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Cory Johnson wins prestigious theatre award

cory with former students

Dr. Cory Johnson (right) in Washington D.C. with former KCACTF students who came to see her receive the Gold Medallion Award. (L-R) Daniel Rairdin-Hale '04, Daniel Sheridan '05, Anthony Stratton '12

February 2017

This year, St. Ambrose's very own Corinne Johnson received the Gold Medallion Award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Every year, the eight KCACTF regions honor individuals who have made incredible contributions through teaching and producing. The award is given to individuals who have dedicated their time, talent, and artistic ability to the projects they pursue. The individuals who receive this award must be dedicated to his or her work. They are truly putting everything they have into their projects, whether it be directing, acting, teaching, or producing. They each must show dedication and strong commitment, as well as respect for the goals of KCACTF and educational theatre. This award is incredibly prestigious and is considered one of the greatest honors in theatre education.

Dr. Corinne Johnson received her BA from The College of St. Catherine, her MA from the University of Minnesota, and her PhD from the University of Oregon. In her youth, her professors encouraged her to audition for summer stock productions, and she got her first professional acting gigs at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse and Minnesota Festival Theatre. Her connections with these companies helped her secure work at the Old Creamery Theatre, Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop, Webbed Foot Players in NYC, and with three separate national touring companies out of Houston, Texas. She has been working at St. Ambrose for 27 years and teaches many different classes involving Costume Design, Musical Theater, Introduction to Acting, and Directing.

Every year, Dr. Johnson teaches a directing class in which the students must direct their own one-act plays at the end of the semester. Senior Jordan Webster-Moore, a two-time Irene Ryan nominee and most recently cast in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), was one of those students.

Q: What brought you to St. Ambrose?
A: It was very random. My father was very ill and I wanted a job within a day's drive from him. I thought I would only stay a year.

"During directing class this past semester, Cory inspired me to try something I had never given thought to before," Jordan said. "I had always thought of myself as an actor and wouldn't ever dare go near directing because I thought I wouldn't be good at it. She proved me wrong. While working really hard throughout the whole semester, I had one of the best experiences of my life and learned a ton. I now feel comfortable in my abilities to direct something whenever I need to, and I know I would have fun with it."

Another class Dr. Johnson taught this past fall was Introduction to Musical Theater. In this class, students learned how to audition for musicals, learn a song, put together an audition book, and find the perfect 16-bar cuts. For the first time, the Theatre Department produced a cabaret for the students in the class. Each student performed a song for their peers and teachers. Yes, it was graded, but it felt far from just another assignment. Dr. Johnson put her heart and soul into this project, with the help of others from the department such as Kris Eitrheim, Matt Elliott, Aaron Hook, and her co-professor in the class, Mr. Ron May. The Allaert stage was transformed into a smoky, dimly lit, cabaret-like bar, and all seats were completely full for the show. This is just one of the many amazing things Dr. Johnson does for the Theatre Department here at St. Ambrose.

Recently, Dr. Johnson directed William Shakespeare's The Tempest on the St. Ambrose stage. The play received praised for its incredible costumes (thanks to Dianne Dye), set, and individual performances. Of course, none of this is possible without an amazing director. Dr. Johnson sets herself apart from many other directors by going to great lengths to give her students every tool possible to succeed. If she doesn't feel someone is putting their all into a performance, she will tell them. She wants each student to be the most successful they possibly can be. She does not sugarcoat things or give anyone a false sense of entitlement. She cares enough to tell students the truth, which is incredibly important for those wishing to pursue acting as a profession. Truly, Dr. Johnson has devoted her life to helping students achieve their goals and dreams while living her own dreams along the way. All past, present, and future participants of the theatre program at St. Ambrose will be incredibly lucky to have such a fantastic asset to their education. We are all so proud of you Dr. Johnson!

An Interview with Dr. Johnson

Q: What is the difference between directing your students and directing in a professional production?
A: With directing students there is a huge satisfaction in seeing growth and maturity. Professionally, the focus is on the product and producers' desires.

Q: What do you love most about teaching?
A: Learning profound and significant things from students.

Q: What is your favorite play (or plays) you've directed?
A: It changes every day. Today I will say Pippin and A Street Car Named Desire.

Q: What inspired you to teach theatre?
A: In 1984 there was need for a faculty replacement at Luther College. I thought I would stay to pay off some student loans but ended up loving teaching.

Q: What brought you to St. Ambrose?
A: It was very random. My father was very ill and I wanted a job within a day's drive from him. I thought I would only stay a year.

Q: Could you tell us any plays you would like to direct?
A: Something's Rotten, Bare the Musical, and She Stoops to Conquer.

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