Playing a Lead Role

At Christopher Newport University, all the campus is a stage where students explore and play out their many passions and interests – literally for Courtney Colligan (’14), who double-majored in English and theater. She connected both on- and offstage, in and out of the classroom. “CNU offered more than any other school I visited,” she recalls. “I found not only a state-of-the-art campus, but also discovered extensive programs that give students the opportunity to interact and work closely with their professors.” She was ultimately persuaded when she first saw the magnitude of the facilities available to students in the Ferguson Center for the Arts. “As soon as I saw the Ferguson Center during my campus visit, I knew I wanted to attend CNU,” she says.

Theater majors do a lot more than just take classes. There is much work to be done – productions require set construction, costuming and lighting as well as the student actors who bring the written words and technical art alive. Colligan was cast in “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” and starred as Queen Elizabeth in “Mary Stuart,” an experience that was “one of the most important moments of my life,” she says. “The show became a culmination of who I am and what I love, not only as an actor, but also as a student.” Such performances are joint efforts between CNU students and faculty in the Department of Theater and Dance, and students are involved in every aspect of each production. “We work from casting to the ending performance with great dedication, professionalism and enthusiasm,” Colligan says.

Her final role was a job as research assistant for Dr. Grace Godwin, Assistant Professor of Theater, who is writing a historical account of the Swan Theatre in London, one of the main venues used by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Colligan cataloged performances using the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s online database. Once this work is complete, Godwin can sift the data, analyzing performance reviews and exploring key productions and performances. “I’m thrilled Courtney helped me with this project. It gave her valuable research and archival experience,” says Godwin. “She is an outstanding writer and well-suited for a career at the university level.”

With the curtain closed on her college experience Colligan reflects on the one constant she enjoyed through all her rich involvement on campus, from Greek life to study abroad to honor societies: CNU’s caring faculty, and their passion for nurturing students’ gifts. “People don’t become professors just to regurgitate information and hear themselves talk, but because they want to make an impact and help others learn – not only in the subject they teach, but about life as well,” Colligan says. “Dr. Godwin has an open-door policy, and frequently reminded us to stop by her office with questions or even just to chat. She has a genuine willingness and excitement to sit and have a conversation.”

For her part, Godwin sees graduation as the opening of the next act in Colligan’s life. Through their collaboration, she’s certain Colligan, who will enroll in graduate school at DePaul University next fall, “gained all the skills she needs to succeed, and will find an area of research she can build upon as she becomes a theater historian in her own right,” she says.