Kelsey Gondek: How Theater Affected My College Experience

Senior Profile: Kelsey Gondek

Starring in such performances as Good Soul of Szechuan (Wang the water-seller), Hairspray (Tracy Turnblad) and Pygmalion (Mrs. Higgins), 22-year-old theatre major Kelsey Gondek is one of many seniors who will say goodbye to McDaniel next month. She has fond memories of her years on the Hill and in the theatre program, and has taken the time to answer some questions about her college experience, future aspirations, and advice to incoming first-years and rising seniors.

Q: What made you decide to be a theatre major?

Kelsey: I always knew I was going to be a theatre major. I’ve wanted to do theatre my whole life. The first play I was in was in seventh grade and it was Bye Bye Birdy. I was hooked. Birdy is a bad show, but I was hooked, and ever since then I knew I wanted to be in theatre. There was no doubt about it.

Q: What’s the thing you’ll miss the most about McDaniel?

I’m going to say the people, especially in the theatre department. I’m really going to miss doing shows with people. Taking acting classes here has been a dream—I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in the department, considering the professors that teach and the strong group we have here.

Q: What are you looking forward to after college? Do you have any concrete plans after graduation?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I think I’m looking forward to the unknown. I’m scared and excited for it, because there is so much opportunity out there…

I guess I’m excited to experience a world that’s different and new and finding my niche there. Figuring out my life will be an interesting experience and is one I’m looking forward to.

A lot of my plans are ideas that I want to happen. I want to be able to move to a place where I know the theatre community is strong, but I’m not going to take any plunges into anything big like New York because I don’t think that would be a good decision. I want to build my resume and then in a couple of years, go to grad school.

Q: Is there one person on campus greatly affected you positively?

Honestly, I want to say Elizabeth van den Berg. I guess getting cast in my first show (Good Soul of Szechuan) here reassured me that I had the ability to do what I want to do. I didn’t audition for my first show freshman year because I was scared. Having Elizabeth van den Berg noticeably believe in me propelled me to keep doing what I love. Ever since sophomore year, she’s inspired me to be the best I can be.

Q: What was your favorite performance?

They all have so many good qualities. I don’t even know! I think people are expecting me to say Hairspray, but I’m not going to. Yes, it was fun, but I think the most rewarding play was Pygmalion, solely because I feel like that was the play I fully applied everything I’d learned in my acting classes: voice and movement, dialect and IPA things.

That performance showed me that I’ve been retaining what I’ve learned in acting. So yeah, Pygmalion was the most rewarding, but don’t get me wrong—all the others were great too!

Q: What are a few things you enjoy outside of theatre?

I think one of my favorite things to do on campus is one of things people know me for, which is playing piano in Ensor. I just think piano is so peaceful and calming and [I like] having the public space where I can play piano, where I don’t feel bored because I’m doing something I love.

I’m very people-oriented. I feel that I do better in situations with people I’m familiar with. I like being in a public area meeting friends rather than sitting in my dorm doing nothing.

It’s kind of hard to talk about other stuff when everything I do is theatre oriented! [laughing]

Q: If there is one thing you wished you could have done here, what would that have been?

I’ve thought about this question for a while. It seems to be the one thing I think of all the time, and I wish I’d pledged Alpha Psi Omega [Theatre Honors Society]. I see the messages, and people ask me if they can ask me Alpha Psi questions, but I’m not a part of it. I don’t regret my decision—it was right for me. If I could go back, I would pledge, but since I can’t, I’m happy with my choices and what I’ve done.

Q: Is there anything you want to say to the McDaniel community in general?

There was a point in time my senior year in high school where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to college, and that lasted a while. It wasn’t until I started getting accepted into places that my doubts changed, and I remembered getting the acceptance letter from McDaniel and I couldn’t help but feel it was the right choice. I came to visit a couple times after I got in. I regret nothing about my experience here at McDaniel. I feel that everything I have done and achieved and experienced here has been beneficial… it’s going to be really sad to see it go. It just hit me that graduation’s in a month.

Q: Do you have any advice for the students here next year?

I guess, for rising seniors: I know that there will be times that are scary and you’re not going to know what to do with your life, but if you just stick to your guns and know what you want to do, whenever you have the thought about “What am I going to do with my life?” just think about your drive. Whether or not it’ll happen right away is unknown, but I feel if you set your mind to something you will achieve it. That’s sort of what happened to me over winter break, asking myself what I was going to do and what I wanted to do with my life, and I said I wanted to be an actress… deal with it. That quelled my fears a little.

To everyone else: any decision you make, or anything you do, make sure you’re doing it for yourself. Often people will make a decision because someone told them to. The most important thing is to take care of yourself and [to be] comfortable doing what you’re doing and not letting others affect you in a negative way.


This interview has been edited for clarity.