During her time at UNCG, Harley Winzenried has dedicated herself to studying theatre, both on and off campus. She has performed in plays, developed original pieces and delved into administrative work. In May, Winzenried will graduate with a bachelors in theatre, along with a minor in musical theatre. Although theatre has always been her major, Winzenried has strayed a bit from her initial path.
“I auditioned for the B.F.A. in acting program twice,” she said. “I didn’t get in both times and that’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
Just a week after the second rejection, she was cast in a one-woman show and soon began working with Skydive Productions. Skydive’s mission—providing a space for the stories of marginalized voices—drew Winzenried to the company. She worked for a full year with the company as the director of recruitment. That summer, she went up to New York City to test the waters.
“I was working at a chocolate shop, babysitting, shadowing a playwright in rehearsal processes at Ensemble Studio Theatre and I was working an internship with a concert series called the Peace Train 2016 Tour Across America,” she said.
The Peace Train project was centered around Grammy-nominated artist Sharon Katz, who taught folk music to segregated communities of children in South Africa during apartheid. Winzenried hopped on the opportunity after the previous PR person dropped out.
That was not the only traveling Winzenried has done during her undergraduate studies. She spent last semester studying at the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. The prestigious program has served as a semester-away intensive since the 1970s and has seen its fair share of notable alumni, including Jennifer Garner and John Krasinski. Winzenried was more than capable of the program’s intense workload.
“They had us going seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night,” she said. “I didn’t sleep at all and I loved it so much.”
Although she’s spent a solid portion of her degree up north, Winzenried has lived in Greensboro since 2014. She began her undergrad degree that fall, but it took some time to make a name for herself in the department. She remained patient until her sophomore year when her work began to pick up.
Winzenried’s first acting role at UNCG was in “Iphigenia 2.0,” written by Charles Mee and directed by Sarah Hankins. The production was an all-female, modernized adaptation of the Greek myth, “Iphigenia in Aulis.”
“We had extensive workshops in gender in performance,” she said. “I had to learn how to physically perform as male. That redefined not only how I think about theatre and the symbiotic representation of gender dynamics onstage, but also life. Like, how people take up space and what we’ve been conditioned to do subconsciously.”
Since then, Winzenried has participated in regional productions with companies such as Paper Lantern Theatre Company and the North Carolina Theatre for Young People. However, her current work is back on campus, where she is playing the nurse in an upcoming production of “A New Brain,” by James Lapine and William Finn.
Besides acting and administrative work, Winzenried also enjoys playwriting. Last year, one of her plays was produced—a 10-minute piece titled, “Where There’s Smoke.” The play tells the story of a woman relocating for college, only to learn of her ex-boyfriend’s death.
“Thematically, it’s about the glorification of the American soldier,” she said. “It’s about this notion, at what point is something unforgivable and how far can you go to escape your past before it catches up with you.”
Her playwriting has been influenced by a Buddhism course she took with Gregory Grieve, who has a doctorate in religion. In the class, she learned about “koans,” which are paradoxical anecdotes used for meditation.
“Essentially, they have no answer or real meaning, but the meaning is not the point,” she said. “It’s not about what the words are saying, but the effect they have on you that matters. How the structure of the words makes you think and feel is more important than what’s actually being said.”
With graduation in just a month, her focus has shifted towards her next chapter.
“I’m working to secure internships and fellowships in literary management and dramaturgy for the coming year that would hopefully transition into a more fixed position with one of the several companies whose work I admire,” she said. “In the years following, I hope to work in play development with companies that produce new work, either in generating material or as a literary representative.
Upon reflecting on her journey here, she had some advice for younger students.
“I hope that they know they’re allowed to try everything and to change their minds,” she said. “I hope they know that the success of others is not their failure and that competition is an illusion: they each offer something completely different that no one else can ever replicate.”