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BWW Blog: CCM Perspective - An Interview with Katie Johannigman

Who better to shed light on the BFA Musical Theatre program at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music than Cincinnati-native Katie Johannigman? I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Katie via Facetime to hear her perspective on our program. Katie is a CCM alum, and now part of our Musical Theatre faculty here at CCM. Katie's classes include New York Showcase, Tap, and Jazz. I've gotten to know Katie over the past two years, and she is such a positive, inspiring force in the classroom. I feel like I have grown so much under her wing, and I am so excited for what my next two years at CCM hold with her as one of my knowledgeable educators. Without further ado, here is Katie Johannigman's perspective on CCM!

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Katie Johannigman graduated from the BFA Musical Theatre program at CCM in 2012, and she is now a part of the Musical Theatre faculty at CCM.

To start, could you give us a little background on your journey with CCM and your career thus far?

"I have been going to CCM since I was nine months old when I sat in the dance hallway in CCM and watched my sister take ballet... I went to CCM in their Prep department every day until twelfth grade. I grew up going to see all the shows at CCM, and I was the kid in the shows if they ever needed a kid... that's how I got my start, and the teachers [at CCM Prep] were fantastic. I loved my time at CCM-my class and my teachers. It was like a dream! I graduated in 2012 and moved to New York, and did the hustle for 5 years; pounded the pavement, got to work regionally, did a couple shows in New York, and it was really wonderful. During that time, I worked many side jobs and auditioned like crazy. I helped to start a non-profit called the Broadway Method Academy in Connecticut, and that's where I started teaching. I was head of their Dance department and the Artistic Director. They have made a very successful training program. Then, [former CCM Musical Theatre Chair] Aubrey Berg asked if I would come join the CCM Musical Theatre faculty, and at first, I was like, 'No, I'm not ready to leave New York! I'll just come for a year,' Now it's been a fantastic three years, and I'm very grateful for my job, especially in this time."

I know in class you talk a lot about having a mantra before you perform like, "I'm a star!" or "I can do this!". Do you have a mantra as a teacher?

"I get nervous before every class. I hope that I can impart valuable information every single day. I don't use a mantra per se... I simply remember what [CCM Acting Professor] Richard Hess says, 'I am enough,' and remember that I DO have something to offer to these students. That gets me through!"

What do you hope students gain from their experience at CCM?

"I think the biggest take away that I hope students gain from CCM is how to capitalize on what makes them really special... I want everybody to find what makes them unique, and figure out how to hone in on that... You don't need to be like the person next to you, just be the best version of you. At the end of the day, this business is really hard, and I'm hoping to show my students what hard work means, what showing up means, and how much being kind to others matters. This business is small and kindness can take you far. Now being on the other side of the table, I'd rather work with someone who is kind, funny, and fun to work with, than someone who is extremely talented... Time and time again I come back to this notion. I hope to impart that on my students."

I thought that you and the other MT faculty members did an excellent job in navigating all of the challenges that came with COVID-19. What was the COVID-19 pandemic like for you from the teacher's perspective and how did you make do outside of the classroom and studio?

"It was challenging to totally think outside the box. I remember [CCM's Chair of Acting for the Lyric Stage Vince DeGeorge] said something really awesome that helped me through that time: 'Don't feel like you have to recreate what happens in the classroom, online. It's going to be something totally different, so allow it to be something totally different. The students are going get something out of it if they buy in; it might be just different than when you're actually face-to-face in the classroom, but there are things to be gained during this.' I think the most frustrating thing is that the technology is not where we need it to be yet... We're not used to teaching online, and the world wasn't ready for it. It was the panic of 'How am I gonna make this work?' and thank goodness, my students were very forgiving, kind, and loving... I really wanted the students to know we were there for them... Long story short, I was terrified, but thank goodness, we had [Interim Chair of Musical Theatre Diane Lala] who is very well-equipped in the online resources, and we had some help."

As a professional in this industry and an educator at one of the top institutions for Musical Theatre, how do you think COVID-19 is going to impact the upcoming school year for Musical Theatre majors if we cannot return in the Fall and theatrical experiences going forward?

"Well, first of all, it's a scary time to be a Musical Theatre major or really anyone studying entertainment. There's not an industry currently-a tangible one... it's going to take a while for our industry to come back in full force. So, I think that's one very scary thing... we're training students to go into an industry where currently it does not exist. But I do think necessity is the mother of invention, and I do see so many exciting things being created. Thinking about different ways to perform and different ways to teach is an opportunity, not just an obstacle. Of course, it's not conventional and not ideal, but we might end up finding some incredible projects and ways to get around this. You know, at the end of the day, theatre is meant to be done in a shared space as a shared experience, and that goes along with teaching theatre... There's a lot of discussion about, 'How do we make this work to be together and not be online?' So, that's very hopeful. Of course, the priority is to keep everybody safe... I do think [the administration is] really thinking this through and trying to be inventive. People are talking across universities about how do we make this work and not have to be online? And if we are online, how do we make that the most impactful and useful a time for our students? I am very concerned about the freshmen getting a freshman year experience... I think about my students off-campus. You know, we can't control what you guys do after school. It is reassuring to hear that a lot of discussions are being had and plans are being made. We just got in some updates, so hopefully we'll know and have a better idea of how to move forward pretty soon."

So, you graduated from CCM's BFA MT program in 2012. What was your experience like as student at CCM?

"I mean, so wonderful. I feel like it's a different place in a lot of ways, and it's interesting... Even talking to [Eric Santagata], our new head, you know, things were different when he was in school, and things were different when I was in school, and we're catching him back up to speed about how things are now... But my time was wonderful. My teachers, who are now my colleagues, are so knowledgeable and I've learned so much working alongside them... You know, so many things I still think about in my daily life came from Aubrey and Diane and [Professor of Musical Theatre Roger Grodsky]. I feel like everyone says this: my class was really special. I mean, not only was MT'12 an incredibly talented class, but also a close-knit, smart, opinionated, sassy group of people... I was lucky that I had a lot of great performing opportunities and got to play some really great roles while at school. Nothing really beats 'CCM Spectacular!'"

If you could go back, what advice would you give yourself when you were a student here?

"I think the same advice that I give to my students, and I feel so lucky that I get to impart what I wish I knew when I was student, which is that perfect is boring. Finding what makes you unique is really the most important way to spend your four years. You know, I found myself trying to be sort of what I now call a 'musical theatre robot' and what I thought was perfect, and I think that just made me sort of boring. I wish I would've told myself to take bigger risks, and discover different sides of myself."

So, growing up at CCM and now teaching there, you have a great perspective on the program. What do you think sets CCM apart from other Musical Theatre programs?

"I am intimately acquainted with CCM after 29 years and counting! I think what we always go back to is the fact that we train well-rounded performers. Really, I think that's what makes us different from other schools is that we spend equal time on all three disciplines-singing, dancing, and acting-so that people really leave being very well-rounded, and being able to do a lot of things very well at a very high level. I think we train very reliable, fast learners who people can depend on. Everybody in the business says, 'I know a CCM kid can learn this choreography in a week. I know a CCM kid can be on their number, and clean their part, and have their stuff memorized, and never be out of line.' I feel like we train really solid performers who can walk into many numbers of movies, TV shows, musicals, plays, which is so cool to see."

With Eric Santagata coming in as the new head of our program next year, I'm sure that there must be lots of exciting changes underway. What do you think the future looks like for CCM?

"It is SO exciting. I am so thrilled. You know, it's a bummer that [the COVID-19 pandemic] is happening, because Eric's time is now spent dealing with all of these issues, instead of really diving into curriculum updates. Eric is an incredible performer-tap dancer, singer, now director, choreographer. He's a visionary. He has big shoes to fill from Aubrey, and now Diane, but Eric has his finger on the pulse of what's happening in our industry and has so many contacts, and has worked in so many capacities, so he can look at the industry from so many angles through so many lenses. CCM was the first program of its kind, and people modeled their programs after ours. Now as we usher in a new era of educating young musical theatre performers, we are thinking about we can help foster well-rounded performers and also humans. How can we create better members of society who will be the future of both our industry and the global community? We need to raise their voices and make them heard and empower this new generation. I see that Eric is headed in this direction at full speed. He is a passionate big-thinker filled with energy, who is ready to carry CCM Musical Theater into its next chapter."

Do you have any advice for high school students planning to audition for Musical Theatre programs this year?

"Don't try and be what you think we want to see... You know, each class is sort of a cast of people... we need all kinds of people. I said this to my college seniors, 'What do you want people to know from showcase?' It's the same kind of thing for seniors in high school: what do you want us to know about you? And then, what kind of material can you pick to represent that? You don't have to just wear the pretty dress because that's what you think you're supposed to do. Show us who you are! We want interesting individuals who aren't done with their training. We're looking for people who have potential, people who are exciting to work with, and people with energy and sparkle who are gonna bring something to the table as much as we're gonna bring things to them, and make our school a more exciting, well-rounded, diverse place. So, I would say, picking material that lets you be you is truly the most important thing."

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