A Peek Behind the Curtain with Music Theatre Major McKenzie Russ

Monday, November 13, 2023
McKenzie Russ in rehearsal

McKenzie Russ recently chatted about her roles as dance captain and assistant choreographer in Viterbo’s Conservatory for the Performing Arts’ production of 42nd Street. She shares how she found her passion for the arts, why she chose Viterbo, and the ways she believes her college experience and interactions are preparing her for a bright future.

Q. Tell us about 42nd Street, the musical that kicked off Viterbo’s Bright Star season:

A. It was a big, golden age musical. The show featured 34 student performers and one thousand different costume pieces. I had such a fantastic experience. I am so thankful for the support, encouragement, and excitement I received from the cast and creative team. It brings me so much joy to watch my castmates build confidence in their dancing and truly have fun with their work.

Q. What were some of the biggest lessons you had working on 42nd Street?

A. I learned so much about leadership, organization, communication, and problem-solving skills from working with Emily Craver, choreographer, and Shane Rhoades, the director. I learned how to create choreography, formations, and run rehearsals. I also learned how to meet the needs of a cast and create a kind and respectful space for freedom of artistic expression. 

McKenzie Russ

Q. Who influenced your love for the performing arts?

A. I grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma. I was incredibly lucky to be exposed to the arts at an early age, and I always felt connected to theatre. My parents and family took me to touring shows, played music, and my grandma and I watched her favorite old movie musicals.

I sang in my church’s children's choir, took voice lessons, and was encouraged to audition for Les Misérables at our high school. I played the role of Little Cosette. I was hooked. I knew I wanted to go to college for musical theatre. Looking back, it is crazy to me that I had that realization in fourth grade!  


Q. How did Viterbo stand out as the right fit?

A. Their fantastic BFA Music Theatre program and the nurturing community. During my audition, Viterbo was the only school where the faculty got to know me instead of just seeing if I could check the boxes of singing, acting, and dancing. After my first year, the faculty, my peers, and the La Crosse community continue to encourage us and are truly excited to help with our personal journeys in the arts.  


Q. Could you list some things that make Viterbo’s Conservatory for the Performing Arts special?

A. The performance aspects, and I can learn about stagecraft, arts administration, choreography, design, and stage management. The faculty are encouraging and provide many opportunities for students to dive deeper. It is so exciting to work with so many multi-faceted artists who uplift each other.  


Q. How does Viterbo help you grow as a student and performer?

A. I am improving my performance abilities and building the confidence to succeed in this industry. This is a caring environment where I can create a strong foundation of who I am as an artist. I am confident it will serve me well while trying to figure out the craziness of starting my career!  


Q. What are your favorite courses so far?

A. Jazz, Ballet, MUTH Lab, and Stagecraft. I am really looking forward to Theatre in the City, Vocal Pedagogy, and Stage Combat. 


Q. Please share some of your favorite campus resources:

A. Conservatory students are constantly looking for new plays, monologues, and sheet music, and students have easy access to this material through the library. Another great resource is the new self-tape room, since many theatre companies have moved to virtual auditions, having equipment to film self-tapes is essential. 


Q. After you graduate, what do you look forward to?

A. I plan to move to New York to work as a theatre performer, choreographer, swing, dance captain, and assistant choreographer. I cannot wait to see where life takes me and to bring the training and lessons I have received at Viterbo into the world.