It may have been his first play, Torsten Johnson was recalling the other day, when he realized he might have some talent, or a voice, anyway. If it wasn’t his first time on stage, it was early. He was attending O’Keeffe Middle School in Madison.
“Louder!” the director shouted.
They were rehearsing a play.
“Louder!” the director pleaded again. “I need you all to be louder!”
He paused. “Everybody but Torsten.”
Torsten Johnson always could make himself heard.
“I had a small role in that play,” Johnson said, “and after that, it kind of took off. I auditioned for bigger parts. I would check the listings in Isthmus. I just wanted to do plays.”
In the dozen or so years since, Johnson, 25, has done them well enough that this weekend he will return to Madison in “Macbeth,” a production of The Acting Company — a famed classical touring theater started by John Houseman in 1972 — in association with the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
“Macbeth” will play at the UW Memorial Union-Fredric March Play Circle at 7 and 11 p.m. Saturday, and again at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Johnson is particularly excited about the late-night show on Saturday. “The perfect hour for a play with that much witchery,” he said of “Macbeth,” one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies.
Johnson is also enthused to be performing again in Madison. “I have a huge contingent of friends and family coming to the shows,” he said.
We were chatting by phone late Monday morning. Johnson was on a bus with the rest of the “Macbeth” touring company.
“We’re heading for Springfield, Missouri,” he said, and paused. “No, wait. Springfield, Illinois.” He laughed. “One of the Springfields, anyway.”
He was friendly, in a good mood. What was not to like about being on a bus with a group of young colleagues, all doing what they love, embarking on a great adventure, a three-month national tour?
The bus was headed out of Minneapolis, where in December they began rehearsals for both “Macbeth” and a new adaption of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” written for the stage from the Twain novel by noted Minneapolis playwright Jeffrey Hatcher.
At the Guthrie, they debuted “Connecticut Yankee” first, Feb. 14. “Macbeth” opened Feb. 24. There were several performances of each in Minneapolis, and on the tour that started this week, some cities will see both shows, others just one. “Connecticut Yankee” will not play in Madison.
Johnson, who plays Malcolm in “Macbeth” and Lancelot in “Connecticut Yankee,” said the rehearsals for “Connecticut Yankee” were particularly interesting because Hatcher, the playwright, kept fine-tuning the play.
“We were getting new pages up until opening night,” Johnson said.
If anyone can be considered a veteran actor at 25, it’s likely Torsten Johnson.
He said his parents, Madison school teachers Kirsten Johnson (Frank Allis Elementary School) and David Long (Hamilton Middle School), were supportive of his acting from the start, when he performed in productions of “The Hobbit” and “The Boxcar Children” at Children’s Theater of Madison.
It was his dad who drove Johnson to an audition — after Torsten’s freshman year at Madison East High School — at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, a celebrated arts academy southwest of Traverse City. Johnson’s hope was to spend his high school years in the theater program there.
On that first visit, they saw a play, and Johnson had his audition with David Montee, the director of the theater program. He performed a monologue from the Ibsen play “Peer Gynt.”
“It was terrifying,” Johnson said.
He was unhappy with the audition, so much so that when he got back to Madison, he did another on videotape and sent it to Montee in Michigan.
“I don’t know if that helped,” he said. “I never did ask David.”
Johnson recalled that one day after his freshman year at East, he was riding in the car with his parents, and as they parked and got out of the car, one of them said, “So would you like to go to Interlochen?” Word had arrived: he was accepted. “I was over the moon,” Johnson said.
Montee is no longer director of the theater program at Interlochen — he stepped down a few years ago after a 20-year run — but he’s still teaching and acting there. This week he recalled Johnson as “one of the best students we ever had.” He laughed when I mentioned the videotape; many students did that, Montee said, indeed sometimes he suggested it.
Of Johnson, he could not say enough about his “amazing talent,” and fondly recalled acting with Johnson in the summer of 2013 when Torsten returned to play the title role in “Hamlet” during Interlochen’s Shakespeare Festival.
After graduating from Interlochen in 2008, Johnson attended the University of Minnesota, which has a B.F.A. program in association with the Guthrie Theater. He has stayed close to the Guthrie — and is based in the Twin Cities — but he has also done Shakespeare at theaters from Spring Green (American Players Theatre) to Idaho.
“I never knew Shakespeare would take me all over the country,” Johnson said, and this weekend, back to his hometown.