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Theatre Teacher Linda Johnson

By: Kelly Baker

From the moment you see Linda Johnson’s car with its lei-decorated antenna and MPSA personalized license plate drive onto campus, her heart and lifelong dedication to the Mid-Pacific School of the Arts is on display. For the last 35 years, Linda, affectionately known as “Mama J,” has given her energy to the theatre arts students at Mid-Pacific, whether they are dedicated pre-professional Theatre certificate students or traditional-education course kids fulfilling an art credit requirement.

Linda was born a teacher. When she was only 12 years old, she started a summer dance camp in her parents’ garage, riding her bike to the homes of the kids next door to tell them class was starting and ending the summer with a neighborhood production. Once she graduated high school, she launched her first official dance school. She used the proceeds to pay for her undergraduate education, a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts and Secondary Education from Cleveland State University.

Upon graduation, Linda began teaching in public schools in New York. After a few years in the classroom she took on graduate school, learning and teaching simultaneously. Linda earned a Master of Arts in Theatre Education from New York University in 1985.

In 1989, she joined Mid-Pacific as a temporary teacher covering for a faculty on sabbatical. At this time, Linda developed one of the world’s first International Baccalaureate (IB) Theatre curricula prior to IB developing a Theatre standard, allowing Mid-Pacific students to have IB Theatre education. Unsurprisingly, after becoming an irreplaceable part of the Mid-Pacific community, they asked her to stay as a full-time teacher.

Linda was integral in the development of the Mid-Pacific School of the Arts (MPSA). Originally an afterschool program, in 2000, MPSA became a full-time pre-conservatory school within a school, with Linda serving as director. During that time, she developed, implemented, and led the first and only performing and visual arts high school in the Pacific Rim. Under her guidance, the school grew from 45 students in dance and theatre to 400 in dance, theatre, hula, visual and digital arts, and music. To this day, students at the Mid-Pacific School of the Arts have the opportunity to explore a variety of fine arts disciplines or focus and hone a specific artistic craft, earning a pre-professional certificate in their chosen field of study.

Keiko Agena ’01 visited Linda Johnson’s high school theater class in March 2023 to discuss her achievements in the TV and film industry and to answer questions from aspiring high school students interested in pursuing careers in the film industry.

Undeniably, you can draw a direct connection between Linda’s advocacy for Mid-Pacific’s pre-professional Arts program to the rise and proliferation of arts education at schools across O‘ahu. Through her leadership, tenacity, determination, and passion, Linda exponentially increased participation and appreciation of arts for generations of students.

In 2007, Linda followed her heart and returned full-time to the classroom. Her calling is not about developing professional actors, though she has done that; it’s about guiding and mentoring young people to find themselves, accept who they are, and be happy. “I want them to know they are worthy, strong, and competent,” she says.

This fall, Linda was named the Arts Schools Network (ASN) 2023 Teacher of the Year. The ASN is the nation’s largest professional membership organization of specialized arts schools and the award recognizes a teacher whose dedication, talent, and achievement are exemplary.

Across her teaching career, Linda has taught 1,500 students, mentored 20 teachers, directed over 75 productions, and guided 25-plus students into theatre arts professions. When asked what has been the highlight of her career, she shares with great humility, “At the end of every show, when I see the kids feeling proud of what they have done, that always feels like the greatest accomplishment of my career.”