Student Spotlight: director, performer Virginia Ogden ’18

Veteran member of the Subtleties and theater department, Ogden will next take the stage as the character Emcee in "Cabaret."

by Lex Kang | 9/28/17 12:15am

As director of last spring’s student production “What Every Girl Should Know,” president of the all-female a cappella group the Subtleties and actress in “In The Next Room,” “Urinetown” and this fall’s “Cabaret,” performer and playwright Virginia Ogden ’18 has completely immersed herself in the arts at Dartmouth. Ogden spent the past summer as a student at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art as part of the Dartmouth theater foreign study program.

While comfortable taking the stage as the Emcee — a character in the upcoming fall mainstage production — Ogden’s interests go back to participating in acting classes at a very young age.

“My parents putting me in acting classes because I was shyer when I was younger is the lore, but I don’t think that that’s true,” Ogden said. “I was always kind of the weird kid who put themselves out there.”

Her flexibility and omnipresence in the arts has led to a general passion rather than specialization at Dartmouth.

“If people ask me if I’m an actor, director or writer, I can’t tell them which one I identify as,” Ogden said. “I’m the kind of theatermaker that believes that the three of them really inform each other, and they don’t exist mutually exclusive of one other.”

Ogden plans to exercise that multidisciplinary emphasis and push herself to “combine” mediums throughout her fourth and final year at Dartmouth.

This level of well-rounded involvement on campus is not an easy feat. Samantha West ’20, a member of the Subtleties, expressed awe about Ogden’s time commitments.

“I don’t know how she does it,” West said. “She’s part of like a million things.”

Brooke Goldner ’19, a fellow theater major who worked with Ogden on “Don Juan” two years ago and is currently in the cast of “Cabaret,” echoed West’s sentiments.

“[Ogden’s] involved in her a cappella group, her sorority, she’s involved in the theater in a big, big way and she’s a dedicated student,” she said.

Ogden confessed that all of her commitments come at a price.

“Sometimes you don’t get any sleep, and it’s fine,” Ogden said. “Coffee is great.”

Regardless of her variety of activities, Ogden’s true passion remains rooted in theater.

“I guess at the end of the day … what I want to do is make good theater,” Ogden said. “With my theater, I aim to create empathy, so I want to tell stories that people may have never seen before and have them empathize with characters that they didn’t think they could [empathize] with.”

West affirmed Ogden’s personal emphasis on sparking thought through her work.

“It’s very important for [Ogden] to have very important conversations [through] her art,” West said. “It’s not just ‘art for art’s sake.’”

For many theatermakers and artists, the world of theater rewards those with multiple skills and interests, as competition in the professional scene makes jobs scarce and once standardized definitions of a “play” and of “theater” themselves morph and expand through experimentation.

“[Ogden’s] kind of like a Renaissance artist, in the true meaning of the word,” Hannah Matheson ’18, a fellow Subtleties member and longtime friend of Ogden’s, explained. “She was born to do this.”

According to Ogden, the emotional and empathetic connections theater can provoke in its audience is the reason it is so special and “vital” to her.

“I love theater because it is the most visceral … and therefore most powerful art form,” she said. “Someone said that, ‘In the movies, you sit back. In the theater, you sit up.’”

Ogden’s focus on empathy and relationships interested her in community building in the theatrical process.

“This may sound a little unconventional, but I really, really like the community building that comes along [with theater],” Ogden said. “For me, the show community building [is my favorite] because I believe that a show should be as significant and as special for the people that created it as it is for the audience.”

Ogden’s peers note that her leadership skills draw from that communal mindset.

“She’s an incredible, fantastic leader,” West said. “She knows how to command ... so that everyone feels important and valued in a room.”

Matheson added that Ogden’s love for friendship and camaraderie extends beyond the theater department. In their a cappella group, Matheson said that beyond her logistical responsibilities, Ogden had become “the point person for everybody’s concerns.”

Theater professor James Horton, who is a mentor to Ogden, noted that her capacity for leadership shows in her directorial style.

“[Ogden’s] had more experience as an actress, but she shows great aptitude for directing and has done a very good job,” Horton said. “I could really see her directing projects in the future — I just think she’s a really great director.”

Over the course of her senior year, Ogden will be working on an honors thesis for her theater major that will involve her directing the classic musical “Hair.”

Horton, while acknowledging Ogden could have a variety of other plans for her future, said he believes “[Ogden] is designed to move forward in the theater professionally.”

West enthusiastically added, “I see [Ogden] on the level of Shonda Rhimes … producing and writing amazing things.”

Ogden intends to pursue a professional theatrical career after graduation.

“I see myself continuing to work in the theater and expanding into television,” Ogden said. “I want to be the kind of artist that makes television that makes people sit up instead of sit back.”