As part of a Q&A series with our adjunct faculty, the USC School of Dramatic Arts asked Stevie Johnson about being an SDA alumnus, the Public Speaking as Performance class he teaches and more.
SDA: How long have you been teaching at SDA?
Johnson: I started teaching at USC when the SDA was called SOT (School of Theatre) in 1993-1998. I revived my role of professor in 2017, so I’ve been here just under 10 years collectively.
What are you teaching this semester?
This semester, I am teaching THTR 152 – Introduction to Scene Study: Contemporary Plays, THTR 252b – Intermediate Acting American Drama 1900-1950s, THTR 421 – Public Speaking as Performance: A Course for Non-Actors and EDUC 730 – Using Communications to Facilitate Change.
Do you have a favorite class you teach?
All my classes excite me because each of them offers something unique. The variety keeps my job exciting, inspiring me to constantly challenge myself and my students with new, diverse, and innovating educational concepts.
You teach a class called “Public Speaking as Performance” for non-actors. Can you tell us a little more about that?
I truly enjoy teaching this course because its designed for any person who finally wants to dismantle their anxiety around public speaking. Most of us are riddled with fears of giving boring speeches, forgetting what to say, “looking stupid,” or losing our audience, etc. This class pulls back the veil on these deceitful culprits identifying them for the Charlatans that they are. We do so by gaining a comprehensive understanding of the physiological connection between thought, breathing, body and delivery. Our unconventional approach helps us access your truth and connect with your authenticity by way of self-examination, study of performance elements, and understanding speech construction.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
There are many blissful elements I get from teaching. It brings me great joy to have a student have a breakthrough in performance or a newfound understanding of a concept or self. A moment where the light turns on and theory is greeted with practice, bonded in spirit. I see it in their eyes, their aura, a newfound confidence in their smile. A light that will forever illuminate their travels. This brings me great joy. Also when students come back to me and share how what they learned in my class helped them land a job, nail a speech, book a film or series or even help them become more rounded in life in general is very rewarding.
Is there a show you are bingeing during COVID? Or a movie that is on repeat at your house?
Haha! I have afforded myself room to catch a few shows for guilty pleasure. Money Heist, Tracy Morgan’s The Last O.G., and black-ish come to mind. I found myself enjoying them more than expected. But I can find value in almost anything I watch.
As an alum, was there a production, a class, a professor or a student group that was particularly meaningful or influential?
A bit of each. I had the opportunity to work with some great instructors. Timothy Douglas and his voice work. Eric Trules’ Solo Performance class gave me confidence as a writer, and helped me find my voice and value as a storyteller. The late Allan Hendrick help ground me in performance what would last a lifetime. His work with me on Merry Wives of Windsor as Sir John Falstaff was groundbreaking. His insight into the craft of acting was uncanny. Also, I made a handful of friends that are important to me to this day.
What is your advice to current USC students?
Be resourceful. You are working with some of the finest minds (and resources) in the country. Utilize it. Find a mentor. Become a mentor. Befriend someone not in your major. Be innovative. Try not to rely solely on the school to provide everything. Write, direct, shoot, perform skits, draw, paint, take risks and have fun. Snoop around other schools on campus. Build lifelong bonds with talented, goodhearted friends, you/they are Hollywood’s tomorrow. Be a good person and stay optimistic. Perception is everything. And when life gives you lemons, eat the peel too.
Any fun facts we should know about Stevie Johnson?
I don’t know about “should know” but…
- I left law school to get my Masters a USC.
- I was an extra in Purple Rain.
- I ran 3 marathons.
Runner ups: (these are just silly at this point)
- I performed at the infamous First Avenue in Minneapolis under my DJ name “Stevie J. and The Dramatic Events.”
- My students are more interested in learning that I’ve worked with Eric André than learning that I’ve worked with De Niro.
- I took a train with my three-year-old daughter from L.A. to S.F. to go trick-or-treating.