About Theresa

  • Ph.D. University of Oregon; M.A. California State University at Northridge; B.A. University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Assistant Professor of Theatre at Chapman University
  • Literary Executor for Keith Johnstone
  • Member of SAG-AFTRA & AEA
  • Former High-Kicker!High Kickin' (slight crop)

Theresa’s passion, as you may have guessed, is improvisation.  She’s been studying and teaching improvisation (impro) for over 20 years. But she’s been a theatre geek all of her life, performing in her first Equity production at the ripe age of 11 playing Brigitta in The Sound of Music.  Theresa was born in San Diego into a talented family of professional musicians and artists, so the gravitational push towards a life in the performing arts was too strong to resist.  At the age of 13, her family moved to Alabama.  A big cultural adjustment, but after a few awkward, trying-to-fit-in years, Theresa reclaimed her theatre geek side, and until she finished college and moved away, she regularly performed in shows, commercials, and radio spots in the Birmingham-Nashville-Atlanta markets. 

Theresa’s first in depth exploration of improvisation was in a Spolin-based course she took as an undergraduate theatre major/dance minor at UAB.  Viola Spolin’s theatre games are foundational to improvisational theatre practice worldwide.  Theresa didn’t fall in love with improvisation, however, until she moved to Los Angeles in 1995 and began studying with the late, great Avery Schreiber – an original Second City member who taught in the Spolin tradition with mastery and benevolence.  Spolin’Theresa, Avery, Lorraines son, Paul Sills, co-founded Second City in Chicago and based much of the company’s early, purely improvisational work on his mother’s teachings.  Theresa had the rare opportunity to study with Paul for an intense week in Door County in 2006.   

Also in 2006, as part of her graduate research, Theresa began studying with/documenting another master teacher: Keith Johnstone, the pioneer of impro!  And she hasn’t stopped.  Over the last decade,  Theresa has observed Keith teach in San Francisco, Calgary, London, and Stockholm.  She has visited multiple archives, conducted over forty interviews, and facilitated practice led and participant observation research.  She has met and learned from folks from every corner of the globe who are using Johnstone’s Impro System in inspiring ways.  Through it all, she continued to test his methods and theories in her own classrooms and rehearsal spacesIn 2013, her book – Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography was published (London: Bloomsbury) and has sold thousands of copies worldwide.  Since 2012, Theresa has been serving as Keith’s Literary Executor, actively organizing, documenting, and preserving his archive for future scholarship.  In the summer of 2014, the archive was shipped to Stanford University Libraries where the “Keith Johnstone Papers” are now permanently housed in Special Collections and University Archives.

Before returning to graduate school (CSUN and UO) as a “mature” student, Theresa performed professionally as a singer, dancer, and actor (on stage, at sea, with a vaudeville troupe!), and often worked as a stand-in/body double for television and feature films in Los Angeles. 

She also co-founded and served as artistic director of Beach Kids on Broadway (BKOB), an advanced youth theatre company based in Manhattan Beach.  Launched in 2001 with choreographer Amy Langer Schwartz (who introduced Theresa to Keith Johnstone’s book Impro: Improvisation & The Theatre, by the way.  Thank you, Amy!), over its short four-year existence, Theresa hired some of the best theatre practitioners and musicians in L.A. to work alongside her and a core group of 30 exceptional young performers as they collectively devised (usinBKOBSmallBlack-bkgrg a lot of improvisation!) 14 musical theatre revues.  BKOB was featured in the Back Stage West March 2005 issue spotlighting the best youth theatre training in Los Angeles. 

Theresa is in her fourth year teaching in the theatre department at Chapman University in Orange, California.  In academic circles, Theresa is known as a theatre generalist, that is, a teacher/practitioner who has knowledge, talent, and skills in a variety of areas.  She directs productions and teaches a range of theatre courses.  Chapman has been a nurturing environment, giving Theresa space to develop her practical and research skills in her areas of expertise. 

After spending four years in Eugene, Oregon, working on a Ph.D., another nomadic year writing, and one year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Centre College in Kentucky, Theresa (and her husband, Dale!) are happy to be back in beautiful SoCal just a short drive away from her home town of San Diego, and an even shorter drive to her sister, Alicia Robbins, a Los Angeles-based cinematographer.   

“Every day I ask myself, ‘What comes next?’ and the universe keeps making offers I can’t resist.  How very lucky I am to have a flexible, loving, multi-talented husband willing to journey with me to the ends of the earth.  We live our lives like improvisers, so to speak, in the present, operating somewhere between structure and surprise, in an ideal state of flow” ~ Theresa