Discovering a love for producing theater through hands-on experience both on campus and through internships
“I was a shy, sort of unaware person from a very conservative town. I was sort of the odd one out there, and then I came here and fell into my people and the things that I want to be doing.”
Carissa Barry-Moilanen fell in love with theater at the tender age of seven, when her mothers enrolled her in a local community production of “High School Musical” in her hometown of Medway, Massachusetts.
It wasn’t until they stepped on the campus of Mount Holyoke College that they realized theater could be a real career possibility.
“I always sort of knew that theater was always going to be a part of my life and that was never going to end,” she said. “But I was also very interested in politics and gender studies. Then I came here and started working with the theater department. By November I was sold, and now it’s what I’m doing for the rest of my life.”
Barry-Moilanen’s love for Mount Holyoke began during her application process and after a campus visit with their parents. She always knew she wanted to attend a women’s college that is gender diverse, and when she was admitted to Mount Holyoke, she was impressed by the immediate feeling of welcoming she received from a congratulations video featuring current students.
Barry-Moilanen was enthralled with the physical beauty of the campus, but it’s the College’s deep-rooted sense of community and belonging that intensified her love for Mount Holyoke. Being able to speak with people from different backgrounds shifted her view of the world.
“I was a shy, sort of unaware person from a very conservative town,” Barry-Moilanen said. “I was sort of the odd one out there, and then I came here and fell into my people and the things that I want to be doing.”
She also credits the College’s community support with giving her the confidence to come out as a lesbian in her sophomore year.
“I’m much more aware of what I bring to the world. I feel like that awareness wouldn’t be as strong as it is today if I had not been at Mount Holyoke,” she said.
A large part of Barry-Moilanen’s community at Mount Holyoke came from the theater department. In their first year, she declared herself a theater major and found a home with the close-knit group of faculty and students. “All the professors I’ve encountered here know so much about the craft and are so excited to share that knowledge with all of us,” she said. “I’ve had amazing experiences with all my professors.”
“Being at Mount Holyoke let me see that I am an asset to the theater community.”
Prior to coming to Mount Holyoke, Barry-Moilanen’s experience with the stage was strictly from the perspective of a performer, but the theater department’s intimate size enabled her to wear a variety of hats and truly immerse themself in the world of theater. During their four years at the College, Barry-Moilanen has worked in wardrobe, acted in productions, served as a stage manager, served on the play selection committee, written a play that was featured in Mount Holyoke’s Student Theatre Festival and served as a producer for the festival in her junior year.
It was both through all the roles that Barry-Moilanen performed at The Rooke Theatre and through her internships that she discovered a love for producing theater. “I barely knew what a producer did, and I had to learn how to market a show, put together a production, make a schedule and hire everyone,” she said. “I had an amazing experience. My long-term goal is to now be a producer in theater.”
Barry-Moilanen expanded her knowledge of theater with internships with prestigious theater companies like the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and Manhattan Theatre Club. Her advisor, Noah Ilya-Alexis Tuleja, helped her to secure these internships by providing a reference.
“I knew for a very long time that I loved theater, but I didn’t really know what to do with it because I had a bunch of different skill sets and interests within the field,” Barry-Moilanen said. “I really couldn’t pinpoint what I loved about it, but being at Mount Holyoke let me see that I am an asset to the theater community.”
They have been singing since childhood and sang in an a cappella group at Medway High School.
After arriving on campus, Barry-Moilanen auditioned and joined Nice Shoes A Cappella in her first year, and the group has been a major part of their experience at Mount Holyoke. “You hang out with your friends, sing songs and perform. It’s a nice break,” she said.
Two months after joining the Nice Shoes, the pandemic struck and the world entered lockdown, but this occasion would turn into one of Barry-Moilanen’s most memorable moments at the College. As the news broke that the campus would be emptied, the group gave one last emotional performance before the students were sent home.
“I was saying goodbye to the campus with my friends,” they said. “We were all crying by the end. It was very powerful.”