By Sydney Collins, '20

Niomi Kaiser, ’18, remembers being exposed to the stage at an early age. “My mom was a dance major when she was going to school and she would take me backstage and hand me off to the other dancers while she went out on stage, so I always grew up in a theatre environment,” she said. When it came time to choose a college, “I had heard from previous teachers and other students that the University of Richmond had a great theatre department and I wanted to be a part of it,” Kaiser said.

Through her studies, Kaiser has been exposed to a new approach to acting that has shaped the way she interprets theatre and its purpose in society. “Professor Chuck Mike ― I call him my ‘theatre dad’ ― has been my mentor since freshman year and he introduced me to a lot of theatre for social change which has become my passion,” she said. “Social change theatre is theatre with a message, not just dinner theatre or socially acceptable, but something that stirs the audience.”

Kaiser considers social change theatre as a progressive method to encourage people to look at the world from different perspectives, and when she was researching possible internship opportunities to gain real-world theatre experiences, she hoped to find an organization that shared those same beliefs. Kaiser was accepted into the internship program at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, and at the time, did not know what to expect.

“I was a bit cheeky when filling out the application because it had asked if I had previous felonies, and considering my interest in theatre for social change, I added in the comments: ‘No, I don’t have any previous felonies, but if I did, that shouldn’t be something that holds me back from the position,’ and I just went on a little rant. So after they accepted me I thought, ‘Maybe this place really does align with my values,’” Kaiser said. 

To her delight, the Playwrights’ Center was an organization that possessed the qualities she was looking for in an acting and playwright group. “It really does nourish people with broad ideas,” she said.

The Playwrights’ Center’s main mission is to promote promising plays across the country and support playwrights’ in their artistic endeavors. Interns are encouraged to work directly with the playwrights and their works, thereby giving students the opportunity to see plays created in the earliest stages of the production process.

During her internship, Kaiser got an inside look into the world of actors and playwrights. A typical day involved waking up early to prepare the coffee, print scripts and get in touch with the actors, directors and playwrights to ensure that everyone possessed the necessary materials in anticipation of the coming workshop. A workshop consisted of reading through a different script approximately every week and making adjustments to the storyline.

“After making sure everyone had what they needed, we would go through the workshop and ultimately make sure that the playwright was heard because ultimately the workshops were about the playwrights and how they wanted their experience to go,” Kaiser said. “So if someone is talking over the playwright and giving too many suggestions about how they want to see the play progress, then I would have to come in and cut them off.”

In addition to workshops, the Playwrights’ Center put on performances of the playwrights’ works. For instance, the McKnight showcase hosted small productions, one after another, that involved the participation of playwrights, directors, actors and designers.

From this professional experience, Kaiser feels that she truly understands how theatre functions in the real world. From dealing with challenges of working as the youngest intern to being in contact with playwrights’ works, Kaiser is prepared to encounter a life of acting after college.

“This internship has definitely introduced me to the workload; it was a lot but at the same time, I’ve been so in love with what I’m doing that it gave me insight into what that will be in the future,” she said. “It’s also helped me realize what it means to be a playwright and what it means to be an actor and what it means to be someone who is involved in general.”

After graduating from Richmond, Kaiser hopes to take a gap year before attending a master’s program in which she will pursue both acting and playwriting. She is currently working on a pilot for a television show and hopes to see how it will progress. Her ultimate goal is to incorporate all the aspects of theatre she loves into one long and fulfilling career.