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From Center Court to Center Stage

Northwestern women’s basketball player makes her debut in the Waa-Mu Show

Kendall Hackney, a senior in communication studies and a forward on the women’s basketball team, decided senior year that it was time to reconnect with her theatrical roots.

She had her eye on the Waa-Mu show since she got to the University. But she was a bit overwhelmed by the idea of auditioning for the student-written production that annually showcases the musical and theatrical talents in which Northwestern excels.

So Hackney had a serious case of nerves when she sprinted out of basketball practice in the middle of January to audition for this year’s show, “Flying Home: down the rabbit hole, over the rainbow, and straight on till morning.”

“I knew all these people performing are theatre majors and voice majors,” she said. “And they’re all absolutely amazingly talented.”

She thought she did “horribly” in her audition, where she sang “Don’t Forget Me” from the TV show “Smash.” She was wrong.

Hackney landed the roles of the March Hare from “Alice in Wonderland” and an Emerald City citizen, and she “floated in and out of every section” of the show as a member of the ensemble during the show’s run in May.

The talented basketball player was thrilled to join another Northwestern team that nurtured her other great passion.

“Musical theater was my first love before basketball entered my life as a full-time sport,” she said.

Read about Hackney’s transition from the basketball court of Welsh-Ryan Arena to the theatrical stage of Cahn Auditorium. 

What sparked your interest in trying out for the Waa-Mu Show?

I knew about the Waa-Mu show since I got here, but I didn’t know details. I just knew that it was a great show and always worth seeing.  My senior year I decided to try and do a show after basketball because I knew I wouldn’t have anything going on during spring quarter. But I had no idea where to turn or what to do, so I emailed [Waa-Mu co-chair] Jack Mitchell out of the blue during the winter and said, “I’m really sorry to bother you, but I would love to audition for the Waa-Mu Show. Can you direct me in any way, shape or form to what I should do to pursue that process?” And after I auditioned, I got cast the next week. I was ecstatic.

How did your audition go?

It was kind of nerve-wracking. It was in the middle of January, right in the middle of our Big Ten season, so I actually had to get out of practice a little bit early. I thought I did horribly, but thankfully I got called back, and then I got to sing again. I felt much better that time, and then I got cast the next week. I haven’t been that nervous in a long time!

What was it like to participate in your first theater production at Northwestern?

Honestly, it was pretty amazing. I was nervous going into a community of people who have all known each other, had class together and done shows together, and I’m the athlete who knows hardly anybody. One of my biggest fears was not fitting in or just feeling awkward, but that was shattered by week two when I got to know them. They were all so receptive to me and so welcoming. It was so great to get to know these people because they’re so talented and amazing. I began great friendships that I hope to maintain after school. I’m grateful to have at least one show and one experience to share with them as we leave our Northwestern imprint on Waa-Mu history.

How would you compare the stage experience to the basketball game experience?

I actually thought about that a lot, because it was just such a different change of pace for me. I think the show is actually easier than playing basketball, because everything is predictable. There are definitely unpredictable elements of a show that can happen unexpectedly, but basketball involved a different team every game, and it constantly changed. That first show was very consistent compared to what I’m used to.

But it’s still very much a team-oriented mentality for me. You’re definitely doing your individual part, but you’re all working together to create this one amazing, special show that’s been in the works since last year. It’s really special putting on an original show that’s never been performed and that has been written by these students. I’m grateful because after leaving an amazing group of girls on the basketball team, not having anything this quarter would have been horrible for me. I’m so glad I could jump into this community, which is also like a team, just a totally different dynamic. It’s made the end of my Northwestern experience really special and enjoyable.

What was your favorite part of the experience?

Once the performances started, it was just so great to see how people responded to the show. We would have rehearsal every single day, except Sunday, and we’d be working four-plus hours a day on the show. It’s just like a sport, because you’re investing so much time, and when you get to that final product of the show, it’s great because you’re on stage with an amazing, talented group of people putting on a new show for an audience. From past experience, theater can be very political, and it can be cutthroat sometimes, but I have never seen a more genuinely caring group of people supporting each other’s success. That was really, really special to be a part of and to see firsthand.

Students are so multifaceted, and there are just so many different things that they can do and so much talent in all areas across the board at Northwestern. Being part of not only the amazing basketball program but also of an amazing theater program for just a small amount of time is really special, and I’m really grateful.

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