Fine Arts Student of the Week: Sophomore enjoys performing on stage

Advisers in the fine arts programs at Brainerd High School name a Fine Arts Student of the Week every week.

Max Johnson-Ding
Brainerd High School sophomore Max Johnson-Ding smiles during a virtual interview about being this week's Fine Arts Student of the Week. Johnson-Ding was nominated for his work in the theater program. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

Max Johnson-Ding

Grade: Sophomore.

Age: 16.

Art focus: Brainerd High School Theater.

Adviser nomination: “Max Johnson-Ding is new to Brainerd High School this year, and when he showed up to auditions, I was extremely impressed with his stage presence. He immediately engrossed the audience during his audition. He is playing Matt in the comedic fall play ‘Check Please.’ His character is particularly enthusiastic, and I am thoroughly impressed with his energy onstage, and his dedication. When actors needed to have their scenes memorized, Max came onstage and did not make one mistake. He was extremely prepared, and I am hoping Max continues to be in the theater program at BHS. Thank you for your hard work, Max!”


Memorable fine arts achievement: I think my most memorable fine arts achievement related to acting/theater would be coming in two spots away from state speech in my eighth grade year. I did duo with my friend Brenden, and we had a very good season, especially for being young at the time.

Artist most admired: I think the artist I admire most would be Christopher Lloyd. He is an incredible actor and performs in some of my favorite movies from the last few decades, like “Back to the Future” and “The Addams Family.” He also lends his voice to one of my favorite cartoons of all time, “Over the Garden Wall.”

Other fine arts activities: I play guitar and play French horn in Wind Symphony, so I am fairly involved with music.

Where did you go before BHS? Why did you move to this area? I was living in New York Mills and went to high school there. My dad already had a house in Brainerd for a few years now, but my mom finally made the move over here this summer and that’s when I switched schools. It’s been nice so far, in Brainerd. I’ve been liking it, but it’s hard to meet people with the distance learning, but I met a lot of cool people in the theater department.

What is your interest in theater? I’ve been doing theater since seventh grade in New York Mills. My older brother was in theater for the longest time and I always thought it looked super fun and interesting, so I decided to give it a shot and found out I really liked it. I particularly like being on stage. I like performing. I like telling the story and invoking a reaction from the audience, I think that is really fun. These are some of the best parts of a play, plus just meeting people is fun and they are always great.

What’s the biggest challenge in the play? The biggest challenge obviously now is the COVID restrictions. But in terms of the play it would be keeping up with the energy through the entire scene. (Last week, BHS Theater Director Karla Johnson canceled the play due to more COVID-19 restrictions as directed by the school. Johnson said she is planning to stream the play Nov. 19-21.)

How do you prepare for a play? I run through my lines when I have free time and I just try to think about how I should be saying this and how I should be doing that and it just helps me get more into character, which is helpful.

Were you familiar with this play or your character Matt? I didn’t even know the title of the play when I walked into my first audition. Once I read the title, I thought it sounded familiar, but I had never read through it before. I just saw it in passing. Matt is an interesting man who shows up for his first blind date prepared. He has a whole plan for the first date. He knows what he wants, but he doesn’t go about it in the greatest way. But he is super fun and energetic so I like playing him.


What other roles have you enjoyed? In New York Mills, I did a lot of comedy stuff. This play is a comedy so I have been doing this for awhile. I have also done some dramatic stuff and had a lot of fun with that, so I can go either way.

Dream job: My dream job would be to direct music for films and games.

Favorite movie: “Up.”

Favorite TV show: “Over the Garden Wall.”

Favorite book: “The Book Thief.”

Favorite song: “Cherry Wine” by Hozier.

Favorite band: The Lumineers.

Favorite restaurant: Taco Bell is always a good choice.


Favorite subject: Band and/or science.

Perfect meal: Tater tot hotdish with stuffing and chocolate milk.

Biggest pet peeve: Passive aggressiveness.

Sports/clubs: Speech, bowling, theater and one act.

Hobbies: Guitar, music, disc golf.

Parents: Eric Ding and Michelle Johnson-Ding, both of Brainerd.

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