Part of the vibrant arts community at UW–Madison, the Department of Theatre and Drama, housed in the School of Education, is home to talented students learning and training alongside faculty with diverse experiences in the performing arts. The department offers a bachelor of science degree for undergraduate students, including an acting option, as well as an undergraduate certificate.
Recently the School of Education’s communication team spoke with Megan Tennessen, a UW–Madison senior who is pursuing a double major in theatre and drama (acting option) and communications sciences and disorders, about her experiences. Read on for a Q&A with her.
Where are you from, and what brought you to UW–Madison? I am from St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up loving UW–Madison. Both my parents went to undergrad here. I always wanted to live by lakes, and Madison has a great city/outdoorsy feel.
How did you choose your majors? I have always wanted to help people in some way, and once I did some shadowing of a speech pathologist, I realized this was a cool field to explore. Speech pathologists help with communication, as well as support others through therapy and exercises in both the medical field and education. As for theatre, I began performing in fourth grade, being a part of our middle school musicals and plays. From there began my love for theatre, participating in improv, musicals, and plays, as well as being on my high school’s theatre board, and helping support students in theatre. I realized I could continue my enjoyment of the craft as well as my education in theatre (specifically acting) by double majoring, which has been an amazing experience.
What has been your most meaningful experience with the Department of Theatre and Drama? My most meaningful experience with the department has been the students in the department and the community we have made there. Some fellow students and I have worked on restarting a club called IMT (InterMission Theatre). It has been a great way to connect, collaborate, and learn the building blocks of what goes into creating/maintaining a theatre company. I also have had the opportunity to work with some professors one on one, exercising my acting skills. I am so grateful for the students and faculty that have supported my (and other students’) love and excitement for theatre.
What class or professor has had the greatest impact on you, and why? I have had the amazing opportunity to work with a variety of professors who have brought me so much insight and knowledge in theatre. I don’t know if I can pick just one. One that had a huge impact on me is Jessica Lanius. She provides movement training for actors at UW–Madison and is such a fun, kind soul. She introduced so many different movement and acting exercises that I now implement before shows, rehearsals, or auditions. She has also made me interested in movement therapy and physical theatre, which I hope to explore in the upcoming semesters. Additionally, Mark Hairston has had a great impact on me. I took Fundamentals of Directing and that made me realize how fun, exciting, and new directing can be. I thought I was just an actor, but now I feel like I can be a director too and it is a whole different experience while still using similar skills. Mark has given up his own time to work with me on different skills and I am beyond grateful for that. I am someone who continues to want to learn more and engage myself creatively, and I am so thankful for professors who support that and are willing to engage with me creatively. I also have to give a shoutout to Aubrey Deeker, who was a professor of acting in fall of 2021. He introduced some acting exercises that I really enjoy going back to and was such a great person to work with.
What is your favorite production you have been involved in at UW, and why? I think my favorite production has been the current one I am a part of, “Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson – Apt. 2B.” This is due to the people I was blessed to work with (cast, crew, and director). Our director, Emily Rollie, had a huge impact on the entire cast due to her style of directing, exploration of the play, and care for those involved. We also had such a close knit cast which resulted in so much support and play. It is such a fun, fast-paced show and has probably been one of my biggest acting challenges. I embody four different characters with two different accents, and make an effort to make them all as distinct as I can. Additionally, I got to learn to use a crash pad and got a lot of experience with fight choreography working with Whitney Derendinger, which was a fabulous experience.
What advice would you give to incoming students who are considering pursuing Theatre and Drama as a major? I would recommend incoming students join clubs (theatre and others) and not be afraid to reach out to professors to work on something that interests you! They may not have the time, but if they do it is an amazing opportunity to connect with a theatre professional and gain experience in one way or another. I am currently a member of IMT (InterMission Theatre), which explores creating and highlighting student work as well as educating students on different aspects of the theatre world. I am also in a club called A Moment of Magic, where we bring happiness to underrepresented, medically vulnerable individuals by bringing to life their favorite fictional characters. I got cast as Black Widow and it has been a great experience for both of my majors, as well as such a fulfilling experience.
As a double major, how do you hope to combine your learning to become a more well-rounded person? I have realized that my majors, although very different, complement each other in various ways. I think some theatre (movement and voice) exercises would be incredibly beneficial for people receiving speech therapy. Additionally, I believe some of the speech work I have done and learned benefits me as an actor in terms of voice work. When learning about disability rights and support, I have found that accessibility is something I want to focus on in theatre, providing a space for all different types of people.
What’s next for you? Do you have any particular plans for the future? I have a few different plans/options for the future. First, I will be auditioning and applying for MFA acting schools. I may also move to Chicago, LA, or Atlanta for a few years to pursue acting, auditioning for various opportunities. I may also stay in Madison for a few years, working with theatre companies around the Madison area — I would love to eventually become a certified intimacy coordinator and/or work with accessibility within theatre, as both performance and audiences could use more accessibility. I also would love to go abroad and explore education in theatre in a different country. After a few years, I may apply to grad school for speech pathology. I am not quite sure which route I will go first, so we will see what opportunities I may find and what I am drawn to most.