The Mother of the Theater Majors


By Emily Lease, Contributing Writer

Pictures by Emily Lease

Michelle Magnussen has been teaching at McKendree Unversity since 2006. This year marks the beginning of her 20th year as a professor- doing what she loves. When I first met Michelle, I thought just she was just a normal theatre professor, but she’s actually a lot more than just a professor; she’s an artist.

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When I walked into her office in Eisenmeyer, I was welcomed by shelves full of different books: Some were plays by Shakespeare and some were books about acting. I then noticed the slight hum of her air conditioner in the window and looked for a place to sit. I finally decided to sit on the soft burnt orange couch that is placed in front of the big window in her office.

We started talking about what it was like when she worked at a renaissance fair. “The first two years I played a good guy, then the last year I got to play a bad guy,” Michelle said excitedly. That summer she particularly enjoyed playing a villain and learning more about the craft of acting while working at the renaissance fair.

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Dr. Magnussen at work.

Michelle grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and has loved theatre since she was a kid. Even though she enjoyed theatre a lot, she actually started college to become a lawyer.

She admitted that when she was growing up, she didn’t think that just anyone could major in theatre so she kind of pushed that dream the side. That misconception disappeared when she went to her college’s major/minor fair and saw that she could actually do what she loved all the time.

She became a theatre major. Following her passions, she decided to get her Master of Fine Arts in theatre. Along with some friends she decided to start a small theatre group in St. Louis, MO – which didn’t go so well.  They had the talent, but they weren’t the greatest at the business and fundraising part, which is essential in running any type of business.

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That is how Michelle actually learned about McKendree. One of her friends said that she should work here at the university.  At first Michelle was not very interested in the idea of teaching but she decided to check it out anyway. Seemingly it was a perfect fit.  She started out teaching on Tuesdays and Thursdays so she could still have the option to take on other projects such as acting and choreographing fight scenes for different productions.

After a while, some of the faculty decided that it was time for McKendree to have a stronger theatre department since the Hett was built and they had this beautiful new space to do productions in. Michelle applied to become a full-time staff member and got the job.

Magnussen thinks that “Students need to try everything once, even though it may turn out that they don’t like it.” For example, you should go to at least a couple different sport games just to say that you’ve been to them. She also says to “take advantage of your professors” and that “they are here to help you and want you to succeed.” Michelle Magnussen has showed hundreds of students what it is like to do what you love every day.