Young Actors Connected with Acclaimed Theater Artists

Selected young actors from Acting For Young People showcase programs attended an hour-long creative workshop, joined and facilitated by outstanding theater artists from the production “Cartography.”

“Our Academy students have had two opportunities to work with Keneza and her company this year; once last spring in a digital space and again this fall, in-person,” said Mary Lechter, Associate Director at the Academy and Assistant Professor in Mason’s School of Theater. “These teaching artists are so generous with their creativity and energy! We are grateful for our connection with the Center for the Arts, and that our students have access to working professionals, who share their real-world experiences and enhance what we are teaching in our Academy programs.”



“Cartography” is created in collaboration with artist and arts education advocate Kaneza Schaal and writer Christopher Myers. The production follows five young refugees searching for a new place to call home. Schaal was named George Mason University’s Artist-in-Residence 2021/2022.

Known for her collective creativity endeavors, Schaal instills and encourages her cast members to bring new ideas into their performance. The Academy’s young actors received a glimpse of what it’s like when everyone has an equal voice in theater production during the workshop.

The cast members divided the student group into four teams to create short plays while meeting challenge requirements, including incorporating the physical space and objects, using body movement to create depth or perspectives, and adding sound effects in the play.



With less than 15 minutes, each team created and rehearsed a short play to share with the crowd. Cast members led a circle discussion reflecting on their collaborative process, followed by the performances. Students engaged in an in-depth conversation sharing the importance of bringing unique ideas and perspectives to their plays and how to navigate through ideas, conflicts, and creativity.

“The most important takeaway from the workshop was the power of connection and collaboration,” said Kaya Thomas, a returning actor in the fall musical showcase “Rockin’ Robin Hood.”

“All of the small groups we worked in were incredibly different, and each person brought different views, skills, ideas, and experiences to be shared. Even when we weren’t creating our short performances, we all had in common: theater and the arts.”

Young actor Hailey Strasbaugh shared that the workshop provided her with a new perspective of training on the stage and challenged her to be aware of her surroundings beyond her character and the plot.



“A lot of the activities we usually do in theater have to do with improv and learning about your character,” said Strasbaugh. “It was really cool to try something new and put a little bit of everything into the activity, and I really had to think about every aspect that goes into performing, how I use the space and incorporate everyone and everything.”

Throughout the conversation, many participants shared that the learning experience from the workshop had benefited them for their current showcase training and inspired them to cherish all the collaborative moments.

“Theater is the fastest way to make friends,” said Thomas. “There’s a shared common denominator between you and others. With each person you collaborate with, you both mutually teach each other and grow from these experiences together. It creates a supportive community full of passionate people, and getting to know one another quickly builds friendships between the ensemble.”

“From the workshop, I learned new techniques and how to handle rejection that I had never really thought of before,” said Strasbaugh. “I always love learning new methods of acting because they can be beneficial in the future, even when you least expect them to.”


Acting Art Community Outreach Music

New Free Digital Resources for Art-Making from Home

This Spring, a free digital library of educational resources is available for the public thanks to Mason Community Arts Academy’s latest community outreach initiative, MCAA: Creative Collection.

Funded by the City of Fairfax Commission on the Arts, the collection delivers tutorials, performances, and activities across the arts, from music and theater education and performance, music technology, and visual art education. Each week, a new video made by students and faculty of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at George Mason University will be released to provide an arts enrichment project for a specific age group or skill level of learners.

“In this COVID restricted time, it’s more important than ever for the Academy to connect with our communities and reach out to broader populations through the arts,” said Elizabeth Curtis, MCAA Executive Director. “I’m so proud of the initiative and dedication our Mason students and teachers have shown in bringing this dynamic collection to life. We hope it continues to enrich the lives of our students and serve our community.”



Since its launch, three instructional videos are shared on the platform, including “Drawing with Markers for First Graders,” by Ms. Lisa Eaton; “Tone Quality on String Instruments,” by Ms. Elana Oleinick; and “The Ins and Outs of Clarinet Embouchure,” by Ms. Katie Repka.

“I am excited that I can share my passion for the arts with students viewing the Creative Collection,” said Ms. Eaton, who recorded a drawing tutorial by using markers and basic art elements. “I love that I can help students learn and grow as I have a passion for art that started when I was very young.”

The Creative Collection is created after the COVID health and safety restrictions have limited students’ access to in-person instruction, particularly for communities that face additional difficulties in accessing instruments, supplies, and arts programming.



“I love that I can give back to a Mason program like this after receiving a wealth of knowledge and skill through my coursework in the Master of Arts in Teaching program,” said Ms. Eaton. “I was learning so much making my videos. As a teacher, I will be learning right along with my students. It is a continuing process.”

“The initiative allows me to share my love of music and the arts with the community,” said Ms. Elana Olenick, cellist and music educator, who is pursuing her music education licensure at George Mason University. “I am thrilled that Mason is providing this wonderful opportunity and look forward to watching my peers teach about their passions as well!”



Samantha Clarke, MCAA Community Outreach Coordinator, spearheaded the creation and coordination of the Creative Collection, explaining that students are intimidated to learn independently without the teacher’s support.

“As a music educator, I understand the great privilege we have as teachers to inspire and enrich the lives of our students through the arts,” said Clarke. “By providing instructional and performance videos through MCAA: Creative Collection, we can help address the challenges that teachers and students are currently facing through virtual instruction while providing opportunities for students and faculty of Mason’s CVPA to teach, perform, and inspire.”

To watch the latest video from the initiative, visit MCAA: Creative Collection homepage HERE.


Acting Art Film & Video Music Publicity

Summer 2020 Highlights


Mason Community Arts Academy concluded its Summer Arts at Mason 2020 programming online with new records. Throughout the week, hundreds of students engaged in live-streamed classes, guest artist presentations, and one-on-one coaching with Mason faculty, industry professionals, and special guests. Some of the students participated from different time zones, logging on from the West Coast, and even from other countries. Here is a snapshot of Summer 2020 at the Academy:

  • 1023 participants in Summer Arts at Mason Online Programs
  • 74 online programs for all ages
  • 5 creative categories: acting, music, film & video, visual art, and teacher training
  • Students were streaming from 11 countries and 32 states, including District of Columbia
  • More than 100 faculty and guest artists teaching in at least one of the online programs
  • 70% of our teaching staff, guest artists, and program assistants are Mason faculty, students, and alumni
  • 306 students continued online private music lessons throughout summer
  • 1954 music lessons booked in summer 2020

We are extremely proud of our accomplishments and cannot thank enough to our students, families, faculty, and staff for their continuous support.


Looking Forward

This fall, the Academy offers 22 group classes in music, acting, and visual art for 18 months to adult. Some new additions include:

All classes will be held in a live-streamed, interactive format with supplemental materials or videos for more individualized learning.


Full Class List


Explore Screen Acting with Actor Kevin Murray

This summer, Acting for the Camera Workshop students will learn how to boost their on-camera acting techniques while gaining confidence and telling compelling stories with actor Kevin Murray.

Currently serving as the interim director of the School of Theater at George Mason University, Mr. Murray is a teacher, acting coach, and arts education advocate. Throughout his acting career, Mr. Murray has appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including “House of Cards,” on Netflix, “Veep” and “The Wire” on HBO, and “Homicide” on NBC. His collaborations extend to top Hollywood movie stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Aftermath” and Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in “Runaway Bride.” His latest appearance is in an upcoming limited Showtime series, “The Good Lord Bird.”

During this three-day workshop, students will work on individual and small group scene works, receive acting coaching, learn audition tips and tricks, and record their camera performance, all packed in six hours.

In addition to teaching acting techniques, Mr. Murray will give guidance on how to conquer a video audition, share his knowledge about the film industry as an actor and scholar, and explore acting in new media such as on the web or apps like Netflix, Instagram, or YouTube.



The program is open for everyone regardless of prior acting experience. Students who audition for theater programs or music competitions can look forward to learning a wealth of knowledge on performing on camera.

The program is open for registration in the week of June 22-26, July 13-17, and July 20-24. Workshops will be held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m.-noon (Age 7-11) and 1-3 p.m. (Ages 12-18). For more program details, including sample class schedule and technology requirements, please visit Acting for the Camera Workshop.



Full Camp List


Madison McVeigh: Be Brave

For Madison McVeigh, theater performance is beyond a program of study or a hobby: it’s a personal passion. Acting reminds her to be brave, a message which she shared on her graduation cap—“Be brave enough to go outside of my comfort zone. Be brave enough to try something new. Be brave enough to be myself.”

As a little girl, McVeigh loved watching the Oscars with her family and putting on home plays while directing her siblings as cast members. Her theater career began when she was 15, and she developed her fondness for acting when she first read the New York Times best seller novel series, “The Hunger Games,” where she dreamed to audition for a character in the adapted movie series.

“That was the first time I decided to pursue acting as a career path and a passion I want to explore. I began searching for theater programs and found the Acting for Young People.”



McVeigh first joined AFYP’s summer Weekly Acting Camp as a freshman in high school. The faculty and staff encouraged and motivated her to continue pursuing her love and passion for acting. After her first experience, she continued participating with AFYP through the Summer Advanced Showcase, the Summer Musical Showcase, and the Advanced Actors Showcase.

“When we met McVeigh during her first summer as a student, we knew she was something special,” said Mary Lechter, founder and director of AFYP, the Academy’s theater division. “She was not only doing excellent work as an actor, but setting a strong example for younger students along the way. McVeigh joined us as a teaching assistant and quickly became a leader. Over the past few years, she has been an assistant teacher for our summer camps, a lead teaching artist for our after school programs, and has grown through the ranks to head up our Mini Actors’ Showcase. We are so proud of all that McVeigh has accomplished, and grateful to know that she will continue to work with us after graduation.”



“AFYP has been such an important part of my life as a student, and I don’t want to spend any moment not realizing that,” McVeigh reflected on her experience throughout years as she advanced her roles in AFYP. She said nothing comes naturally but the hard work.

“One of my favorite showcases was the musical showcase ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ which I was hoping us to do the show for years,” said McVeigh. “After I heard this announcement, I trained with a vocal coach months before the audition. When the staff told me I would be the ‘Belle’ in the show, I was over the moon. Every rehearsal was a joy, and I was so excited to go to it.”

McVeigh explained that playing the lead role of “Belle,” taught her how to strive to be an actor. “Being in a leadership position, I remember the weight over my shoulder that the whole cast was looking up to me.”



From day one of “Beauty and the Beast” cast rehearsal, McVeigh challenged herself to be better each day. “I don’t think I was good at choreography, but I kept practicing and pushing myself to step outside of my comfort zone. I remembered vividly that Ahmad Matty, the showcase choreographer, at one rehearsal cheered and said, ‘Yay McVeigh, I have never seen you dance like that.’”

McVeigh carried her work ethic and her passion to college, where she majored in theater performance at George Mason University. There, she met Ms. Lechter again, but as a member of the theater faculty and her mentor. “It was an exciting day when I took attendance in my Acting II class, and there she was! Throughout the semester, she showed the same level of excellence that I had come to know from our earlier collaborations.”

During her time at college, McVeigh was fully immersed in the world of theater. Her studies led her to explore many different facets of theater, including playwriting, stage management, costume design, and acting on camera. She was casted in several major productions within the School of Theater and the Mason Players, such as “The Originals!” “The Imaginary Invalid,” and “ Really, Really.” Her study abroad in England experience brought her a global perspective and she is considering returning to England for a graduate degree next year.



“The staff and faculty at Mason School of Theater are so gifted and equipped with knowledge to help students with career advice, life choices, and personal education,” said McVeigh as she listed the faculty who guided her in the past four years. “In my sophomore year, I didn’t get cast for the first time after auditions. Having lots of free time made me to think about what I want to do for my future. I met with some faculty, such as Dr. Kristin Johnsen-Neshati, Ken Elston, Mary Lechter, and Edward Gero, for advice, They all told me that the future is open as long as I stay open to embrace the opportunities. That was the best advice I have been giving, and I still hold that belief with me today.”

“Madison McVeigh is a natural collaborator. She loves to play in rehearsal and welcomes ideas without judging them,” said Dr. Johnsen-Neshati, associate professor at Mason. “Freedom and generosity define her creative process. Empathy guides her work with others. It’s been a great pleasure to work with Madison McVeigh here at the School of Theater. She’s a brilliant artist with a bright future ahead!”



A member of Mason’s Class of 2020, McVeigh joined other 10,000 students who celebrated their milestone on Friday, May 22, through a virtual commencement ceremony. Although her post-graduate plans have been interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McVeigh is staying active in the theater world. She has been filming self-tapes and auditions and is virtually collaborating with filmmakers virtually as she bravely steps into this new stage of life.