Editor's note: Each particiant in ITJA was instructed to write a brief bio, a preview of a festival production, a profile of a festival guest or VIP and two performance reviews. SAU senior Nick Pearce was assigned to write a profile of his mentor Cory Johnson, recipient of the 2017 KCACTF Golden Medallion.
Getting the Gold: Dr. Cory Johnson
This year, Dr. Cory Johnson of St. Ambrose University has earned the highest honor theatre educators can receive at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. During the Festival, a region honors one of their own, an educator who not only proves their excellence in working with the Kennedy Center Festival, but who also rises above the rest in the challenging field of theatre education, with a gold medallion
Like any path to an achievement of this magnitude, it has myriad twists and turns. Also like any path, it holds a journey. Johnson’s career and life has spanned the nation, with work and study across Region V and beyond.
Johnson first began her journey at college in Minnesota. After graduating with a BA from St Catherine’s College in the Twin Cities, her talent led her to complete a professional internship at Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company. Going back to academics, Johnson earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Minnesota, one of the choices that would take her from a life of professional acting to teaching.
Encouraged by this success, she soon found work as an actor at Minnesota’s Paul Bunyan Playhouse, and then an array of playhouses and touring companies based out of Texas, Minnesota, and Iowa.
It’s then that we arrive at the first fork in the road. Johnson was presented with a choice, she could continue a rising career as a touring actor, or could take a sabbatical replacement job at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
Johnson, taking a turn in her journey, chose teaching. The friends made and experiences enjoyed had a life-changing effect on her, and after a stint with Second City’s Touring Company, she decided to again to go back to school.
Johnson enrolled in the doctorate program at the University of Oregon. “I had been working as a comedy-improv actor at the Dudley Riggs' theatre in Minneapolis just prior to starting my Ph.D.” Johnson said. With that in mind, she completed a thesis about the importance of improv work in acting training, noting the irony of doing a heavily researched and prepared doctoral thesis over improv work.
In 1989, the newly minted Dr. Johnson fully turned onto the path of academia, by immediately accepting a position as a professor at St. Ambrose University. The Davenport, Iowa institution would remain her post to this day, albeit with the addition of a 13 year tenure as the head of the department. In addition to her teaching schedule, she also helps assign Ambrose’s prestigious Kennedy Scholarship.
Never one to simply work on a single project, Johnson frequently supports the theatrical culture of the Quad Cities’ area. In addition to sitting on the board of the Quad Cities Theatre Workshop, she is the new Associate Artistic Director for the professional summer stock theatre company Mississippi Bend Players.
She currently maintains her professional chops by directing and acting at the local Dinner Playhouse, Circa ’21 Theatre, and the Curtainbox theatre. She also acts and directs professionally in the summer. Despite all of this, she still remains an educator. When asked about her achievements, she says “My proudest moments are watching my students excel in theatre, and at life!”
This year at KCACTF, Dr. Johnson is running the Society of Directors and Choreographers (SDC) scene competition, and had her fall directing work, “The Tempest”, receive three separate technical Letters of Merit.
The gold medal was presented to Johnson on Wednesday night, January 25th, at 8:30 in the Hoyt Sherman Place. She will be cheered on by students who are glad that their mentor has the recognition that she deserves, on a journey that still isn’t over.