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Behind-the-scenes guru of the theater

January 9, 2009

Price Johnston is glad to bring his passion as assistant professor of theater design back to Colorado State. He's also glad to be close to his family, but not too close. And Colorado has mountains. He missed the mountains.

“I grew up in Colorado, and to have the opportunity to come home and teach at a progressive theater program was something I couldn’t pass up,” he says.

Johnston, the newest faculty member in Colorado State’s Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance, specializes in lighting, scenic, and sound design and the new field of digital media design. He could be called a “behind-the-scenes guru.”

Technology advances in theater

“Digital media, such as projections shown on the stage, sound, and animation, is like the new kid on the block when it comes to the theater design industry because it encompasses design aspects that recently have advanced through technology,” he says.

Johnston, who fills a position that hasn’t had a permanent faculty member in 10 years, was attracted to the university’s growing and progressive arts curriculum. The fine arts graduate program, in fact, recently was nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report.

Unique emphasis on education and training

“I was drawn to the fact that CSU’s theater program places significant emphasis on undergraduate education and training, and it’s not often you see that on a university level.

“Walt Jones, director of CSU’s theater program, has a vision to create a strong program that competes locally and globally,” Johnston continues. “Students will leave CSU with bachelor’s degrees but have Bachelor of Fine Arts training. I want to be a part of that vision.”

Completion of the University Center of the Arts was another key draw in his decision to join Colorado State. “The UCA shows that arts are important to the University, and I wanted to teach at a place that makes the arts a priority and invests in it.”

State-of-the-art technology for design, sound and video

A new design lab, digital lab, sound and video booth, and lighting lab in the UCA will help enhance design skills for students. All those resources weren’t available when theater was housed in Johnson Hall on the Oval.

“Johnson Hall was the old student center that predated Lory Student Center. It was never meant to house theater – it was rustic, crude, and cramped. People in theater felt like squatters over there.”

With performing arts housed in one facility, Johnston says students will be able to play off one another, broaden their talents, and leave the University with impressive résumés of productions they designed.

“In this industry, people can no longer be dedicated to specializing in one aspect of design. We have to educate students so they know how to light dance shows, provide audio projections for operas, and create the appropriate atmosphere for piano recitals,” Johnston says.

Johnston brings international touring company expertise to CSU

Prior to joining Colorado State, Johnston was production manager and lighting supervisor for the international touring company, David Dorfman Dance “Underground,” in Chicago. Recent work includes the Jeff Award-winning 1776 and Janis Brenner’s Lost Found Lost at the Isadora Duncan International Dance Festival in Russia. He’s designed more than 100 productions in London, Athens, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and New York.

In addition to expertise, Johnston brings a straightforward teaching philosophy to students: “You can’t learn my field out of a book. You have to put your hands on the equipment. My students will do that from day one.”

Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Fall 2008.

Contact: Kimberly Sorensen
Phone: (970) 491-0757