Becoming a Natural Fit

Photo of John-Andrew Morrison.
Gabriel Michael Brandt
John-Andrew Morrison ’95

Just months ago, actor/singer John-Andrew Morrison ’95 was in the midst of the most successful year of his career.

In May, Morrison won the prestigious Lucille Lortel Award in the Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical category for his performance in “A Strange Loop,” which premiered off-Broadway in 2019. In July, the entire creative team and ensemble of “A Strange Loop” was awarded a special citation at the Obie Awards.

Morrison was also nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award in the Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play category for his role in the 2020 off-Broadway production “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” He was on the brink of making his Broadway debut. And he was being offered some long-awaited television opportunities.

“Things were falling into place,” he says. “It was all lining up.”

Enter the coronavirus, and “everything stopped in its tracks,” says Morrison from his native Jamaica, where he’s spending time with family during the lockdown.

The break was unexpected, but Morrison has used downtime to his benefit before. More than a decade into his career, he pressed pause to consider what type of theater he really wanted to do and what he wanted to say as an actor. He decided, he says, to be more intentional and selective, and to pursue new works for theater, film and television that speak to critical issues in the world today.

“It can be detrimental to your spirit, and even your health, if you aren’t really passionate about what you are doing,” says Morrison. “Setting these boundaries for myself was a leap of faith. I knew I needed to find enough work to pay the bills. But once I committed to my own path, the right opportunities began to present themselves.”

When, through a Brandeis connection, he was offered a leading role in “A Strange Loop,” a musical about race, sexuality and theater, which went on to win a 2020 Pulitzer Prize, Morrison was thrilled. The part closely reflected his own experience as a gay Black man.

“For a long time, I thought I wasn’t what the industry desired,” he says. “But finally the time was right for others to appreciate me for who I am. It was a natural fit.”

Although theater was always Morrison’s love, he came to Brandeis focused on a career in law. On a lark during Orientation, he auditioned for a musical and, much to his surprise, was tapped for the show. Over time, theater faculty member John Bush Jones convinced him to drop his plans for a legal career in favor of a life onstage. Morrison immersed himself in acting, voice and movement lessons, mastering skills and techniques he still uses today.

Morrison credits his Brandeis experience with giving him a foundation for success as a professional actor. “I felt seen, celebrated, encouraged and challenged, and I was taught what I needed to rise to the work,” he says, adding that many people from Brandeis have remained dear friends, including Morgan Nichols ’94, who directed Morrison in his feature film debut in “How to Make Movies at Home.”

And what about all the uncertainty caused by COVID-19? Morrison believes actors and everyone else should see this time as an opportunity for introspection.

“You should ask who you want to be in the world and how you can use your strengths to serve others,” he says. “Finding that inner voice can guide you toward your path.”

— Naomi Blumberg David