Pursuing Inclusivity, Diversity, in Theatre
A successful actor, singer, pianist and performer, alumna Rose Van Dyne ’18 reflects on how her experiences and support system at UNC propelled her forward and prepared her for her current career in musical theater.
It’s Spring Break, 2018. Rose Van Dyne steps on stage at the Jerry Orbach Theater
in New York City along with her fellow musical theater seniors to perform in their
“Senior Showcase is something that all the musical theater performers really look forward to. [You] try to do your best and get the most out of the experience,” Van Dyne said. “I think a lot of us build up so much pressure on ourselves, but at the end of the day, it’s just one audition. It's just a taste.”
“I was lucky enough. I think I had two or three agents that were interested in reaching out after my performance and I ended up signing with one of them. So it was a really exciting experience for me. I wouldn't have met [my agent] unless I had done this UNC showcase,” Van Dyne said.
This was the moment that kickstarted Van Dyne’s career, but she didn’t always know she wanted to pursue musical theater. UNC changed that for her and opened her mind to the possibility of turning her lifelong passions into a career.
“Music was a huge part of my life all growing up. I just never really viewed it as a viable career option,” Van Dyne said. “I actually had other academic aspirations all the way up until March of my senior year. I had attended the Thespian Conference the December before in Denver, where there was representation from UNC in the college auditions. I just decided, honestly, on a whim, to drive up to Greeley and to do an audition just to see what it was like. And I think it was really apparent to me that the standard and quality of performance level at UNC was very high. Ultimately, it was a professor that spoke with me, and answered all my questions, and assuaged all my fears about what it would be like going to college.”
While she originally attended UNC with the sole intention of pursuing a Musical Theater degree, her desire to maintain her lifelong piano skills as well as the support she received from UNC faculty encouraged her to also pursue piano.
“When I decided to go to UNC, it was to be primarily in the musical theater program as a performer,” Van Dyne explained. “And then I thought, ‘well, I don't want to give up playing piano for the rest of my life, because I've already spent so much time doing it, so I'll just take the extra classes so that I can keep up my musicianship skills,’ which actually ended up going hand in hand because I then became a main accompanist for all of my classmates [in] the years below me,” Van Dyne said.
“I had the support of David Grapes, and John Leonard, and Matthew Harrick and Shelly Gaza. They all were really, really excited to give me opportunities to play [piano], which I was really grateful for,” Van Dyne explained.
She graduated in Spring 2018 with a B.A. in Musical Theatre, a B.A. in Liberal Arts with a Piano Emphasis, a minor in Spanish and an Arts Entrepreneurship certificate and moved to New York City, auditioning and landing her debut role in an off-Broadway production of “Spring Awakening.”
“It's funny because I played the same role of Martha in Spring Awakening at UNC, so it was like a reprisal of the role, which was really, really fun. It felt like it gave me an edge on the material when I was going in for a professional production because I already knew it so well,” Van Dyne said.
“Most likely, I was cast because they saw that the role had been on my resume before. I went in for the audition, and it turned out that Michael Cassara, who I had actually met in high school in Fort Collins, was the one casting it. So it was really nice to see another familiar face,” Van Dyne explained.
In the production, she starred alongside fellow UNC alum Yamuna Meleth ’13, which illustrated to her how the community at UNC extends far beyond the campus limits.
“I didn't know that Yam went to UNC until we already started rehearsals,” Van Dyne said. “[It’s] really amazing that there's a network of people, a community of people beyond UNC, even as far as New York City, that you don't even know of, and it was really exciting to get to know her that way.”
From that first production she’s gone on to work as an actor and music director in an impressive array of productions, including work at the American Theatre Wing, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Out of the Box Theatrics, AMDA and Mixed Blood Theatre.
Over the last few years she’s worked on the Broadway reopening of Waitress, starring Sara Bareilles, and music directed the Asian-American musical “Baked! The Musical,” the Queer punk musical, “TL;DR” (short for Thelma Louise; Dyke Remix) and Sara Porkalob’s third play in her “Dragon Cycle” entitled “Dragon Baby” with the American Repertory Theatre (ART).
“I think that when I moved to New York, I had this mentality of only wanting to be a performer, and then being able to have my piano skills on the side as a means of income, but particularly over the last year and a half, my eyes have been [opened] to the possibilities of working on the music side of all of these shows,” Van Dyne said.
She hopes to continue to explore the music side of the industry as she moves towards the next step in her career.
“I was so, so lucky to work on the reopening of Broadway's “Waitress,” starring Sara Bareilles, this [past] August. That was a whole window into what [it would] really be like to work full-time as a music director and a music assistant. So I'm exploring this other side of music, and since I'm in grad school, I can't commit to a full performing contract. This is such a great way for me to stay a part of the industry until I'm ready to come back and then, hopefully, pursue both acting and music directing,” Van Dyne said.
Along with ‘TL;DR,’ Van Dyne has been involved in several productions which have brought visibility to marginalized groups, such as “Interstate” and “Cambodian Rock Band.” She has taken these experiences to help shape her goals of inclusivity and diversity in her own work.
“I have almost exclusively worked on queer pieces, pieces written by Asian Americans, Black voices [and] Indigenous voices. I have been so, so blessed to have all of this available to me. And I have now taken that to be a part of my own work so that when I'm the one hiring somebody for a band, or casting a show, or can bring a friend in on a project, I am super intentional about who can be given an opportunity who may not have been given one before,” Van Dyne said.
She is also affiliated with several organizations focused on supporting members of underrepresented groups working in musical theater, such as “In The Margin,” “Maestra” and “Muse.”
“I think that there is a huge reckoning happening all over the world, and the arts and Broadway industry is no exception, and it's revealing how things have always been rather than how they should have been in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. So I am really, really excited about all of the amazing projects I'm seeing happening where the stories that are being told are being created by the people who should be telling those stories. I almost unintentionally have found myself in the right groups of people where we all share similar goals in the empowerment of voices of those who have been underrepresented,” Van Dyne said.
She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Musical Theater Vocal Pedagogy at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in hopes of further developing her skills as a musician and as an educator.
“I've taught piano lessons, voice lessons and music theory lessons casually to people since I was probably about 16 years old,” Van Dyne said. “I think my intentions in going to grad school are twofold. One is professionally so I can work as a freelance music director and actor. I'm very excited to, immediately after this degree, return to New York City. I think the skills that I will learn here, in terms of being a voice coach and a voice teacher, will aid me greatly in presenting myself as a music director in the room, but also, of course, as a means of extra income while I'm working as an actor too. So I find that all three of these are so closely related in my mind and are the core of what I enjoy about performing as a vocalist, a pianist and as a teacher.”
She hopes to one day become the same kind of professor who supported her throughout her college years.
“I have aspirations, one day in the future, of being a university professor, similar to the professors who taught me at UNC. I'm just really excited for that chapter of my life, if and when it comes, so that I could be a guiding mentor to others who want to pursue this,” Van Dyne said.
She also hopes to promote the voices of marginalized groups in musical theater in her future career as a professor.
“I think that a lot of programs all over the country, almost every single one of them, lacks diversity in faculty and guidance for, specifically, BIPOC, queer and disabled actors who want to pursue this career. So that's something that I am really looking forward to helping with,” Van Dyne said.
She reflects on how the community, support and education she received at UNC helped her to overcome challenges she faced and to achieve the career she has today.
“I am grateful to UNC for its acting training specifically. UNC is very clear about how acting is the focus of its musical theater program, which I really, really appreciated. And I think any college experience comes with its own difficulties as you're growing as a human being. And so something I'm really grateful for from my time at UNC is I learned how to advocate for my needs. If I felt that there was something that I wanted or needed, I learned the communication skills to work closely with my peers and my professors to make sure that we were all trying to get the most that we could out of our brief four years there. And so I was really, really happy to be able to study as many different things as I could at UNC,” Van Dyne said.
“I'm also grateful for the community. All of us who were in school together, we're all over the place now, all over the country and internationally. And it's just comforting to know that if I saw any one of them on the street, it would be such a glorious and happy reunion because we went through a lot together and I'm happy that we're all on the other side of it,” Van Dyne said.
She emphasizes the importance of community in supporting college students and how her community at UNC helped her to be successful.
“I think, like in many industries, but particularly in the arts, who you know is everything. [You should] truly treasure the relationships that you're fostering. And so it's only through the comradery of my classmates that we all could endure the four years of grueling classwork [and the] personal turmoil that happens to everyone when you're 18 to 22 years old and also [adjust to] such a different living environment in Greeley. So I think it was definitely through the support of finding your people that you can make it through these kinds of programs.”
She also emphasizes that learning about yourself is one of the most important things students can do in their college career.
“I would say to really use your time wisely [so that] every moment that you can, [you can] be trying to learn something about yourself, from your peers, from your professors, from places that have nothing to do with musical theater, because growing as a human being is the most important thing that you can do in your undergraduate college years, and the rest will come if you foster who it is you are first,” Van Dyne said.
While at UNC, Van Dyne received multiple scholarships, including the Frank G. and Betty Ottesen Performing and Visual Arts Scholarship, the Joe Tennessen Family Scholarship in Performing and Visual Arts, and the UCHealth Scholarship.
While at UNC, Van Dyne was supported by numerous scholarships, including the Frank G. and Betty Ottesen Performing and Visual Arts Scholarship, the Joe Tennessen Family Scholarship in Performing and Visual Arts, and the UCHealth Scholarship.