Stage Presence

Nicholas McGovern ’14 never planned to major in theater at the University of Mary Washington. He never considered auditioning for a play and had no idea he had the talent to make it on stage. He didn’t realize that he could sing, let alone belt out a tune in front of hundreds or be accepted into a competitive summer acting school.  He never dreamed he would play a lead in the musical “Spring Awakening” at Klein Theatre.

McGovern spent the summer in New York City as part of a prestigious acting program. Photo by Geoff Greene.

McGovern spent the summer in New York City as part of a prestigious acting program.
Photo by Geoff Greene.

But, in a space of a year, it all happened. And it all started with baseball.

Growing up in Springfield, Va., McGovern was surrounded by his sports-loving family. Between McGovern and his cousins, they covered all ranges of sports from ice hockey and lacrosse to cheerleading and collegiate sailing. McGovern swam, played football and baseball, for which he was recruited to play on the varsity team at UMW.

Although he declared a major in business, McGovern took a theater class during his freshmen year to fill a general education requirement.

In that theatre class, on the very first day, something clicked for McGovern.

With a rapidly growing interest, McGovern took more classes in the Department of Theatre and Dance and began to notice parallels between theater and baseball that helped him refine his newfound acting skills.

“Doing anything competitive is great for acting,” said McGovern, explaining how playing sports helped him develop mental stamina for being on stage. “You have to commit, be brave and spontaneous for both.”

Gregg Stull, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, said theater and sports both require a great amount of concentration and effort.

“The intense rehearsals don’t even faze him,” said Stull.

McGovern excelled in his classes, and in his junior year the faculty encouraged him to audition for the fall musical “Into the Woods.”

He decided to give it a shot. After a baseball workout, he headed straight to the theater.

“I had never auditioned and never sang, and it was terrifying,” said McGovern. “I had no clue what I was doing.”

He left the audition with his legs shaking.

McGovern (center) and fellow "Spring Awakening" actors in a recent rehearsal. Photo by Norm Shafer.

McGovern (center) and fellow “Spring Awakening” actors in a recent rehearsal.
Photo by Norm Shafer.

To his surprise, he made it.

For his theatre debut, McGovern played Jack, a young man who traded his beloved cow for magic beans. Standing in the spotlight on stage in full makeup, dyed hair and suspenders, he was almost unrecognizable to his family in the audience.

“My parents turned to each other and said, ‘who is this guy?’” said McGovern. They had never heard their son sing.

After landing a role in UMW’s spring production of “Harvey,” and with more auditions popping up, McGovern turned his attention to acting and declared a major in theatre.

“It was like the stars aligning,” he said. “I just kinda knew I was a theatre kid.”

With encouragement and support from his baseball teammates and coach, McGovern left the team to go to his calling.

“[The baseball team] come to shows, and I do my best to keep up with their season,” said McGovern. “It’s about the best outcome that could have happened when I decided to focus my attention on theatre.”

Before he ended his first semester as a theatre major, McGovern sat down with Stull to make plans for the summer, to catch up on his training. With his professor’s assistance, McGovern was accepted into a summer intensive program at the Atlantic Acting School, an internationally acclaimed school which has fostered actors like Jessica Alba and Elizabeth Olsen.

Nicholas McGovern (center, standing on chair) plans to move to New York after graduation to pursue acting.

Nicholas McGovern (center, standing on chair) plans to move to New York after graduation to pursue acting.
Photo by Geoff Greene.

“I think it really did change him remarkably,” said Stull.

This fall, only one year since his first performance, McGovern is fresh from New York, and ready to tackle the role of Melchior in “Spring Awakening.” The show ran through Nov. 24 at Klein Theatre.

McGovern was joined on stage by a dynamic cast of UMW students from various majors and disciplines. Everyone can audition for UMW theatre, leaving the door open for anyone to explore the world of acting, said Stull.

“It’s very exciting for us when students discover something new about themselves,” said Stull.

After McGovern graduates in May, he plans to move to New York to give acting his all. And he’s already promised his former baseball coach tickets to his first Broadway show.


  1. Your life is high school musical!

Speak Your Mind