Lou Anne Wright: Staying present in life

Lou Anne Wright directs students in an acting class at the University of Wyoming. Her approach to teaching focuses on being present and aware of one's surroundings. (Photo by Abby Chambers)

Her impact on the UW Theatre Department has been felt in both faculty and students alike, as she has shown them to be invested and use other points of view to be effective.

“I think she’s an incredibly valued member of this department, and she, at least from what I can understand, is a legend,” Assistant Professor Patrick Konesko said.

Lou Anne Wright hails from the Alabama suburbs. She married early on in her life UW Professor William Missouri Downs and traveled with him to New York, Illinois, California, Colorado and finally Wyoming to follow their dream of pursuing the arts.

“How many women would basically run away from home, which is what she did, drop out of school, move to New York City and live with a crazy playwright in a roach-infested transient hotel- a guy who had no prospects, no future… [and] just never doubt?” said Downs.

It is life experiences such as these that have shaped Wright into the person she is today: someone who sees the world in another light and encourages others to do the same.

Wright was accepted into a voice, speech and dialect coaching masters program through the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver over 20 years ago. Her passion for this area of the field is one shared by very few in the U.S., but she uses it to establish connections with her students and their approaches to theater as well as life.

“There’s a way of looking at things that really is a passport to the world through dialect work, so I’d like to think I’ve introduced the students to a different way of seeing,” Wright said.

Konesko said, “Seeing her work with students and the things she can get out of students – changing their very vocal patterns with exercises and whatnot – is astounding to me.”

Wright’s approach to teaching is focused on being present and aware of your surroundings. Her students are constantly being reminded to watch and see those they come in contact with.

“She was really good at getting us to be comfortable in our own skins, and to be ‘right behind our eyeballs,’ as she put it: to be completely present and committed in the moment,” said Music major Juliane Woodward.

Being present implies that one observes and reacts accordingly, which is a great push Wright expects from her students.

“As an actor and in theatre, we have to train ourselves to be present and it’s the most difficult thing to be because in life, we can’t be all the time, but in theatre it’s demanded that we have to say, ‘I really see you,’ and to do that, I think you can’t be thinking about something else,” Wright said.

As a professor of beginning acting, Wright comes into contact with students from all walks of life on campus: athletics, pre-law, STEM, music, education and students that are merely searching for ways to interact with those around them.

When quoting the acting coach Sandra Meiser, Wright said, “We can’t help how we feel, but we can sure help how we act [and] how we behave.”

Wright has taken this advice to heart. In the eyes of her husband, Downs, she has pulled herself up by her bootstraps and made the best of her circumstances.

“Why she can talk about life is because she’s experienced so much,” said Downs. “I think that’s what she does in expanding horizons; you have to live a little in order to teach.”

By incorporating her past life experiences Wright makes a difference in both the perspectives of those she teaches and those she mentors within the department. She consistently leaves a legacy that attempts to remind one that being present and recognizing the validity of others allows for a fuller appreciation of the world.

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