Photo of Kathleen Burns performing

Ask a Musketeer: Kathleen Burns (Theatre, '24)

Jul 8, 2020

In her senior year at Trinity High School near Chicago, incoming freshman Kathleen Burns learned the importance of standing up for a cause and fighting to make it a reality. It led to her discovery of theater as her new passion and to her acceptance into Xavier University's Theatre program.

Kathleen had never performed on stage before, but when her all-girls school announced it would be presenting Newsies, a musical about the newsboy strike of 1899, with an all-girls cast except for the lead, Kathleen was floored. Newsies was one of her favorite musicals, and Jack Kelly, the lead character, was a “personal hero.”

Kathleen had to act. Giving the lead role to a male from outside the school instead of tapping into the talent of its own students was wrong, she said. “We sat down with the president and theater director and explained that giving the role of Jack Kelly to a male from another school would be neglecting Trinity’s own talent, as well as sending a message that a woman cannot do what a man can.”

To her surprise, the school leadership agreed and opened up auditions for the Jack Kelly role to Trinity students. Kathleen tried out and got the part. She was thrilled, but then she got really busy. She had to stay late after school to rehearse. She spent weekends memorizing songs and dance moves, and studying the movements of men to learn their mannerisms. And she had to learn a thick New York accent.

She realized the magnitude of the spot she was in but felt rewarded by the positive reaction of the audience. Some even asked for her autograph. “I knew that getting the lead, especially after pushing for it to be played by a girl, the expectations were high and I didn’t want to let anyone down,” she said. “Jack Kelly was my dream role, and I’m so grateful I was able to portray him regardless of my own gender."

She was so inspired that she auditioned and was accepted into the theatre program at Xavier. "I knew Xavier was the place for me when I got to campus; everyone was so kind and welcoming," she said. "I was sold when I auditioned for the theater program. All the students helping the auditions run smoothly talked to me and calmed my nerves like I was already their classmate. The community convinced me to commit with a theater major, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities await for me at Xavier!”

By France Sloat, Office of Marketing and Communications

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