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Educator for a Lifetime

Photo of Corinne Johnson, SAU theatre professor

January 2017

The deep commitment SAU theatre professor Corinne Johnson, PhD, has for students and the contributions she has made to educational theatre have led to national recognition of her work and passion.

On Jan. 25, Johnson received the Golden Medallion, the highest and most prestigious award from Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, Region V. The week-long festival began Jan. 22 in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Medallion is given annually in each of the eight KCACTF regions. According to the organization, it is awarded to individuals or organizations "that have made extraordinary contributions to the teaching and producing of theatre and who have significantly dedicated their time, artistry and enthusiasm."

Johnson was shocked to learn she was chosen and a bit uncomfortable to be recognized and celebrated. She was nominated by Brad Dell, the regional KCACTF chair and presented the award in front of a crowd of 3,000 that included some of her current and past students.

The regional festival offers workshops, performances and competitions in acting, directing, play critique, lighting and design. Students compete in each category against hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students from seven states, including Iowa. Students who win get an all-expenses paid trip to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., where they compete on a national level in the spring.

In the past 14 years, six SAU students have competed in D.C. Johnson believes she is receiving the Medallion for one reason: "It is because our students are so good. Truly, it is not me. It is the track record of our students. I rode on their coat tails," she said.

Johnson has devoted her life to exploring theatre. After earning a bachelor's in theatre from The College of St. Catherine, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre from the University of Minnesota and a Doctor of Theatre from the University of Oregon.

She worked in professional theatre before entering the field of higher education. She has been a SAU theatre professor since 1989 and continues acting.

Johnson is a company member of The Curtainbox Theatre, has performed at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City and Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island, Illinois. This summer, she will serve as Associate Artistic Director in The Mississippi Bend Players.

Johnson is very passionate about teaching. "I love that I learn more from my students than they could ever hope to learn for me. So, it is is like I am going to school and getting paid for it, " she said.

"I also love being in the room when all of a sudden ideas ‘gel' for a student. Their ideas become independent of mine and original," she said.

That instant, which she describes as a "light bulb moment," may take years to happen. "But when it does, it is real exciting because often, it is when they disagree with me. They have enough of a foundation under them to make very informed, critical decisions. They don't just take the professor's word for it. They challenge me and are developing their own artistic aesthetic right there in front of me. It is thrilling to be in that room," she said.

Rehearsals often keep her working with students until 10 p.m., but Johnson knows the long hours will lead to an amazing reward: "It is when I sit in the back of a dark theatre and watch those young actors connect with an audience for first time, and they get the response they were looking for or tell an important story that makes the room think differently," Johnson said.

"It is such a beautiful thing, heart-warming and exciting. It shows the power the theatre still has in this digital age, which is surprising to me to tell you the truth. ... We forget the power of a communal experience," she said.

Many of her students graduated and chose to share their time and talents with the community, as professionals or volunteers. "You look around the Quad Cities and SAU students are everywhere doing fantastic things," she said, adding she is proud of what they have accomplished and contributed. "I have worked with incredible kids who have a wonderful work ethic and inherent talent. God has blessed me with working with them in very formative years," Johnson said.

Many of her same-aged friends are retired, but that is not something Johnson is considering. "There is still too much left to do. I get heartsick at the idea of being done," she said, adding some days are extremely busy but she is thankful for the colleagues who are standing with her in the trenches. "We have so many more opportunities for celebrating successes together."

MORE LIKE THIS:AmbroseZine, Faculty & Staff News/Achievements, For Prospective Undergraduates, Theatre

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