Theatre professor is Kennedy Center National Teaching Artist

Marlene Johnson, who teaches voice, speech and acting, is the second UAB professor in five years to be honored by the Kennedy Center.

An assistant professor who teaches voice, speech and acting in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Theatre has been named a 2011 National Teaching Artist by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).

Marlene Johnson, M.F.A., is one of six national KCACTF teaching artists chosen to receive a $2,000 grant for professional development. Johnson first was honored by the KCACTF as a regional teaching artist following nomination by her peers and became eligible to be considered for the national award. The award recognizes the recipients' achievements as teachers, professional artists and contributors to KCACTF programming.

Only two of the six national teaching artists selected are performers, and that adds to the prestige of Johnson’s honor, says Kelly Allison, M.F.A., professor and interim chair of the UAB Department of Theatre.

“This recognition by the Kennedy Center is a testament to Marlene Johnson’s prowess as an artist and an educator,” he says. “She is the second member of the theatre department to be honored with a national Kennedy Center award during the past five years.” Associate Professor Dennis McLernon, M.F.A., was awarded an Actors Center Teacher Development Fellowship in 2007.

Johnson is the vocal coach for every play presented by Theatre UAB. She helps student actors improve vocal clarity, expressivity and accents and learn to fully embody their characters on stage.

“Many people don't understand what it is a vocal coach does. I teach voice, speech, breathing, dialects and text work, all with an acting perspective. My areas of research have been looking for ways to expand the actor’s presence,” Johnson says. “I seek to free the actor’s voice and body to find greater ease and power, and discover latent strengths. I am committed to teaching them to speak with clarity, expressivity and power and to be present in their bodies and in relationship with their environment. This is more than actor training.”

Johnson will attend the national KCACTF festival April 18-23, 2011, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The six teaching artists will be recognized by the KCACTF with a full-page ad in one of the largest theater magazines in the country, American Theatre. Johnson will use the grant money awarded to complete her studies of the Alexander Technique, a method of study that encourages improved balance, posture, movement, breathing and body awareness.

“Because of my own quest to integrate body and voice, the discovery of the Alexander Technique some years ago excited me. This is why I began studying, and once I got a taste of what it could do for me as a performer and as a trainer of performers, I was determined to become an Alexander Technique teacher,” she says.

“This award is going to allow me to continue another year of training, so that I will be certified in the Alexander Technique,” she says. “The work helps me, helps my students and helps the professionals with whom I work."