Theatre Alumni Return to WPU to Work on Theatre Productions

April 26, 2022

Ever since she could walk and talk, Lilly Mills ‘21 was on stage. 

She remembers her first performance in “The Princess and the Pea” at age six. She immediately fell in love with the comradery on stage and with telling stories. 

When she graduated high school in Asheville, she then went on to study Theatre and English at William Peace University (WPU). Now, she’s been involved in about every position there is in theatre.

And one of her recent positions was at her alma mater — this time not as a student, but as an alumna.

Dr. Wade Newhouse, Program Director of WPU Theatre and Professor of English, often encourages former WPU Theatre students to stay involved with the program after graduation. In the past year, two recent graduates have worked on productions. 

“To introduce a guest artist to the cast of a WPU show and announce them as a former student is a big part of showing younger students not only that they too can become professionals but that we all remain part of one another’s creative lives long after graduation,” Newhouse said. 

Mills was able to get involved after she graduated by reaching  out to Amy Pridgen, Associate Professor of Theatre and Musical Theatre, to ask about coming back to work as an Assistant Director for the Fall 2021 production of the play “The Wolves.” 

She said working as a recent graduate on the set made her feel like a middleman between students and the faculty. She was honored to come back to WPU and have the chance to positively impact students.

Mills explained she was able to have this opportunity because of her relationship with Professors Newhouse and Pridgen. They, and other faculty members, have been incredibly supportive of her. They truly care about her and still do. 

“A lot of theatre departments can be toxic and competitive,” Mills said. “But WPU isn’t. It’s supportive, kind, helpful and so fulfilling.” 

Mills also performed on campus after graduation as a cast member in two Sweet Tea Shakespeare productions. Currently, Mills works professionally in theatre in Asheville. 

For Deanna Richards ‘21, her journey to WPU’s stage after graduation stemmed from an unexpected email. Amy Pridgen reached out to Richards to ask her to come back to be a co-choreographer on the Spring 2022 production of Zombie Prom.

While Richards acts and sings, she loves to express herself through dance. She’s enjoyed the challenge of creating dances that fit the 50’s era of the musical along with the nuclear-waste-themed storyline. 

Richards explained that coming back has given her a chance to work with old and new friends. Already she has had friends ask her for career advice. 

“It’s a weirdly cool resource for students to see alumni back on campus,” Richards explained. “It shows current students what’s possible after graduation. It’s a humbling experience.” 

Richards first fell in love with theatre when she moved to Charlotte at age nine. When she moved, she wanted to find activities to help her connect with the new area. She decided to try a theatre camp and soon got hooked on the lights and the shows. 

“I can be my truest self on stage,” Richards said. “I find the confidence there to be myself.”

To learn more about WPU’s Theatre Program and upcoming performances, visit here.