When Eleni Papaleonardos, an assistant professor of theatre, started her own undergraduate career at Ohio State University, she had aspirations of being a physical therapist. “I was really interested in the body and how it works,” she said.

But while she was at Ohio State, a mentor suggested she audition for a play as part of an acting class she was taking. Her career goals and passions flipped. She learned those same interests in body movement also applied to theatre.

“All of a sudden, all of the things I was interested in physical therapy came to light here in the physical theatre world,” she said.

As a dyslexic person who speaks both English and Greek, Papaleonardos wasn’t comfortable reading, writing, and speaking in either language until she “understood the body as a means of communication.”

The theatre world led her to Boulder, Colorado, where she earned her MFA at Naropa University, and eventually to Denison, where she works in the theatre department alongside her husband, Mark Evans Bryan.

Since 2015, she’s also been the artistic director at Columbus-based Available Light Theatre,   where she helps shape the vision of the company’s artistic works. Papaleonardos chooses the plays the company performs, hires directors, and makes original work. Additionally, she continues to act  — including in a recent Denison student-directed production, The Wolves.

Papaleonardos understands what goes into staging a production, including acting, directing, design, and how all those areas utilize time and space onstage. At Denison, she teaches all of the elements that go into making a production, and has an innate sense for, as she puts it, “helping students into the work.” Some students may be holding tension and need to loosen up. Others have excess energy that needs to be harnessed. Years of watching and teaching students have helped her pinpoint ways to help them improve.

One of her most popular classes is Elements of Acting, which is frequented by both theatre majors and minors and by students who are acting for the very first time. It’s one of her favorite classes. 

The skills students learn in that class apply to life in general, no matter where their career path might lead. “Ultimately, it’s about getting comfortable being uncomfortable in your own body, in front of other people, while speaking,” she said. “We need that wherever we go.”

She shared the story of a former student who returned to visit,  poking his head into an ongoing class and telling her students, “Listen to her!” Then he talked to them about how he used Papaleonardos’s classroom advice about “reorienting the room” in a successful job interview.

“It was one of my pinnacle teaching moments,” Papaleonardos said. “The flexibility and creativity you have to come up with at the moment can translate to so many different realms.”

March 29, 2024