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Student Blog: An Interview with McKenna Kerrigan


Her responses remind us of the excitement we derive from the theatre and how all our experiences can teach us something.

Student Blog: An Interview with McKenna Kerrigan

Last semester I had the honor of taking Introduction to Directing with McKenna Kerrigan. Although I was already beginning my journey as a director by preparing to co-direct The Haunting of Hill House, this course provided me with a plethora of knowledge to develop my skills. From directing exercises such as recreating the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme without words to directing pivotal scenes in famous plays like Sweat, I improved on how to stage performers and articulate my ideas to them. McKenna Kerrigan not only teaches directing in a welcoming environment, but she also has performed in many world premiere plays and has performed with esteemed theatre companies such as Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She has also worked with Deaf West Theatre and the Lincoln Center, and she has been seen in many films and TV shows such as Criminal Minds and Boardwalk Empire.

I recently had the opportunity to ask McKenna Kerrigan a few questions on her teaching experience and career as well as some advice for young theatre professionals. Her responses remind us of the excitement we derive from the theatre and how all our experiences can teach us something.

What inspired you to pursue a career in theatre and entertainment? What types of projects are you passionate about?

Ever since I played a tooth (and then a cavity!) as a little kid, I loved the idea that if I dared to do something on stage, the audience would respond. By the time I graduated from college, I was single-minded. I'm thankful that I performed for a long time with New Paradise Laboratories in Philadelphia because that gave me a company to learn from, train with, and a lot of experience that I would not have found on my own, like performing in the Humana Festival and P.S.122. It also made me think of being in a theatre company as a natural state, and when I moved to NYC, led me to seek out work with Target Margin and Partial Comfort. In terms of what I love to make: I love working on new plays that are developed over months or years, where I have the opportunity to contribute in multiple creative ways before performing.

What are your favorite directing and performing experiences?

One of my very favorite performing experiences was making a play called The Really Big Once with Target Margin in NYC. It was about the friendship between Tennessee Williams & Elia Kazan while they were working on the Broadway premiere of Camino Real in 1954. Led by director David Herskovits, the company read the correspondence between Kazan and Williams, selected text, and created choreography. The Really Big Once was made over many workshops and residencies before we began the formal rehearsal period, and I was able to participate in the world creation in a way that supported my performing in a new and exciting way.

What was your most memorable learning experience in your theatre career or education?

I had just finished working on a new play at the Vineyard Theatre when my sweetheart told me he wanted us to move to LA. I was torn because I loved theatre and living in New York, but in the spirit of adventure we went! What I learned in that move was to keep an open mind about what kind of a performer I could be, which eventually led me to a bunch of auditions and some TV work I didn't know how much I would love! Finally, I learned to set clear intentions for my own interests in every new work situation. When I create parameters for myself that I can check on, I can hold myself to standards that I alone set.

What inspired you to teach? How was your experience teaching at Penn in comparison to other universities?

Teaching has always been part of my ideal work life, accompanying performing and studying in a balanced little trifecta! Right now I am co-creating curriculum with other teaching artists for the New Victory Theatre in NYC and I just finished teaching an on-camera acting class for People's Light here in Philly.

My experience with Penn has been great! It is such a pleasure to be in a room where everyone has a ton of ideas and questions - and in the case of my last class- the ability to offer plays that they loved and wanted their classmates to read! And as much as I enjoyed the great work ethic of the Penn students I taught, I was most impressed that by the end of the semester they were working as seasoned collaborators: relying on their classmates more, being more relaxed in leadership positions, and easier with taking artistic risks.

If you could teach a course on any topic related to theatre, what would it be?

Right now, I would love to teach a course investigating the ways in which using devised theatre techniques with teenage-students contribute to their cognitive development. Admittedly, I would need a lot of help! But I am curious about the idea that "doing a play" in high school is the experience which launches many people's professional interest in theatre, but we don't really interrogate the arts education experience for teenagers. Are there other (devised or experimental) methods of working in theatre that would contribute to an adolescent's performing arts experience in a more dynamic or varied way?

For students who are interested in graduate studies or a career in theatre (creative, performing, or administrative) what programs or internship/apprenticeship opportunities do you suggest?

I was just talking to a Penn student about this! In all of the following programs, I made great friends, furthered my education as a performer, and introduced myself to a new city:

What do you think theatre will look like in the future, and what do you advise young theatre professionals to invest their time in?

I think the most exciting performers are the people who also write, direct, design and collaborate. These artists have the ability to be in the rehearsal room in any number of creative ways and so their view of the work is strong & varied, and they are always working on something. Having the confidence and experience to be flexible in your creative role is the best plan for a working future in theatre- find or make a young company where you can do all of the things.

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