Flexibility and adaptability have been the name of the game for Paula Rolph throughout her college career.
That adaptability came into play as Rolph, a second-generation KWU student, considered what to do after her May 15 graduation. She thought she’d go on to perform in music theatre and transition into teaching, however, the COVID-19 pandemic caused her to re-evaluate her plans.
“In the fall of 2020, professional theatre wasn’t much of a thing,” she said, referring to the shuttering of Broadway. “I thought, ‘I need another plan.’”
During her time in Salina, she performed on stage at both Kansas Wesleyan University and the Salina Community Theatre. At KWU, she was in “The Spitfire Grill,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Cyrano,” “The Dining Room,” “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” and most recently “Little Shop of Horrors.” At the SCT, her credits included “Tuck Everlasting,” “The Music Man” and “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
Throughout her time at KWU, she was a member of the Philharmonic Choir and played trumpet in the Wind Ensemble. As Rolph approached her senior year, the idea of music therapy swam around in her mind for awhile, but “it wasn’t quite clicking,” she said.
One day, she was waiting for class to begin and thought, “Music therapy isn’t quite right for me, but I wonder if there is such a thing as drama therapy?” She began researching and learned that Kansas State University in Manhattan offered a master’s program.
“I researched what drama therapy was and it clicked,” Rolph said. “I still want to do something with theatre. For me, drama therapy filled in where music therapy was lacking. I could use something that was ‘my thing’ to help people.
“Drama therapy is in the same school of thought as music therapy. It is similar in a lot of ways. It can be used to help people who have gone through trauma, to help them take control of a situation they ultimately didn’t have control over. You can help kids with behavioral issues learn the consequences of actions. They can see possible consequences of doing something without it directly affecting them. It’s only limited by your imagination.”
She works with youth at an after-school program at a local grade school, and also teaches musical theatre class at the Center for Theatre Arts at the Salina Community Theatre.
“I see a lot of good kids who are good at heart, but lose their temper. This can help give me better skills to help these kids,” Rolph said. “I can take (my drama therapy degree) and use it to bring further awareness to the arts — but also help a child who is having behavioral issues.”
A native of Delphos who graduated from Miltonvale High School, Rolph said KWU was the perfect fit for her undergraduate experience.
“Salina was close enough, but not too large,” she said. “If I had gone to KU or K-State after high school, it would have been overwhelming. I was familiar with Salina because both of my parents and my aunt attended KWU. This has been a great stepping stone in figuring out being an adult.”
Rolph said her undergraduate degree was about branching out from her small-town roots.
“I’ve definitely grown a lot; I feel like that’s the nature of college,” she said. “I think I’ve built a really good support system of friends and professors while at KWU. I can call and ask them if I have questions or trouble. I think the best thing to come out of college is a good network and support system.”