Clearly, the bright lights and the big stage don’t faze Kendall Hackney.
And the stage, by the way, has been everything from a church to a basketball court, to an actual stage.
The soon-to-be Northwestern graduate grew up performing in a local theatre group and in church choirs, starting at age 7. Then, she got into basketball and starred on elite youth travel teams before making her way to the even brighter lights of the Big Ten.
Just recently, she was back in the theatre, with one of the most renowned college productions in the country, Northwestern’s annual Waa-Mu Show.
“I was so excited to get a part,” said Hackney, who occasionally sung the national anthem before Northwestern basketball games. “I love to sing and dance and act.”
As soon as basketball season ended in March, Hackney, a 6-foot-2 forward for the Wildcats, traded in long after-school practices for even longer after-school rehearsals to prepare for the Waa-Mu Show, a student written and produced musical that has been a beloved fixture of the campus and community culture since 1929.
This year’s edition, which wrapped about a month ago after eight shows over two weekends, was called “Flying Home” and combined parts of “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” and “Wizard of Oz.” The main characters, Alice, Peter and Dorothy, were all trying to get home. Hackney had a few lines as the March Hare during the “Alice in Wonderland” scenes and was also an Emerald City citizen in the “Wizard of Oz scenes.
“I was a little nervous because the people I auditioned with were amazing. I mean, they’re theatre majors and they do theatre stuff all year long. And I hadn’t even auditioned for anything in years,” Hackney said. “Basketball kind of took over when I was about 12 and I hadn’t done much (in theatre) since then. I really wanted to do the Waa-Mu show, though. I went to the show for the first time my sophomore year and was just blown away by how talented everyone was. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Hackney’s one and only chance was this spring, a time when seniors are typically winding down, not up.
With her collegiate basketball career over, she was no longer expected to be at spring workouts and scrimmages. That freed up the time she would need to attend Waa-Mu rehearsals. And, boy, did she spend a lot of time rehearsing.
“We would rehearse six days a week, four hours a day,” Hackney said. “It was intense, and almost more time-consuming than basketball season because it was so condensed.
“But I loved it. I wish I could have spent more time on theatre at Northwestern, and done more singing and acting. It would have been tough with basketball. You don’t see many athletes as theatre majors. There’s just not the time.”
Hackney’s long hours on the court paid off, though. She is graduating among the top scorers in Northwestern history with 1,547 points for a 12.3-point career scoring average. She also started 114 of 126 games over her four years.
And yet, as easily as the game seemed to come to her at times, she still had moments of “stage fright.”
“I would get nervous for basketball games, sometimes more nervous than for a show,” Hackney said. “At least with a show, you always have a script. You pretty much always know what’s coming. With basketball, there’s so much you can’t control. So much is unpredictable.
“The shows are a lot easier than basketball.
“Well ... maybe not. I don’t know. There’s the pressure to perform on stage, too. There’s probably more overlap between sports and theatre than you might think. It’s a toss-up, I guess.”
Either way, Hackney’s teammates appreciated seeing her in a much different light, pushing herself in a different way. They came out in full force on Opening Night to support her.
“It was awesome. The coaches were there, too. I was pretty touched,” said Hackney, a communications studies major who is now looking for a job and isn’t sure when she’ll act, sing or play basketball next. “When I came on stage, they were all screaming.”
As usual, Hackney’s performance went off without a hitch.
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