derek Johnson)

Nicholas Johnson as Lord Mayor in “Trubblesume Tymes at the Faire,” July 25, 26, 2014, outdoor performance

“The piece runs less than an hour, and is very active as scenes switch between locations and we meet the various zany characters of the Faire. You’ll meet, for example, the cantankerous Queen (Britte Garrett), her put-upon consort (Derek Johnson), an amusing Town Crier (Bob Shaffer, who has a real knack for comic timing), a trio of clowning washerwomen, and a quintet of ‘Little Men’ (stalked around by Sarah Bender as Shakespeare, trying to steal their puppet plays). Tymes, directed by Jason Grubbe and Janet Story Schlapkohl, is full of humor and whimsy, and is performed well by this energetic cast of players.” Editor, “Trubblesume Tymes a Frolicking Evening,” Iowa Theatre, July 25, 2014. [Source]

“Today, CET remains the only theatre company in Iowa that is purposely inclusive of people with disabilities. It has as many as 60 members at any given time. The acting company performs several times throughout the year in its own shows, at city events and at fundraisers for other organizations. The performances vary between longer plays and short one-acts, but all of the material is original and written by company members. . . . They draw from a variety of subjects to produce plays that are relaxing, fun and creative. For example, their upcoming Trubblesume Tymes at the Faire is a farce set in Elizabethan times.” Jorie Slodki, “Combined Efforts Theatre Yields Some of the Most Creative, Inclusive Productions in the State of Iowa,” Little Village Magazine, July 15, 2014. [Source]

“The players in Combined Efforts Theater range from children to students to college professors. All are welcome as long as they make it to rehearsal and put in the hours. Nicholas Johnson, an adjunct law lecturer at the University of Iowa, has worked with the organization for some time. “My wife is good friends with [Janet Schlapkohl], and she sort of dragged me in,” Johnson said. “I just wish I was better at learning those lines.” Johnson, who plays Lord Mayor in Trubblesume Tymes at the Faire, noted that the program recently got a grant from the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., to go to schools around the area and teach students about not only theater but the inclusion of people with disabilities. “It was a great initiative,” he said. “We keep trying to work more with the community and spread our mission.” Elena Bruess, “Theater Beyond Imagine,” Daily Iowan, July 24, 2014. [Source]


[Above] Nicholas Johnson doing a Reading from his book Test Pattern for Living, at Uptown Bill’s-Combined Efforts’ “Slices: Performance and Pie,” Uptown Bill’s, June 4, 2013

“A good time was had by all at Tuesday, June 4 at SLICES:PERFORMANCE AND PIE, an event presented by Uptown Bill’s and Combined Efforts Theatre. Guests began the evening sampling the berry, apple, Key Lime , peach and lemon pies. There were original sketches by Kalvin Goodlaxson, Danielle Zimmerman, and Mary Vasey, a reading from his book, TEST PATTERN FOR LIVING by Nicholas Johnson (accompanied by a Greek chorus) and some old old jokes performed vaudeville style. Actors and readers included Janet Schlapkohl, Tom Gilsenen, Spencer Rideout, Nicholas Johnson, Gregory Johnson, Rachel Lindhardt, Kalvin Goodlaxson, Rip Russell, Evie Stanske, Jason Grubbe,and Danielle Zimmerman. The photos below are credited to Nicholas Johnson, Gregory Johnson and Connie Sherman.” Mary Vasey, “Combined Efforts Theatre News – June 5, 2013,” June 6, 2013. [Source]

[Above] Nicholas Johnson as Mayor in “Summer Magic at the County Fair,” July 26, 27, 2013, outdoor performance

“Combined Efforts Theatre presents its fourth annual County Fair play, Summer Magic at the County Fair. Morris Hawkins, snake oil salesman appears at the fair with an elixir to sell. Is it really magic or is there something else giving folks confidence, courage, talent, and, yes, romance? Join the mayor, the Rungling Brothers, a lion tamer, tightrope walkers, equestrians, a sharp shooter, clowns, a fortune teller, retired burlesque dancers, a boxer and many more.” Editor, “Summer Magic at the County Fair,” Iowa Theatre, July 19, 2013. [Source]


[Above] Nicholas Johnson as Mayor in “What’s Happenin’ at the County Fair?” July 13, 14, 2012, outdoor performance

“Combined Efforts Theatre is celebrating its tenth year this summer. This summer’s show, called What’s Happening at the County Fair? will be an outdoor ‘Perambulation Production,’ meaning the audience will move around the farm in a promenade style. The show combines live music, live animals, feminist warriors, an enthusiastic mayor, a sheriff and deputy, a DJ, and…Zombies!” Editor, “What’s Happening At the County Fair Opens July 13,” Iowa Theatre Blog, June 28, 2012. [Source]


Nicholas Johnson as Richard (husband of the champion pie baker, Nancy — played by his wife, Mary Vasey) in “Love at the County Fair,” July 30, 31, 2010

‘Here is truly a love story for every generation, as well as a rivalry between the owners of the towns’ two grocery stores, Monty’s and Kaplet’s. Add to that a Renaissance group turned boy band, rival stage mothers and their talented daughters, a lemonade swilling police chief, a former children’s show star and his stuffed raccoon, yodelers, hog callers, a Goth girl, singing, dancing, a pie baking competition, and much more. The combination — and the ending — make for a wonderful Iowa summer’s evening of theater for the whole family.” (from Combined Efforts Website; no longer posted)

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