Artist Spotlight: Kirsten O’Donnell

Many people say that they “want to do it all,” but few actually define “it” for themselves and end up losing sight of their goals by overreaching. Senior Kirsten O’Donnell, however, knows exactly what “it” is. A vocal performance major with an emphasis in theatre, O’Donnell seeks the height of her potential simultaneously through two forms of artistic expression.

O’Donnell did not start singing seriously as a life pursuit until her senior year of high school. She had been in choir previously, but after taking voice lessons and a class on music theory, she discovered her enthusiasm for the craft. Afterwards she started auditioning for various groups and wound up participating in nearly every vocal ensemble in the school.

“Even though I hadn’t been doing it for very long, I just knew that I would regret it if I didn’t try,” O’Donnell explained.

Starting relatively late for a conservatory student is in some ways a drawback, as it means working harder to catch up to one’s peers, but O’Donnell sees it equally as a blessing. Starting later means that she is able to maintain that original enthusiasm for singing before it feels purely like work.

After high school, O’Donnell went to the College of DuPage for two years, where she studied classically and further solidified her resolve to go into music. From there, based on her mother’s suggestion, O’Donnell applied to the Lawrence Conservatory and got accepted.

It was at Lawrence that O’Donnell added theatre to her particular strain of artistry. Starting with “The Drowsy Chaperone,” O’Donnell has consistently participated in various musical theatre, straight theatre and opera performances. This includes “Albert Herring,” “The Plow and the Stars,” “Godspell,” “Street Scene” and this winter’s opera “The Tender Land.”

“I love the opportunity to create a mini-world,” O’Donnell explained. “You’re creating relationships, scenarios in which you meet people. The most amazing part about that is making those interactions as real as possible. It’s finding moments of humanity in something that is so contrived—on stage in front of an audience, humans pretending to be other humans.”

Rather than two lines running parallel, O’Donnell’s love of theatre and of music have the opportunity to intermingle through musical theatre and opera. This she hopes creates a unique style of entertainer, one who has a multitude of tricks up their sleeve.

O’Donnell plans to take a gap year after her undergraduate career ends and before she goes to graduate school. She plans to audition for theaters in Chicago and find choral work. An ideal future would entail some combination of the two.

Aside from music O’Donnell enjoys outdoor recreation such as horseback riding, backpacking, rock climbing and spelunking. She wishes she had more time for the sciences, even trying to study genetics in addition to music when she first arrived at Lawrence. But of course that would be overreaching oneself, and O’Donnell understands the limits of an individual. When she says she is trying to do it all, she means that she is trying her hardest in the dual arts of music and theatre.

You can see O’Donnell perform in The Tender Land at Stansbury Theater this weekend Feb. 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. with a Sunday, Feb. 22 matinee at 3 p.m.

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