Lauren Arena-McCann, ’04: Performing with a Purpose
January 30, 2013 by Lisa McMahon, M.A.'09
Children and adults sing when Lauren Arena-McCann, ’04, is in the room. Sometimes they even dance. But more importantly, they become a little more self-confident, and their lives are improved in subtle, yet profound, ways. That’s because Lauren, an applied dramatist who currently lives in Falmouth, England, facilitates these activities to purposely benefit people’s physical, emotional and mental health.
Like most theatre majors, Lauren, a Clarence, N.Y., native, came to Niagara with aspirations of being a performer. A model since the age of 2, she already had a number of musicals, high school plays, and choir recitals under her belt when she enrolled in NU’s theatre program. However, her study-abroad experience in London during the summer of her junior year expanded her perspective of the options that were available in her chosen career, and motivated her to pursue a master’s degree.
After graduation, Lauren spent three years in New York City while she investigated the kinds of master’s degree programs that were available. During this time, she interned with the American Place Theatre and was an educational researcher with Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. Her work with Nick Jr., in particular, narrowed her focus to working with children, and she began looking into programs in applied drama. She eventually settled on the applied theatre program at Exeter University, and left for the U.K. after a year in Buffalo, where she established an art program for inner-city children.
While at Exeter, Lauren worked with both children and adults. She created a program for people suffering from bipolar disorder and depression and toured with a show in Germany that addressed domestic violence. This work helped her network in the Cornwall, U.K., healthcare community and establish her freelance business. Today, she works in hospitals, afterschool programs, and local charitable organizations, providing therapeutic programs for at-risk children and adults with dementia or mental disabilities.
While applied drama uses performance as a resource, Lauren points out that she does not perform for the individuals she works with. Rather, she motivates them to explore their own artistic abilities in a way that helps them to build relationships, explore new ways of emotional expression, and learn how to fit in their own environment.
It’s often the simplest things that make a difference to the program participants. A song with a certain rhythm might stimulate a memory in someone with dementia. A mask might empower a shy child to overcome inhibitions.
“I love inspiring and motivating other people and spending a day with them or a couple hours with them doing something that seems crazy,” Lauren says. “They get so much out of it. That’s what I love about it, seeing other people smile, and the impact that something I love to do has on them.”