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Theatre Arts Student Hones Her Craft in New York

Summer at Prestigious Studio Influences Work on Campus

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Melissa Kiessling, right, with Billy Cannon in "Boeing Boeing" produced by the theatre arts program, studied at the Stella Adler Studio over the summer.

By Julia Gavin

Melissa Kiessling wants to experience theater production from all sides. Writing, performing, directing and scene design – she’s studying and doing it all. Her studies got a boost this summer at the Stella Adler Studio with support from the University.

Reading a dialogue for directors seeking summer actors landed Kiessling the offer from Adler. The best of the best have studied at Adler - from Robert DeNiro to Salma Hayek - and Kiessling earned a spot on the same stage. Kiessling applied for a travel scholarship, which was matched by the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Dean’s office, offsetting much of the program’s cost. 

“The program was demanding, eye-opening and rewarding. It taught me new skills and exposed me to ideas that have enhanced my understanding of what it means to be an actor and a member of the theater community,” says Kiessling, an English major in the theatre arts concentration with minors in education and Spanish. “While living in Manhattan, I saw professional productions on and off Broadway and explored the cultures of the city. I met many other people who were working artists and had insights into the business and the reality of being an actor. Without the support of my professors, department, and the Dean’s Office, I wouldn’t have been able to make this dream come true.”

Kiessling spent the summer with 175 other young actors but worked with a small class for 20 hours a week. The students studied voice, movement, improv, scene study, Shakespeare and on-camera work.

“My classes were engaging and challenging and they reinforced many of the concepts and tools that I learned with my teachers, Asst. Prof. Dale J. Young and Asst. Prof. Shelley Barish,” says Kiessling. “I’ve gained valuable lessons from the studio that I’m bringing to the second half of my undergraduate career.”

From Stage to Campus

Squeezing in New York activities between classes and train rides to the studio came naturally for the Billerica student, who commutes to school and is active on campus. Kiessling has held an internship at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, is the assistant director of the upcoming “Lysistrata” production and holds a marketing internship with her department. She says these activities and her minors might not go together perfectly, but they each nudge her a bit closer to where she wants to go.

Kiessling began her time at the University as a Spanish major but switched quickly to English and theatre arts. 

“I’m glad I came here because the close-knit department means we get to work  with professors, get on stage early and pursue what we want to do,” says Kiessling, who was involved with theater throughout high school. Kiessling is also building her professional resume, helping Barish with a show in Boston, a connection she’s not sure would have happened in a larger theater department.

Her professors have noticed changes in her classwork as Kiessling applies the studio’s lessons in class and on the stage.

“At Adler, information was delivered quickly, because we only had a summer, but here there’s more space to try it out and see what works,” says Kiessling. “I’m getting the most out of it now and connecting everything from summer in class and on the stage.”