XAN S JOHNSON portrait
  • University of Utah Faculty Club Board, Theatre Department
  • Honors Professor, Honors College
  • Graduate Professor, Graduate School
  • Professor, Theatre Department

Research Summary

Creative Research: TYA Youth Theatre Stage Director, published scripts and community engaged devised scripts. Academic Research: National presentations on the relationship between drama, learning theory, and social cognitive neuroscience. Current study is a drama intervention, increasing social cognition in 3-4 year olds with autism. Interdisciplinary collaborators: Neuropsychology, OT, Speech Pathology. Measurements include EEG, ToM, Speech, and other social signaling metrics.


Xan S. Johnson, Ph.D., is a full professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Utah.  He is an Honors professor and a member of the Graduate School faculty.  Dr. Johnson has served as Department Chair, as Head of the BFA in Theatre Education, as Creator and Director of the MFA/Ph.D. program in Child Drama, and as Artistic Director of Young People's Theatre at the Pioneer Memorial Theatre. He also served as the Utah Theatre Consultant for the Utah State Office of Education for 10 years, where one of his many challenges was writing the K-12 mandated Core Curriculum in Theatre.  He founded the internationally recognized Theatre School for Youth at the U of Utah; a program that has been invited to present and throughout the USA, and to represent the USA at internaitional festivals in Russia, France, and England.  He has directed nearly 200 stage productions, both scripted and devised projects, across his career in venues ranging from professional, to community, to university, and to K-12 public education. Currently and recently  Dr. Johnson is engaged in the development of two original Pre-Broadwy musicals upon invitation from creative teams from NYC. Dr. Johnson completed an Elected Term as Academic Senate President, a three-year commitment that includes President Elect, President, and Immediate Past President of the Academic Senate for the University of Utah.  (2015-2018). 

Dr. Johnson has been a leading keynote presenter at state, regional, national and international venues sharing research focusing on the relationship between Child Drama and Social Cognitive Neuroscience, including invited presentations in Austria, Canada, and England.  Currently Dr. Johnson, along with science researchers from Psychology, Nursing, Speed Disorders, Occupational Therapy, and Theatre have received a significant donor grant and a university seed grant to initiate a theatre intervention program in 2016 seeking to increase social cognition and theory of mind skills in young people living in the autism spectrum.  Currently Dr. Johnson is serving as Associate Creative Director working with former student and now Broadway Director/Choreographer Jeff Whiting on an original musical entitled Fly More Than You Fall.  First fully mounted world premiere will go up Fall 2019.  

Prior to his tenure at the University of Utah, Dr. Johnson taught at the University of Northern Colorado.  Dr. Johnson has received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he completed his B.A. degree, majoring in Communication and Theatre, minoring in Psychology and Secondary Education/Theatre.  He followed this with an M.A. in Stage Directing and Modern Theatre from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a Ph.D. in Interdepartmental Studies (Child Drama, Communication, Interpretation) from Northwestern University.  In the summers, since 1991, Dr. Johnson has served as Founder/Artistic Director for the Zona Gale Youth Theatre, at the Portage Center for the Arts, located in Portage, Wisconsin.