On Friday, Nov. 17, family, friends and past and current students of Theater Artist-In-Residence Dona Werner Freeman gathered after the penultimate performance of “Mother Courage and Her Children” to celebrate her work. Freeman has directed and taught at St. Olaf College for 19 years, and will be leaving the school after this academic year. Organized by Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16, the evening was meant to honor Freeman’s time and work at St. Olaf. As the crowd of attendees assembled in the Theater building’s downstairs Green Room, Swenson-Klatt encouraged people to stand up and share stories about Freeman.
Around 15 people in total got up to share stories about the ways Freeman has encouraged them to pursue an onstage career, helped them through personal crises and taught them invaluable lessons. Multiple speakers specifically mentioned Freeman’s focus on teaching empathy as a central requirement for the actor and expressed their gratitude for this idea. After the stories, the group stayed for a while to talk over cake, which Swenson-Klatt provided.
On hearing those who spoke, Max McKune ’18, who performed in “Mother Courage,” said: “I couldn’t expect the energy from this room or the pure admiration … Dona’s the one who continues to make me realize that I can be an actor. I want to do the best because of her.”
Similarly, Swenson-Klatt was awed by the amount of people that came and were impacted by Freeman’s work. He spoke about how Freeman had put together a similar event two years ago when Dr. Jeanne Willcoxon directed her last show, “Cabaret,” and how Freeman is always “the one who thinks of these things.” Swenson-Klatt wanted to make sure that someone thought of her in her last year.
“I’ll just say that it was wonderful to share the evening with family, friends, colleagues and students from the last twenty years, and that I am very proud to have been a part of St. Olaf Theater,” Freeman said, reflecting on the night. “I was especially happy to hear several students and alumni mention acting as a study of empathy because that is something I’ve tried to impart over the span of my career. The focus on empathy has been, for me, the way acting studies best fits into a liberal arts education.”
Andy Lindvall ’13, who spoke, summarized the night and performance.
“After knowing Dona for so long, I can see her confidence in doing the show, and see her coming through. Beauty amidst pain and all that harsh irony. I know she’ll be sorely missed, and I’m so honored that I got to work with her,” Lindvall said.
“When I think of St. Olaf Theater, I think of Dona,” McKune said.