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In September, LAMB Regional Arts Center held auditions for their winter musical Mamma Mia! Though the company usually does in house casting, they held an open call in the hopes of finding new talent to take on the smash hit ABBA musical. One audition stood out. As soon as this actor left the room music director Donny Short turned to director Russ Wooley and said “That’s Donna.” That was Leslie Werden.

Originally from Wadena, Minnesota, Dr. Leslie Werden attended the University of Minnesota. She originally entered college with the intention of studying theatre. “I saw everybody else and went ‘I am not that talented’ and I gave up.”

She decided to major in communications instead and moved to California where she worked in cable television for 10 years. “I wrote some commercials and directed a couple of 30 minute shows and I loved it and it was a great time!” She ended up doing some freelance writing work which convinced her to pursue her masters. During that time she was persuaded to take a teaching assistantship to help pay for tuition and decided then that she wanted to teach at the college level.

Her involvement in theatre began again when she moved to Winona, Minnesota. “I was in my late twenties and I was thinking ‘I need to do theatre again.'” In a period of five years she was involved in seven productions. Among them were Crazy for YouGodspell, Little Shop of Horrors, and 42nd Street. Also during this point she started music directing shows.

She took another break from theatre to work on her Ph. D. “I had no time to do anything.” But she started back again when she moved to Sioux City.

Dr. Werden is known for the commanding presence she has around campus. She is aware that many students are nervous when they first come in to her class. “It’s because I am loud and I walk with a heavy step [laughter].” She lets her students know right away that she has high expectations for them, but she is not above helping them to achieve those expectations.

Amy Jackson, a senior who has taken classes with Dr. Werden would agree that this is how her classes have gone. “She is one of the easiest professors I have worked with. Not because the material is easy or she is not a difficult professor but there aren’t any bullshit obstacles standing in the way of success in her class.

Though her presence is so dominating, she is not like that in theatre. The roles she plays vary wildly. “I love playing comedy. Absolutely love comedy. I don’t care if its a lead, I don’t care if it’s chorus. I have loved every role I have ever played.”

Currently she is playing Donna Sheridan in LAMB’s production of Mamma Mia! the hit jukebox musical based on the music of ABBA. This role is one coveted by belters everywhere because you have the ability to show off a range of emotions and a wide vocal variety.

As this was her first production at LAMB, she went in not knowing very many of her cast mates but quickly developed relationships with all of them. She hosted an opening week party at her house, brought flowers to everyone on opening night, and is the first to help in times of need.

During one of the performances, Carolyn Chauncey who plays Sophie was unable to get her mic to attach to her costume because a clip was missing. “Fifteen minutes before the show was set to start Leslie worked with me to MacGyver a belt pack with a belt from the costume shop and a plastic bag.”

Leslie says that one of her favorite parts of theatre is the people and the relationships she builds with a cast. Due to her busy schedule she had to give up hanging out with her friends that are not in theatre for the time being but she says that it’s fine because she loves the theatre people. “There’s just something about being with theatre people. They are so welcoming! Never have I found theatre people to be clique-ish.”

She feels that it is important that people understand that every role in theatre is vital. “There is no play, there is no musical without the chorus, so you can’t dismiss the hard work that that group does. There is a place for every weirdo.”


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