Insomnia member extends talents

Iris Ong operates a theater program four days a week at a local charter school.


As gray skies hung low and gentle rain coated Main Campus one recent Monday morning, Iris Ong was already in the midst of her routine. Coming to the Student Center after an Insomnia Theater meeting at 8:30 a.m. was just the beginning of a long, eventful, day for her.

Insomnia Theater is a student-run organization on Main Campus that writes, rehearses, auditions, casts and performs a production in just 24 hours. The team puts on a show twice a semester, with last weekend being its 13th show.

“When I got to Temple, I was sort of looking for a place to do theater, and then my sophomore year, I joined Insomnia because I wanted to get back into theater and working with theater arts,” Ong, a junior secondary education and English major, said.

Before college, Iris helped her high school and middle school put on their productions. Now, she uses her ability and desire to teach and help others with her passion for theater.

With her gray Temple sweatshirt, Converse shoes, jeans and pulled-back hair, she explained her dedication to the student-run organization on campus and her responsibility as the director of community outreach.

“The community outreach director is responsible for taking what Insomnia Theater is, which is a love of theater and a love of working with other people, and branching out of Temple and going to the surrounding areas,” she said.

For about an hour and a half, for three to four days a week, Ong and a group of others involved in the community outreach program extend their talents to Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School, located at 3821 N. Broad St.

“We go into it as mentors so we’ll teach them certain things and help them develop as actors and help them develop their stage presence and work out any issues they might have with stage fright, and basically give them an outlet to be creative,” Ong said.

Without the help of the crew, which consists of about 10 to 15 Temple students, Ong said she believes the school’s theater program would be much less developed. She said that before they stepped in, the school had never put on a musical before. Now it’s on the way to performing “Little Shop of Horrors” this May.

Matt Dugan, a sophomore political science major who has been on the community outreach team since the spring semester of his freshman year, works closely with Ong, planning out agendas and going to the school regularly. He said he sees Ong spend every moment of her free time helping students.

“I don’t know anyone else who has dedicated as much time as she does. It’s remarkable. By far, out of everyone, Iris always goes above and beyond what everyone else does,” Dugan said.

He described Ong as selfless, and said he believes she is a “role model” for the students she helps.

Ong does it for the gratification of helping the other students, she said.

“[The students] say without drama, ‘I wouldn’t be able to develop this aspect of me,’ or ‘I wouldn’t be able to write as much,’ or ‘I wouldn’t be able to develop as an actor.’ So it really gives them the opportunity to grow and develop themselves as artists,” Ong said.

While she was in high school, Ong was involved in volunteer work as well. As a Chinese speaker, she helped teach bilingual and Chinese art classes.

“I think community outreach is something I just wanted to do because I’ve liked teaching since I was in elementary school. I guess you could say it was very natural for me, too,” Ong said.

Ong said she sees her volunteer work at Insomnia as a positive part of her life that will propel her career forward. She attributed this to networking. Currently, she is doing a lot of her fieldwork with the charter school.

“I observe the teacher I work with in their drama program and it really sort of defines more how I’m going to teach more, plays, for example, when I become a teacher,” she said.

After graduation, Ong said she would ideally love to teach a creative art or theater elective along with literary courses. If the opportunity presented itself, she said she would like to volunteer as a director or assist in the process of any production her future school had to offer, she said.

In the near future, she said she plans to study abroad. But for the time being, Ong plans to continue her work with Insomnia Theater because that’s where she said she finds her passion.

“We’re working under 24 hours, which is a lot of pressure, but the results that we get from it are really surprising, and it just goes to show a bunch of dedicated, creative people can really create something that’s amazing even if other people think it’s completely crazy,” Ong said.

Patricia Madej can be reached at

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