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Mia Dillon- School of Theatre Alumni Award Winner

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Mia DillonAccording to Mia Dillon (’75 B.A. Theatre), theatre training is not just for aspiring actors.

“Face-to-face communication, especially theatre training, would be great for everybody, because it teaches you to communicate. It teaches you to listen,” she said, adding theatre—and the arts in general—make us more civilized. “I think the arts really teach us how to be human; they teach us how to relate to other people. You can study all you want, but we’re living in an ever more crowded world, and we all need to get along.

Dillon made her Broadway debut in 1978 in Hugh Leonard’s Da and, two years later, earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for her performance in Once a Catholic. She has since had a successful career on and off Broadway, including a Tony Award nomination for her performance as Babe in Crimes of the Heart. She most recently appeared in a rare New York revival of Orpheus Descending. Her film and television credits include Gods and Generals, The Money Pit, All Good Things, and all three series in the Law & Order franchise. Her award-winning 35mm short film Quiet, written, directed, and edited by Dillon herself, was seen on the Sundance Channel.

Dillon managed to graduate from Penn State in barely three years, because she was so anxious to start her career in New York. “I wanted to act—I’d wanted to act since I was 10 years old, so I got out of school as fast as I could and went to the city!”

Her time at Penn State proved to be both rewarding and challenging. “The best thing Penn State did for me was teach me about rejection,” she said. “I always joked that it was easier to get cast in New York than at Penn State.”

Though the competition could be frustrating, Dillon credits the experience with teaching her perseverance. By the time she arrived in New York, she wasn’t afraid of rejection, and was filled with determination to pursue her passion.

One of Dillon’s mentors at Penn State was Helen Manfull, professor emerita of theatre. “Helen is the reason I stayed at Penn State,” said Dillon. “When I first got here, I thought, ‘I should do something sensible, where I could make a good living!’ But about halfway through my first semester, I realized I had to be an actress…I thought I might transfer to a conservatory, but I auditioned for one of Helen’s shows, and decided if I was cast, I would stay at Penn State. And I was cast, and I stayed.”

Dillon has some words of wisdom for students considering a career in acting: “If you can do anything else—if you love doing anything else—do it. Because it is a very difficult path, being an actor. But it’s so rewarding, that if this is your passion, you should pursue it. The highs don’t get any higher, and you can control the lows. If you love doing it, persistence pays off.” 

Photo by Cody Goddard