Collegiate Theatrics: Western Kentucky University's HILARIE SPANGLER
Never one to let any moss grow under her feet, Western Kentucky University's Hilarie Spangler is crazy-busy leading up to her college graduation in a couple of months, with the near-future mapped out for the young woman who started her theater career as a youngster in community productions in Middleboro, Kentucky.
Most recently seen onstage in Nashville in Circle Players' First Night Award-winning production of Hair, she's currently at work on Wendy's Neverland, an immersive theatre piece with TimeSlips Creative Storytelling, which takes place in Morgantown Care and Rehabilitation Center with a team of performers made up "of the coolest elders you've ever met and their care buddies, fabulous musicians and incredible seasoned artists."
After that, it's a quick weekend performance with Leslie Berra and The Gift of Song at Street Theatre Company in Nashville, followed by graduation, leading some theater workshops in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and then to New York City. Clearly, it's a whirlwind of events.
Before she heads off into the great unknown, here's your opportunity to get to know Hilarie Spangler better in the latest edition of COLLEGIATE THEATRICS:
What's your college experience at Western Kentucky University been like so far? My college experience has definitely been an interesting one, full of surprises and definitely non-traditional. Although I started my time at Western Kentucky University as a BFA candidate in musical theatre, I quickly found myself hungry and eager to learn everything in the world of theatre, art, community, culture and connectivity. This hunger made it very hard to stay within the walls of one singular artistic craft and I found myself moving between different identities within the theatre and as an interdisciplinary artist.
My college experience was also very non-traditional as I basically took a year off from campus, through National Student Exchange, and worked as a fellow in New York City at HERE Arts Center, picked up various freelance theatre gigs, and started my own arts collective called Cardinal Cross Arts Collective that is a hybrid Rural-Urban Company with Amy Brooks.
Throughout college, I lived in between the collegiate community and the broader community of community-based artists professionally, as I started to build my artistic career. I also found a space in the Nashville theatre community, which totally surprised me, by the way, how welcomed I was into the community. College has been a beautiful and trying experience, but I'm thankful for each bump along the way, as they led me to the artist that I've found within myself.
Has it lived up to its advance hype? I don't believe that I, necessarily, had known much about Western Kentucky University or their theatre program before I entered in, mainly because I was very new-ish to the theatre scene when I started college. I just knew, at the time, I wanted to major in Musical Theatre and only WKU and NKU had the program.
I grew up over on the Appalachian part of the state and my experience with standard theatre was not very extensive. I grew up as a musician before I entered the theatre world, which in Middlesboro, Kentucky, was very community-oriented and had less of the traditional elements of theatre life. My theatre career started in Middlesborough Little Theatre, and though it was a different experience, it was just as, if not more, enriching as it would have been if I had grown up in a performing arts central area. WKU has definitely helped me to grow in ways that I did not expect when I originally enrolled in courses back in 2015, and I'm thankful for the lessons that I've learned.
What's your favorite thing about studying at Western Kentucky?
As cliche as it sounds, one of my favorite parts about studying at Western Kentucky University has been the ability to plug into the Nashville Theatre scene while still being a student. I also have had opportunities that extended outside the Theatrical world through my undergraduate research, study, and work abroad which WKU's Study Abroad Program has allowed me to take advantage of. These experiences have shaped my artistic background and the work that I'm creating. WKU has given me many opportunities to branch out of just the theatre world and look at my artistry as an extension of the voice that I have been given, and to use that voice to uplift others.
What does the future hold for you and have your aspirations changed since you're now an experienced college student? My aspirations have changed a lot over the course of my time as a student, from being on a pretty set path of pursuing musical theatre performance to being a creative placemaker in the realm of community-based, arts advocacy, I find myself seeking to find the ways that the artwork that I love to create can also benefit and engage with our communities around us. I'm asking questions and looking into how Appalachia and other rural areas can connect with our urban friends and how artists can create change. I'm back to New York City in July to start my graduate studies at Pratt Institute and to dive back into the theatre scene, hopefully to build connections with my own arts collective Cardinal Cross.
What collegiate theatrical moment looms largest in your mind? My favorite collegiate theatrical moment would have to be the entirety of the creative process around my final piece at WKU, Aglaonike's Tiger, written by MTSU professor Claudia Barnett (who is amazing, by the way.) I served as the composer, music director, assistant director and even got thrown in as a cameo ensemble member, and I can say that that production is one of my favorite theatre experiences to date.
The process was so collaborative and artistic that I feel as though I was able to really explore my artistry as a composer and musician just as much as I was able to hone in on my theatrical artwork. The process was female-driven and that made a huge difference in how the story was told- more women need to be at the front of story-making, and I'm so proud to have been a part of a process that featured so many strong women, actively using their talents and voices.
What advice would you offer to high school students considering making the plunge? Take the plunge, you are so worth it - college is an amazing opportunity to explore and be curious. I encourage you to stay curious. Learn everything you can. Make mistakes and if get a little lost while you make them, that is a-okay, because you'll find yourself exactly where you need to be. Sometimes life moves us in ways that we don't expect, and that's the fun part.
What's your latest theatrical project and what comes next? Currently, I'm over in Morgantown, Kentucky, working on a devised, immersive theatre-piece with TimeSlips Creative Storytelling called Wendy's Neverland. The piece takes place in Morgantown Care and Rehabilitation Center and our team of performers consists of the coolest elders you've ever met and their care buddies, fabulous musicians and incredible seasoned artists from around the U.S. The piece is all about the "Journey of Belief" and how when we, collectively, believe in something, we can fly and connect with one another.
I'm also performing in my last, for a while, Nashville show with Leslie Berra and The Gift of Song over at Street Theatre Company on May 4 and 5 with some of my dearest friends - it's really an honor. After these two things, I'm off to my college graduation, teaching some theatrical workshops over in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and then moving back to NYC for a bit!