Leslie Werden Profile Final Draft

Dr. Leslie Werden is used to playing a number of different roles. Just on Morningside’s campus she is the chair of the humanities department, a professor or writing and rhetoric, and a faculty advisor for on-campus groups such as ODK. She takes on even more roles as an avid community theatre actor.

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.

While living in Winona, Minnesota she got back in to performing with the local theatre groups. “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 You, Godspell, Little Shop of Horrors, and 42nd Street. Also during this time, she started music directing shows.

Her involvement in theatre stalled once again as she worked on her doctorate. She didn’t take the stage again until she moved to Sioux City. Her first show was Move Over Mrs. Markham at Sioux City Community Theatre in which she played the title role.

That show introduced her to Sioux City’s theatre scene. Currently there are three community theatres in town. Sioux City Community Theatre, LAMB Arts Regional Theatre, and New Stage Players. Until recently, Shot in the Dark Productions also put on community theatre shows.

Dr. Werden has been involved in at least one show with all of the theatres in Sioux City. Most recently she made her debut on the LAMB stage playing Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia!

In September, LAMB Regional Arts Center held auditions for it’s winter musical Mamma Mia! Though the company usually does in-house casting from their usual pool of talent, 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 Dr. Werden left the room music director Donny Short turned to director Russ Wooley and said “That’s Donna.”

Community theaters, especially in the Midwest, have a bit of a bad reputation. The productions are said to be low quality and the acting always varies in quality because of the level of dedication the volunteers are able to give to a show.

Dr. Werden worked on her character extensively during the rehearsal process finding ways to relate to a character that was anything but like herself. “I am not a single mother. I don’t have any daughters. I am kind of a free spirit. So there are a few things within Donna that I thought I could portray, but I kind of had to dig around to figure out ‘why is she still on this island, by herself?’”

Because she has a background in Shakespeare and has studied drama extensively, her approach to a character starts with the script. “Playwrights pick and chose their words very carefully so that they connect from one person to another. Words have certain meaning and words are said for purpose. Words set things up so if you miss a word it can be detrimental to something later.”

From there she worked with the other actors and the director to come up with a persona for Donna that was a mother figure who loved everyone on the island. This realization came to Dr. Werden one night and was so eye opening that she wrote it down when she woke up the next morning.

The mothering persona was not just carried out on stage. Dr. Werden played a bit of ‘mom’ off stage as well hosting cast parties at her house, handing out flowers and cards to everyone on opening night, leading dance parties in the dressing room, and being the first to help out in a pinch.

During one of the performances, Carolyn Chauncey, who played 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.”

This behavior would probably come as a shock to the students at Morningside, as many are nervous to take classes with Dr. Werden. She is aware of the reputation that she has around campus and attributes it to the fact that she is loud and walks with a heavy step.

“I let them know right away that I do have high expectations, but my job is to help you to achieve them. It’s not that I’m just like I want you to do this and then I’m like ‘do it yourself.’ I want you to do this, I want it to be good, I want you to be better and I’m gonna help you along the way.”

Senior English major Amy Jackson would agree that this is how Dr. Werden operates in the classroom. “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.”

Whether she is playing her role as a professor or playing a role on stage, Dr. Leslie Werden believes in supporting others in their work. “I think the arts, specifically theatre, reading, jazz band bring people together. I think at this time in our world we should not be cutting any programs. We should be enhancing them. We should be going to productions, we should be supporting the people doing these artistic endeavors because that’s what makes us happy and brings us together as a community.

1 Comment so far

  1.   fuglsang on December 16th, 2018

    Lots of good profile info. This kind of breaks down into two stories, Joey. Leslie in a diversity of roles, the Leslie in Mamma Mia. Both are interesting, but it’s hard to make them both work together.

    The last week of COMM 208 I had students cut their profiles into paragraph pieces and rearrange them, just to see what could be done. I think you could do something like that here. You could take some of the traditional profile in the first half and weave it into the Mamma Mia story.

    I hope this was a useful course for you. Good luck in your future endeavors. I would say “Break a leg,” but I’m not a theater person, and that just sounds mean.

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