My name is René Goddess Johnson. I am a queer, black, South African, three-time award-winning, Indigenous, femme. An Arts & Community Organizer, Choreographer, Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, Education and Events. A Designer, Director, Embodied Equity Consultant, Innovator, Non-Profit Founder, Performance Artist, Activist, and Producer.
I have been navigating assimilation, white terrorism, and a temporary loss of self-pride since arriving in Maine in 1991. My areas of interest include the intersection of the arts in movements for social justice and racial equity. As an embodied equity consultant, I work closely with the public, with artists of many genres, with minority communities, youth, and nonprofit organizations throughout the state of Maine, to develop creative opportunities focused on inter-organizational collaboration using the arts. These moments of coming together and creating art towards systemic change are the common denominator that connects all of my work.
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa then raised in the suburbs of Portland, Maine starting at age 6. I have spent the last 30 years fumbling and creating and somehow in all that work, I have become an embodied equity consultant. From 2014 - 2019 my work with the Theater Ensemble of Color, team TEoC (TEE-oC), created a strong unconventional institution committed to social justice and racial equity as well as historical education. The dedicated, talented, and committed work of TEoC’s team is recognized throughout New England for its outstanding original productions (Best Theater Company, Ensemble, 2018 in Portland Maine) and exceptional educational outreach programs and workshops.
Since the summer of 2013, I continue to sculpt, write, produce and perform my interactive one-woman show, g e e l. A phenomenal actress and performer, I invite and give permission for the audience to actively participate throughout the show, destroying the illusion of a fourth wall immediately. The action of my tragic but not unique story unfolds through thoughtful storytelling, music, interactive moments with the audience, and choreography, as the audience engages in a new kind of theater experience. G E E L includes powerful dance and song in multiple languages, including English, and Afrikaans. The content themes range from severe physical and emotional abuse and trauma to self-harm habits and routines, and most importantly many things positive. This brutally honest show has been changing the arts scene in Maine and beyond.
I have performed g e e l at The Celebration Barn Theater, Congress Square Park, Colby College, Bowdoin College, The University of Southern Maine Presque Isle, Bright Star World Dance, and other venues in New England. Through the years, I have taught every grade level from birth through major universities and corporate settings. A very enthusiastic teacher, I have worked with Mayo Street Arts, the University of Southern Maine, Life By Design, Deering High School, The School Around Us, Waynflete, The Waldorf School, and Acorn Productions. I serve as a member of The Celebration Barn Theater, Black Artist Forum, The Third Place, The Good Medicine Collective, a Board Member for Hour Exchange Portland, and a past contributor for Black Girl in Maine Media. Named 1 of Maine's most intriguing people, Portland Monthly Magazine, October 2018.
A queer, black, female, refugee, living in Maine full time, I realized in 2018, my career in the arts since 9 has focused on weaving these intersections into my daily personal life and professional work environments. These connections were not apparent for many years. With time, planning, thoughtfulness, therapy, and patience I was able to see what my intrinsic self (my artist self/creator/Starchild) had been saying my whole life. To act on my impulses and grow into the next version of my best self over, and over again. As an Executive and Artistic Director, an Embodied Equity Consultant, and Diversity Casting Director, I work primarily with marginalized groups in the arts and focus on non-profit administration. My purpose is to teach all people, young people and people of color primarily, how to fully engage their instinctual creative selves, through fully engaged embodied impulsive play. My methods are rooted in my cultural background and upbringing, in Westbury, Johannesburg, and Maine.
When my family moved to Maine in the early 1990s, I knew well how to advocate for myself. I was regularly confused about race relations, social justice, the education system, and white supremacy in Maine. I longed to see leaders that looked like me in places that decisions were being made and power was being wielded, in large numbers, consistently. Now, 36 years old, I am a leader in rooms where young children of color can see themselves represented in ways that feel good and whole, not tokenized, dehumanized, and marginalized for quota's sake or as emotional entertainment. Since becoming an educator I have self-designed several educational and performance programs to focus on disparities in minority communities, in Maine, and how to shift them towards a more inclusive language and operation. When I am not working, I can be found singing and dancing down the streets of Portland wearing my crown, touring g e e l, or eating at my favorite restaurant, Empire. I am pretty much always eating. If you need to reach me, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org -- Happiness is an inside job. Do your own work.