Christine Watt knew she was in a different place when she first met Nathan Hedman, an assistant professor of theatre and English at HPU.
She and her parents were sitting at the Starbucks inside Slane Student Center. Watt had just finished a long day of seeing the campus, sitting in on a class and talking to Hedman and then-theater chair Ed Simpson about opportunities with the theater department.
Up came Hedman.
“What are you all talking about?” Hedman asked. “Can I answer anything for you?”
Hedman talked to Watt and her parents for three hours, and when she went home to Texas, Hedman followed up with an email. He wanted Watt to come to High Point University because he saw in Watt what he called “a gold mine of talent.”
By Hedman’s email, Watt had made up her mind. She was coming. She’s glad she did.
Watt, a senior majoring in theater performance and English literature, is one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of October.
Growing up as a self-described “country girl’’ in the Texas Hill Country, she has become a valuable member of the university’s theater department as well as the Board of Stewards, the student group that helps organize the weekly services at Hayworth Chapel.
She has completed theater internships in both Baltimore and the Chicago area, and at HPU, she’s done everything from direct plays to build sets to assist a visiting playwright to act in four mainstage productions.
She appreciates her many opportunities because she knows what she’s gained.
And it wasn’t what she expected.
‘I Knew I Could Do Something Here’
Watt grew up 23 miles east of Austin, Texas, in a tiny town known as Dripping Springs.
“That’s really ‘Drippin’ Springs,” Watt says. “You drop the ‘g.’ That’s what you do when you’re in the country.”
She grew up on 20 acres of land, the third of four children of Ed and Becky Watt. Ed is an attorney; Becky is a homemaker; and they homeschooled their children. Watt, their youngest daughter, took to the woods and let her imagination fly.
She and her friends created their own epic-adventure plays in the woods. She sang, took violin and piano lessons and rode a horse named Spicy. Meanwhile, she saw acting as what she wanted to do with her future.
She had acted in plays her entire life, and when it came time for college, she and her mother went to New York City where she auditioned for 18 colleges with acting conservatory programs.
In some instances, she knew she was one of 3,000 teenagers auditioning for seven spots. But her parents and her homeschooling gave Watt a sense of confidence and independence to believe in herself.
She thought she had a chance. It didn’t happen. She took a gap year and took classes in acting, improvisation and martial arts. She sold her horse, Spicy, and began re-evaluating her future.
During that time, she heard about what OnStage magazine called one of the country’s “most underrated” theater programs.
High Point University.
She came, she met Hedman and everything changed.
“When he sat down and talked to us for three hours, that clued me in that something different was happening at High Point,” she says today. “I was shocked that he recognized me from my interview, and for him to set aside that kind of time for me and my parents, it was very unexpected. I knew I could do something here.”
She has. In more ways than one.
The Value of Mentorship
Watt has been involved in more than a dozen productions on campus. She has become the student liaison for playwright Jessica Dickey when she visits on campus, and with the help of Hedman, she dove into the concept of dramaturgy.
To Hedman, dramaturgy is all about audience development. To Watt, it’s a way to use her writing skills and exercise her imagination.
Watt has researched HPU’s plays and put together playbills complete with QR codes that took theatergoers to websites Watt designed and filled with photos and content.
And the guidance Hedman gave?
“I need for you to do this,” Hedman would tell her.
And off Watt went.
“When I called her back about coming to High Point, I knew she would be a star,” Hedman says. “She needed to be at High Point. She’s so sharp, quick and metaphysically grounded. I credit her homeschooling and her parents for making her such a thoughtful, reflective person.
“I know in my letter of recommendation for Christine, I wrote that she has this ‘near alien level of competence.’ Everything she writes comes back to you without mistakes.”
Living Her Faith
Watt is a Presidential Scholar and a member of the Honor Scholars program. She’s also a member of three honor societies and the recipient of the Spotlight Award from HPU’s Department of Theater and Dance.
The award is given to a student who best reflects the department’s core values and principles. She does. She’s the department’s go-to for most everything — so much so the professors call her “Assistant Professor Watt.”
But where her service really shines is with HPU’s Board of Stewards.
As a sophomore, she became the coordinator for the university’s Angel Tree Project. Organized by the Salvation Army of High Point, the Angel Tree project raises money for local children in need, and they range from infant age to 14 years old.
Watt has coordinated the project for the past three years, and it grew. She started out raising money for 60 children. This year, that number has risen to 175.
She saw that growth take shape last fall in her suite in York Hall.
At least 150 trash bags full of toys.
And lots of scooters.
All that was inside her suite. She couldn’t look out her window, and she and her roommates had to create an oasis among the toys so they could sit on their couch and watch TV.
Still, she loved taking part in the Angel Tree Project. She felt she was living her faith, and it made her think of the Bible verse she has memorized. It’s Philippians 2:3-5.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”
Watt does believe that.
HPU: Where Dreams Become Real
Watt is now the president of the Board of Stewards, and this fall, she directed a staged reading of “Photograph 51,” a six-person science play that celebrated the new Wanek School of Natural Sciences. The reading took place in Wanek’s cathedral-like rotunda.
Her directorial debut comes after a summer acting internship two years ago with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Maryland and a dramaturgy internship last summer with Writers Theatre outside Chicago.
When she got the interview with Writers Theatre, she told Hedman. He knew the artistic director, made a phone call and said, “I’ve got this student ….”
Watt took it from there. Now, Chicago is in her future plans.
“That’s where the cool stories are being told,” she says.
Watt does have big plans. She wants to start a theater company in Chicago; she wants to go to graduate school to study something theater-related; and she wants to obtain a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Malaysia to middle and high school students.
She knows she can do it.
“It’s the experience I’ve gained in the theater department, the mentorship I’ve received from every single faculty member and the leadership opportunities I’ve had across campus,” she says. “All that has given me the confidence to go to Malaysia or Chicago or grad school.
“I know I can develop in new ways out in the world. I have no reason not to be ready.”