Temple University professor encourages students to live creatively

A musical theater and movement professor juggles teaching, choreographing and a busy career while helping her students break into the industry.

Maggie Anderson, a musical theater and movement professor, poses in Tomlinson Theater on Friday. Anderson uses her nutrition and dance experience to teach students. | DYLAN LONG / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Maggie Anderson entered the theater world at 9-years-old, when she starred in a production of “Annie” at a dinner theater in her hometown West End, North Carolina.

Anderson spent two years in the role, which prompted her to later attend the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ high school program.

Now, Anderson, a musical theater and movement professor at Temple University, wants to train the next generation of student performers how “to live the life of a creative artist.”

Anderson teaches students ballet and tap dancing in her Movement for the Actor class, where students learn ways to move on stage, and jazz techniques for musical theater. This summer, she’ll collaborate with Peter Reynolds, Temple’s head of the musical theater department in the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts, on a production of “Oliver!” at the Gretna Theatre in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania.

The musical is based on Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist” and follows orphan Oliver on his escape to Victorian London where he joins a group of thieves and pickpockets.  

“I love being here, you’re immersed in such a great cultural community,” said Anderson, a musical theater and movement professor. “We’re very well connected, being able to experience a physical, emotional and intellectual contract with my students.”

Before coming to Temple in 2012, Anderson appeared in more than 45 regional theater productions, national tours and off-Broadway shows in New York City, across New Jersey and at the Walnut Street Theatre on Walnut Street near 8th. She even worked as Kristin Davis’ body double in “Sex and The City.”

Anderson, who is also a certified integrative nutritionist and wellness coach, said she uses her nutrition skills to act as a “community curator” and teach her students wellness practices for nutrition, mindfulness, stress and time management on top of practicing their dance routines.

“We in the performing arts need to take care of ourselves for sustainability,” she added. “Longevity of the artist is a big part of my creative and scholarly practice and research as an educator.”

Eve Moyar, a sophomore musical theater major, said Anderson teaches students in Jazz II how to have a “growth mindset” by being open to learning a new skill and then working to make it happen in class.

“It gives us a certain level of focus to use in our emotional context in dance,” she said.

The mindset Anderson teaches her students has also helped Skyler Shields, a sophomore musical theater major, feel confident in audition rooms and rehearsal spaces, Shields said.

“Professor Anderson stresses an emphasis on feeding the positive mindset of the artist rather than giving in to our natural tendency to fixate on negativity,” she added. “She constantly instills in us the idea that making mistakes is okay and is crucial in the development of the artist.”

Throughout her career, Anderson connected with high-profile members of the theater community she has since helped bring to Temple to meet theater students.

Bill Russell, who wrote “Side Show,” a musical about the real-life story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, visited Temple to watch Temple Theaters’ adaption of the show in October 2018.

“A lot of artists want to see their legacy continue, they want to feel the continuum of their work being produced,” Anderson said.

Baayork Lee, a mentor of Anderson’s and an original cast member of the Broadway production “A Chorus Line,” visited Temple Theaters when they were rehearsing the show’s original choreography in 2012.

“She came for a whole weekend and did workshops with students and talked about the show and the history,” Anderson said. “It was really quite a tremendous experience.”

Moving forward, Anderson said she wants Temple Theaters to push the boundaries of what audiences think movement and dance on the musical theater stage is supposed to look like by trying out new, unconventional dance methods.

“I’m interested in creating some of my own work and bringing some of my background from the modern dance world into the musical theater stage and bringing it to Temple,” she said. “I want to incorporate students in a piece I would create so we would have that exposure.”

CORRECTION: A previous cutline for the featured image incorrectly stated what Anderson was doing in the photo. She is standing in Tomlinson Theater.

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