Students performing in The Lion King JR

Shawna Flanigan Leads Theatre Program into Its Next Phase

This fall, COCA announced Shawna Flanigan as Artistic Director of Theatre. Since 2001, Flanigan has been an invaluable member of our team. She’s served as the Director of Arts Education and previously led the COCA Theatre Company, including presenting, producing, or directing more than 70 shows. Flanigan brings a tremendous amount of expertise to her role and has jumped right in as she’s already developed and launched a new curriculum for theatre.

We’re excited for Flanigan to take COCA’s growing theatre program into its next phase. She shares her thoughts on the new role and her vision for the theatre program below.

As you get settled into your new role, what are your first steps?  

Some of the first steps that I took were a curricular revision and the creation of a set of production guidelines that clearly aligned our production work with our teaching work. The guidelines will help make it clear to our students how much training they need before they can audition for and perform in each of our shows. They also clarify what a guest director should expect from our students. By bringing those experiences into alignment, we will improve the quality of the experience for everyone.  

What are your goals as Artistic Director of Theatre? 

I believe that theatre education is extremely important to not only develop future theatre artists, such as actors, directors, playwrights, designers, and dramaturgs, but also to develop confident, empathetic communicators who value collaboration. My goal has been to design, and now test, a program that inspires students to work to accomplish all of those things. We have a fabulous faculty who is eager and capable of working at that intersection.  

Tell us about the new theatre curriculum that launched this semester.

I rolled out a sequential acting curriculum that focuses on skill development with entry points and progressions for students of a wide range of ages. That acting curriculum is supplemented with classes like Directing and Dramaturgy, Theatre Production, as well as acting electives like Screen Acting and Improvisation. The curriculum works together to advance student understanding as I believe that COCA students are the future of American Theatre.  

What are you most looking forward to with the Theatre Program this year?  

I’m excited to see our students rise to the challenges of a rigorous curriculum and demonstrate what they have learned onstage in some exciting offerings we have planned for COCApresents.  

Tell us what excites you about the upcoming COCApresents Season. 

I’m really excited about the diversity of the production offerings for our students. From writing and developing their own plays, to putting improvisational theatre onstage, to a really beautiful children’s theatre play in The Kid at the Edge of Everything to three phenomenal summer musical opportunities—The Color Purple, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie: Teen Edition, and Disney’s Finding Nemo JR. There really is something for every student to stretch and explore in theatre production this year. 

We’re also celebrating the 20th Anniversary of COCA Summer Musicals. Our musical productions have been a source of inspiration, talent, and community, and have showcased the immense creativity and dedication of our students. To commemorate this special milestone, our mainstage summer musical production of The Color Purple will feature alumni and current students performing on stage together. We invite COCA alumni to audition in person or video to participate in this incredible production and celebrate this milestone with us. Alumni audition information is available here.

What inspires you in your work? 

Seeing the students make connections, spark ideas, engage, and find their voice. Also, hearing from our alumni who are doing fabulous work all over the country.  

Shawna Flanigan

About Shawna Flanigan 

Shawna Flanigan has extensive experience as a producer, director, assistant director and dramaturg at theatres across the country, including Steppenwolf, Arena Stage, Intiman Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre, The Group Theatre, and Goodman Theatre. Shawna earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies from Knox College and Master of Fine Arts in Directing from DePaul University. She has served as adjunct faculty at DePaul University and Barat College. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at East Central College. Read her full bio here.