THERESA is a theatre practitioner and recent U.S. Fulbright Scholar (Brazil) with expertise in applied improvisation. She is considered one of the foremost teachers of Keith Johnstone's Impro System and author of the critically acclaimed Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography (Bloomsbury 2013). She is co-editor of Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre (Methuen Drama 2018) and The Applied Improvisation Mindset: Tools for Transforming Organizations and Communities (Methuen Drama 2021). Theresa is also the co-founder/co-director of one of the only international symposiums focused on theatrical improvisation, the Global Improvisation Initiative (GII). Theresa received her PhD in Theatre from the University of Oregon, her M.A. from California State University at Northridge, and her B.A. from University of Alabama at Birmingham.
A Brief Biography
Theresa's passion is improvisation. She's been studying, teaching, and doing improvisation (impro) for over thirty years. But she's been a theatre geek all her life, performing in her first Equity production at the ripe age of eleven playing Brigitta in The Sound of Music. During one performance, when Maria was out sick and an understudy from Los Angeles had been flown in for the night, the understudy forgot she had a scene with Brigitta and Theresa was left alone on stage in front of a full audience for several minutes! So Theresa started improvising what she thought might be Brigitta's inner monologue, buying time until Maria appeared and, essentially, saving the show...a sign of things to come!
Theresa was born in San Diego into a 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 thirteen, 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 undergrad 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's 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 in an intensive in Door County in 2006.
Also in 2006, as part of her graduate research, Theresa began studying with/documenting the late pioneer of impro, Keith Johnstone. Over the next 12 years, she was a participant-observer in Keith's classrooms around the world. She visited multiple archives, conducted numerous interviews, and facilitated practice-based research. Through it all, Theresa continued to test Johnstone's methods and theories in her own classrooms and rehearsal spaces. In 2013, her book - Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography - was published (Bloomsbury) and has been critically well-received. In 2012, Theresa began 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. In 2017, Theresa and her sister Alicia Robbins began filming On Keith, a YouTube docuseries celebrating Johnstone and his ideas that will continue to grow as a digital resource for years to come.
Before returning to graduate school in 2005, Theresa performed professionally as a singer, dancer, and actor (on stage, at sea, with a vaudeville troupe, etc.). She served as artistic director/founder of Beach Kids on Broadway (BKOB), a unique youth theatre company based in Manhattan Beach. Launched in 2001 with choreographer Amy Langer Schwartz, over BKOB's 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 thirty exceptional young performers as they collectively devised fourteen musical theatre revues. BKOB was featured in a Back Stage West issue spotlighting the best youth theatre training in Los Angeles.
In May 2017, Theresa co-founded/co-directed the first Global Improvisation Initiative (GII) Symposium launched from both UC Irvine and Chapman University. The GII Symposium 2019 took place in London at Middlesex University in collaboration with Improbable theatre company. The 2021 Symposium happened virtually in collaboration with Improbable and UC Irvine's Coup de Comedy. Also, after 4 productive years (2013-2017) serving as an Assistant Professor, Artistic Faculty, at Chapman University, Theresa decided it was time to more aggressively pursue work outside of academia, especially in applied improvisation. Since taking that leap, Theresa has traveled to China twice (2017 & 2019) to teach applied impro; she did a term as a Visiting Artist at Ohio University; she and hubby Dale moved to Portland, Oregon, where Theresa teaches impro at PSU and The Actors Conservatory and facilitates applied impro workshops for organizations in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere; she spent the fall of 2019 in Brazil teaching/directing/researching impro supported by a U.S. Scholar Fulbright; she's co-edited two books on applied improvisation for Methuen Drama; and the journey continues...