As a teaching assistant at the Tony Award–winning Children’s Theatre Company this summer, Christine Menge ’18 had the opportunity to work with established theater professionals and college students from across the country.
Yet the people she learned the most from? The children she taught.
Menge says working with young people ranging in age from 5 to 18 served to remind her of the creative power of youth — and the importance of providing a space for it to flourish.
“I am continuously amazed at how self-aware and limitless children are,” she says. “There is no second-guessing when you’re a child; there is only ‘this,’ and ‘this’ is perfect no matter how many stumbles or scribbles or voice breaks. Teaching is a reciprocal process, and I was lucky enough to relearn that every week.”
Time magazine has called the Children’s Theatre Company “The #1 children’s theater in the nation,” and it was the first theater for young people to win the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater.
Menge landed her internship with the organization with the help of the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career. In her role as a teaching assistant at the Children’s Theatre Company, she developed curriculum and taught students to explore their imaginations and textual analysis skills through theater.
“In the classroom, I worked with teaching artists from around Minnesota to design and lead different classroom activities every week based on the camp’s themes and age groups,” says Menge, a theater major at St. Olaf with a concentration in management studies.
“Our goal was to give children tools to live creative, emotionally expressive lives inside and outside of theater.”
She was joined at the Children’s Theatre Company by friends and fellow Oles Emily Cardinal ’19, Rosie Linsner ’18 and Shelby Reddig ’17, who were also working as stage management and education interns.
In addition to her work at the Children’s Theatre Company, Menge also had the opportunity to further develop her own acting skills through two summer classes at the acclaimed Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
“We would meet, learn, and play, then take the skills that we learned in class into our everyday lives and meet again the next week to see how it went and add more tools to our actor toolboxes,” she says.
Menge says the summer experiences she had at the Children’s Theatre Company and the Guthrie Theater wouldn’t have been possible without the internship funding she received from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career.
In the past year, 107 St. Olaf students have received Piper Center funding for unpaid or underpaid internships. Another 107 students have received internship funding through college programs such as the Rockswold Health Scholars Program, the Svoboda Legal Scholars Program, and the Johnson Family Opportunity Fund — all part of the college’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths.
Menge says the opportunity to work with theater professionals off campus will enhance the remainder of her time on campus, where she is very active within the theater community. She is the managing director of Deep End Alpha Psi Omega Productions, St. Olaf’s largest student-run theater organization, and is a member of Scared Scriptless, St. Olaf’s improvisational theater group. She’s also a company member of the Myswyken Salad Theatre Company, where she does everything from acting to designing and directing.
“I met some amazing people this summer who have offered to do workshops at St. Olaf this year with our theater organization, Deep End Alpha Psi Omega Productions. Now their insights have the opportunity to become our insights, giving more students the chance to build their own networks of fellow creators,” Menge says.
Menge, who hopes to be an actor, theater teaching artist, and arts administrator after graduating from St. Olaf, says her experiences this summer have been invaluable in preparing her for a career on stage.
“In my Guthrie classes we talked a lot about ‘playing in the sandbox.’ It means being willing to invent and explore and get messy without the weight of self-doubt getting in the way,” Menge says. “I’m going to carry with me the sandbox idea that what we are is already enough, everything’s fine because the sky is not going to fall around us, and there’s room for everybody in here to do their own thing. So what are we waiting for? Let’s play.”