Telling history through clothing

This award-winning Tiger says that to be a costume designer, you have to be a lover of history. She believes that students do well when educators create a connection with them and demonstrate an interest in their future.

Meet Kendra Johnson.

Title: Associate professor of theatre

Years at Clemson: 15

What I do at Clemson: I teach costume design, costume technology, African American theatre and theatre appreciation. I am a costume designer who is responsible for the design and construction of every show produced by our department. I am also a professional costume designer who works throughout the region. How do you do this? Whether it’s for my department or a professional production, I am part of a collaborative team of designers, producers, technicians and stage management. As the costume designer, I research the historical and cultural world of the show. I analyze the script, talk with the production team and create costume renderings that help illustrate the director’s vision and style for the show. I use clothing to help tell the story. After the designs are approved, it is my job to construct the costumes, find them from stock or buy them. Throughout the process, I have fittings with the actors and finally, I make small adjustments and modifications during technical rehearsals. I could be responsible for over 75 costumes for one production!

What I love about Clemson: I love the Brooks Center and its contribution to campus. It brings the arts to local schools and the Clemson community.

Accomplishment I’m most proud of: I am proud of exposing my students to the works of James Baldwin, August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage and many other great African-American playwrights. I am also happy that I was able to help students on their career path. In our department, we personally invest in the success of our students. I have a student who is making a name for himself as a professional costume designer. He has worked alongside established Broadway costume designers and his reputation is steadily growing. I am so happy for him! I am pleased with the successes of our theatre students who are achieving their dreams in the design/tech areas because of my involvement in their education while a student at Clemson.

My defining moment at Clemson: Although this honor did not happen at Clemson, I do consider it a defining moment as an educator. Teaching is my first love, so when I received the South Carolina Theatre Association’s “2016 Outstanding Theatre Educator Award,” I was deeply honored because I was acknowledged by South Carolina theatre artists and practitioners for my work in the classroom.

Where I see myself in five years: I want to do more design outside the region and continue teaching my classes, particularly African-American Theatre classes. I have already accepted a design gig in Ohio and am in talks about a possible one in Nebraska. I would also like to continue my research on African-American clothing and style during the antebellum period and turn it into a possible book, but I’m not sure about the timeline. My teaching load and costume design work keep me very busy throughout the year.

Last thing I watched on TV: The news.

One thing people don’t know about you: That’s a hard question for me. I am an open book…I love hip-hop music — I am happy to see hear that Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer. I am also obsessed with Black Thought’s recent freestyle.

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