top of page
  • Writer's pictureMegan Erin Lai

Passion Over Fear - My Journey to IWU

When I was a little girl, I used to unabashedly sing along to music with my mom - a personal favorite of mine was Shania Twain's "From This Moment" - but by the time I got to middle school, I wouldn't let anyone hear me sing, no matter how much I loved to. As a shy kid, I was used to fear preventing me from speaking up in class, but my fear and self-doubt began to keep me from pursuing some of the things I loved most: singing and acting.

The first time I heard about auditioning for anything theatrical was when I was in 6th grade and I found out about the school musical. I loved music, I loved musicals, and I had been taking dance lessons since I was 3, but I didn't have confidence. I was an orchestra kid, not a choir kid, and I assumed all the choir kids would have a better shot of being cast than me, so I didn't audition. Instead, I helped paint the set one year and watched from the audience, dreaming of being up onstage, but letting my fear and self-doubt keep me on the sidelines.

Fortunately, when I started high school, I had a mistake on my class schedule that allowed me to finally sign up for choir. I was scared (surprise, surprise) but I joined and it ended up being one of the best decisions I could've made. However, it wasn't until the following year, when I started taking voice lessons, that I gained the confidence to audition for the school musical.

Me, on the far right, with some of the cast of Carousel

Since my voice teacher was familiar with the audition process, she helped me choose and prepare a piece. With a whole lot of nerves and excitement, I wrote my name on the audition sign-up sheet, conquered my fear, and was ultimately cast in the ensemble of my first musical, Carousel.

From there, I was hooked.

My big moment in Legally Blonde

I didn't have any lines in Carousel, but that didn't matter. I loved performing, I loved watching the lead actors rehearse, and I wanted more. I wasn't cast the following year, but I was called back for a lead in Legally Blonde during my senior year. I didn't get the part, but I still had two lines, which meant I got to use a microphone and stand near center stage - a real improvement from where I'd been a few years back.

At some point in my senior year, I realized that theatre was something I seriously wanted to pursue. I'd always dreamed of going to medical school and I was still interested in science, but I wanted theatre to be more than a hobby.

When I began my college search with my mom, we tried looking for schools that had strong science and theatre programs. The thing is, I didn't know what made a theatre program good and I had no one else to ask. I also thought I had a poor shot of getting accepted because of my lack of experience.

My first headshot (a.k.a. my senior photo)

One day, my mom remembered seeing names of Illinois Wesleyan alum in programs from the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. She researched the program and suggested I look at their brochure. I remember thinking it sounded like a great opportunity, but when I saw the audition requirements, I fell deeper into my self-doubt. I didn't have a resume, I didn't really have a headshot, and a trusted mentor had recently told me she didn't think I had the right personality to pursue a career in performance. I told my mom I didn't think they'd want me, especially if I was up against people who'd been acting since they were children.

Still, with her encouragement and help, I found two monologues for my audition. I was confused as to what an "active" versus "passive" monologue was, but I used my best guess.

I fell in love with IWU the day I visited and it became a top choice, so I applied early admission as a chemistry major and was accepted prior to starting the pre-screening process for the BFA Acting program. From there, my mom was both my cheerleader and makeshift "acting coach" since I had no one else to help me with my monologues. (Really, her role as acting coach was simply telling me if I was bad or not.)

On the day I auditioned, I remember waiting with other prospective acting and music theatre students in the choir room. Some were very outgoing and easily socializing with one another, but I mainly stayed with my mom. When I finally was called, I walked up the stairs to the audition room with my headshot and resume in hand and an assortment of worries floating through my head. I had no idea who'd be watching me, how many people would be in the room, or if I would know where to stand - unknowns I now know are commonplace in the audition world. When the girl before me came out, I nervously passed through the doors to find one person sitting in there. This man, I found out, was Tom Quinn. I handed him my headshot and resume and made my way to the front of the room to perform my two monologues. Afterward, he gave me direction on one of my pieces and I tried my best to make adjustments, but I was unsure if I was doing it "correctly." After all, that was the first time I'd really had anyone direct me.

My first resume (I cropped out the extra blank space)

When we sat down for the interview portion to talk about my interest in acting, the program, and my experience, I decided to address my mostly blank resume - the biggest source of my self-doubt - right away. For the first time, I talked with someone other than my mom about the joy I'd experienced in the shows I had performed in and how my interest in acting developed from there. If you know Tom and his spirit, you probably understand why it was surprisingly easy to share this with him.

At the end of the interview, I had no idea if it went well, but he told me about a workshop he'd be having later in the day for all of the prospective acting students. It was optional, but he encouraged me to go.

All through lunch, I was debating whether I should go to the workshop. I didn't know what was going to happen and if I was going to have to say something in front of everyone - two things that freaked me out. Thank God for my mom - seriously. She (lovingly) pushed me to give it a try and, as a result, I found myself walking up the stairs to the Carriage House to meet with Tom and the 5 or 6 other girls who'd auditioned that day. He basically started teaching us some fundamental things about acting. It was all new to me, but I found it absolutely fascinating and I was really glad I'd decided to go. (Thanks, Mom.) At one point, he asked if any of us had heard of or studied the principles he was mentioning and all of the girls raised their hands - except for me. I immediately had a string of thoughts like "they all have more experience than me," "this is so embarrassing," and "there's no way I'm going to be accepted."

As Tom taught us about Substitution, he recalled details from a monologue he'd seen one of us perform earlier in the day and asked whose piece it was. Lo and behold, it was mine. I meekly raised my hand only to have him tell me he wanted me to get up and perform it in a few moments and to get ready.

I'll be honest: in that moment, I wished I could run out. I wished I hadn't shown up to the workshop - even if I'd been enjoying it up until that moment. All I could think about was the fact that I was going to have to stand up and act in front of girls who I assumed were way better than me. Pardon my language, but I was fucking terrified and I'm pretty sure I couldn't focus on anything else he was saying until he called me up to the front of the room. Even though the other girls seemed supportive, nothing seemed to ease my nerves. Nevertheless, I mustered up my courage and performed my piece. Once I was done, I thought I could sit down (and silently process my embarrassment), but Tom proceeded to coach me on my piece. I don't know how long I was up there, but I do know he was completely invested and he was opening my eyes to new things about the piece and about acting as a whole. When I finally got to sit down, I was ready to watch someone else perform, but no one else was called up. Instead of thinking I was the lucky one who had just had an awesome opportunity, I worried that everyone would remember me and how bad I was.

The selfie I sent my friends

Looking back, I see how self-defeating I'd been. If I'd let fear and self-doubt win (and if I hadn't listened to my mom), I wouldn't have gone to the workshop or even tried applying to IWU.

Putting passion over my fear and self-doubt, pushing past the doubts others had in me and my abilities, and remembering why I wanted this so badly allowed me to pursue my dreams. It allowed me to get accepted to IWU and graduate with my BFA in Acting, something 17-year old me didn't know was possible.

Since the day I auditioned at IWU, I've talked to Tom about it on a few different occasions and every time, he's told me how I was making all these unsure facial expressions when he was coaching me. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I believe it happened since that was the first time I was learning how to act.

Sometimes I wonder if I still would've been accepted to IWU if I hadn't gone to the workshop. My guess is not, but thankfully that's only a hypothetical.

I almost let fear win, but I now know it's always worth it to chase what you love, no matter how scary it may be. The path might be rocky, but you owe it to yourself to claim the life you most desire.

Just don't be the one standing in your own way.

Graduating with my BFA in Acting


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page