Q&A with Theatre and Drama student Nora Wondra

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 Nora Wondra, a UW–Madison junior who is pursuing a double major in theatre and drama and textiles and fashion design, about her experiences. Read on for a Q&A with her.

Wondra, during her study abroad in London

Where are you from, and what brought you to UW–Madison? I am from Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin, a small town about four and half hours north of Madison. I really love bigger cities, and having lots of things to do and see around here. I considered smaller schools, but ultimately just felt like this was the right place for me — I felt comfortable here. This was also one of the few colleges that had both a fashion major and a theatre major that I felt good about going into. 

How did you choose your majors? As of now, I would love to get more into costume design. When I was in high school my mom helped me make my prom dress, and so I was intrigued by what I could do with fashion design. However, a big part of who I am is a storyteller, and so I thought what better way to combine my interests than costume design? I’m not sure if I want to go to grad school right away after college, or even if I want to go to grad school for costume design at all. What I do know is that I love every aspect of theatre and if I can really experience theatre through different lenses and atmospheres in different places, I will love it. 

What has been your most meaningful experience with the Department of Theatre and Drama? Honestly, I think the most meaningful experience has been getting to work with so many different people in different ways. I added my theatre major as a sophomore, so I was much more involved in the Department of Theatre and Drama last year than in my freshman year. Specifically, getting cast as Watson in the summer play, “Ms.Holmes and Ms.Watson –Apt. 2B,” has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow as a person. Along with that, meeting and working with my awesome peers and director has been such a fun and collaborative experience that I hope I can have again before I graduate!

What class or professor has had the greatest impact on you, and why? As I said before, I wasn’t fully involved in theatre my freshman year, but I did take Theatre 160 that year. From that class I found Rob Wagner, the scenic director here at UW–Madison. Rob knew my older sister when she attended this school, but he was able to take me under his wing in his own way. He saw how my brain worked and saw value in the way that I solve problems while continuing to strive to be better. I never felt stupid around Rob when he was teaching me, and I felt like I could add my own input and ideas to any scenic problem we came across. I am now taking Theatre 220, a scenic practicum, with him, and I have learned so many different ways to problem solve in the shop as well as in my own life, and how to just figure out how to live on my own as a college student. 

What is your favorite production you have been involved in at UW, and why? Well, my favorite show that I have been involved in has to be “Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson – Apt 2B.” It has been just so fun to go into rehearsal or performance and just play! And with this type of play, it’s guaranteed to make you smile. I had such a great time getting to know my fellow castmates and really getting to the point where I can really trust each of them to quite literally not let me fall. I also loved being a part of this production that was really truly about theatre and having fun in the theatre! Along with being an actor in the show, I worked on building the set, and that was fun because I understood where everything was going, how things were going to be used, as well as learned how to build a turntable and many other things.

 What advice would you give to incoming students who are considering pursuing Theatre and Drama as a major? As an incoming drama student, I would say to not take yourself too seriously. I have had the most fun here, and have learned the most when I go into a class, play, or experience with open eyes. It’s hard to go into a collegiate experience feeling like you need to succeed, or show the people in your hometown what you can do, or be better than everyone else. But you will have so much more fun if you remember why you fell in love with theatre in the beginning and experience as much as you can!

As a double major, how do you hope to combine your learning to become a more well-rounded person? I think that because I am a double major, I have opened myself up to more things. I have allowed myself to learn more than one thing and can use these skills in different scenarios. Once I questioned whether or not I should invest so much time into two different things, but then I realized that learning more than one thing helps me to be more readily available, to find work, to create more art in the end. From my two majors, I will learn more than just being able to do costume design, and I will be better for it. 

Wondra (right) plays Watson in this season’s campus production of “Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson – Apt. 2B.”

You studied abroad in London, right? What was your focus there, what did you learn from the experience? Yes! I went to London for two weeks with the Department of Theatre and Drama. It was a class that was two weeks online and two weeks onsite. We started almost right as school ended and were in London from May 30 through June 14. My focus on this trip was to experience new things, and I sure did! I have never been a big traveler before, and so going abroad in this way was pretty nerve wracking, but in the end I learned so much about public transportation, traveling, and how to navigate in a place you do not know. Our trip was packed with professional shows, museums, and tours! It was mind blowing and always exciting. I guess my biggest takeaway from that trip was that theatre can be accessible in so many different settings. I am so glad I went on that London trip, because I now feel so much more confident in trying new things, being myself, and understanding how there are so many different opportunities in the world — you just have to look for them.

What’s next for you? Do you have any particular plans for the future? Well, since I am heading into my junior year at UW–Madison, I plan to learn as much as I can in my next two years here. Gather as much experience as I can while working under an educational umbrella. After that, I’m not so sure yet. Perhaps I will attend grad school, or I might begin working in different theatres to gain knowledge and skill in a professional setting. Most of my future is still unknown to me. 

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