Building Connections Through Art
Running through life, brushing past people on the way to appointments, meetings, classes — it’s the way many of us live. But Megan Lovely ’19 has another vision. She is working to help people stop rushing and really see one another— through voices and stories that humanize, build connection, enlighten, and even heal.
As a theatre major and communication minor, Lovely pursues these goals through her art. Her chosen projects range from workshops to internships, a study abroad experience to summer research, with lots of coursework and theatre productions at the center of it all. And each is an experience on her journey to find her voice, refine her next steps, and find the special zone that resonates between her and her audience.
All this actually began even before Lovely was a college student, when, as a high school junior, she participated in a Reynolds Writing Workshop at Denison. During the week-long program she, along with about 40 other students, wrote, read, and listened to professors and peers as they shared and critiqued work.
That primed her for her first year as a college student on The Hill, when Lovely was part of a directed-study workshop with the Columbus-based Available Light Theatre (AVLT), a Denison artist-in-residence. The semester-long project was her first exposure to an ensemble-created work.
“The emphasis on the non-hierarchy of the how the play was created totally shifted my thinking about how theatre can work,” says Lovely.
After the workshop, AVLT’s director, Eleni Papaleonardos, offered Lovely an internship as a production assistant with the company. During the internship, Papaleonardos and Lovely carpooled to Columbus, where she sat in on rehearsals, provided input, took line notes, and helped with odd jobs around the production.
“The internship was a balance of labor and the ability to sit in on the process and ask questions,” says Lovely. “Driving back and forth with Eleni, we would talk about what we had done that day and what we still had to do. I watched Eleni direct, and I really respect her inclusive style. It was great insight into a director’s mind.”
In the fall of her junior year, Lovely spent a semester with the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland, where she took classes in acting, choreography, stage-fighting and solo performance. “I learned a lot, and it was fun being in a conservatory experience, but I realized that I missed academics and the interdisciplinary scope of the liberal arts.”
One example of that interdisciplinarity is Lovely’s summer research, which is in theatre, but with an emphasis on mental health for middle- and high-school students.
Under the advisement of Laura Russell, an associate professor of communication, and in conversation with the counseling staff at Behavioral Healthcare Partners of Central Ohio (BHP), Lovely developed and facilitated a workshop for the students to create vignettes that address aspects of mental health. Lovely will share her curriculum with BHP to be implemented the coming years.
“This was my first time teaching, but I feel like my performance background helped prepare me for the role, especially when it came to maintaining the energy of the group and improvising,” says Lovely. “The students’ performances ranged from short skits, to cartoons, to music videos that they selected to share with the group. The key was that they stood in front of the group and took ownership of their experiences.”
“I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this hands-on research this summer, and it’s through this action-based research that I’ve discovered the questions I really need to be looking into during a directed study with Dr. Russell this fall.”
Russell says of Lovely, “I have always been amazed by Megan’s compassion for others, especially when observing her work through her own challenges as a way to understand adversity and empowerment. She loves to learn, but even more, she loves to see others learn.”
Lovely, who won a substantial Beinecke Scholarship toward her graduate education, wants to draw her audience and actors together into a shared experience.
And Lovely has found time to take part in numerous Denison theatre productions. Among these, she portrayed the grisly “Mrs. Lovett” in “Sweeney Todd.” She co-wrote and co-directed a one-act play, “The Rice Cooker’s Journey,” with her boyfriend, Ryan Seibert ‘19. The play is based on Seibert’s mother’s experiences of coming to America as a Cambodian refugee.
Lovely numbers Cheryl McFarren, associate professor of theatre, among her mentors. “I sat in on one of Cheryl’s classes even before I came to Denison. She opened opportunities for me, gave me support. I’ll dump a lot of stuff on her, and she’ll help me figure out ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
“Megan greets every new experience mindfully and joyfully. Her curiosity, openness, and gratitude inspire everyone around — not only her peers, but her teachers as well,” says McFarren.
Lovely, who worked through the Lisska Center for Scholarly Research to win a substantial Beinecke Scholarship toward her graduate education, wants to draw her audience and actors together into a shared experience. “I’ve learned that I want to do community-based theatre about and inside communities, to elevate marginalized stories.” She’s well on the way to building those connections — the crux of her goal.