Olivia Finnegan was bitten by the acting bug as a busy seven-year-old girl living in Los Angeles, California.
At 16 she traveled to Mexico with Sister Cities International, an economic development initiative that inspired her to return home and create an after-school program for elementary school students who wrote stories and performed plays about water pollution.
Her love for theatre, travel and humanity followed her 1,500 miles to Nebraska Wesleyan University, where she will graduate in May with a theatre degree and experiences in 14 countries.
Her last study abroad experience as an NWU student took her to Perth, Australia, in January where she performed a one-woman show that explored the quirks, characteristics and complications of being human that were all experienced through her NWU travels. Her show, “Hostel Environment,” premiered at the Fringe World Festival, the country’s largest performance platform that showcases 700 shows in 150 venues.
“Through a series of monologues and a short dance interlude, I endeavored to portray a conglomeration of characters I’ve interacted with while traveling in an attempt to communicate the collective humanity of us all,” said Finnegan.
The title, “Hostel Environment,” is a pun born of the countless nights spent sleeping beside strangers in the bunk beds of a hostel dorm throughout her travels, she said. Using impressions of the humans she’s observed, Finnegan’s solo performance shared a variety of stories ranging from a homeless man dancing in the streets of Madrid to the tight-lipped Englishman with kind eyes and plenty of wisdom to hundreds of other individuals she interacted with her travels.
The opportunity to perform her show at the Fringe World Festival was made possible through the university’s Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Fund. Finnegan turned to theatre professor Jay Chipman who had long supported Finnegan’s study abroad experiences, writing her letters of recommendation and faithfully following her travel blogs.
“When it was time to stage it (Hostel Environment) and make it a story to be seen by the world, Jay was there to be that eye,” Finnegan said of Chipman, who directed her show. “It only made sense that he was the professor to collaborate with because he had been an integral part of sending me abroad the first two times.”
Finnegan was pleased by the crowd’s response to her show, but her greatest appreciation came from experiencing the festival's many cultures.
“That theme of humanity that I explore in the show was confirmed with my experience in Perth and so I felt very good performing that particular part of the show while I was there because I was living that kindness.”
Taking what she learned from her own performance and the performances she attended, Finnegan is now further exploring the intersection of theatre and culture for her senior capstone project. That passion for theatre and culture was first planted during her time in Mexico as a teenager, and grew considerably through her NWU experiences that have included studying abroad in England and Central America, backpacking through continental Europe, and performing onstage and working behind the scenes in Elder Theatre at Nebraska Wesleyan.
“I’ve learned a lot about what theatre looks like in other cultures and from an academic standpoint, and I think that’s fueled the fire to want to see what it looks like in real life,” said Finnegan who is considering a graduate degree in theatrical anthropology and a possible career teaching theatre internationally.
“It built her confidence as a performer and allowed her to network with other theatre artists,” Chipman said of her Australia experience.
It’s just the confidence she needed as she looks ahead to her next stage.
“My resume is packed,” said Finnegan. “Wesleyan has taught me how to work hard. I am very grateful for that.
“I feel very ready for the real world.”
Story by Emmalie Harris, public relations intern.