Alum spotlight: Donna Coghill (BFA ’90, MFA ’94)

woman with tape over mouth holding peace sign

Donna Coghill BFA 1990, MFA 1994 in pedagogy

Like so many theatre folk, Donna’s career started in her Prince George County elementary school. “I did shows and even some modeling. I played Clara in the Nutcracker and I modeled on the runway…some mall thing.” She continued to do shows throughout school , “I decided to major in theatre because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

photo credit Eric Dobbs

After considering basically all of the schools in Virginia with theatre programs, “VCU was the most impressive by far. Dr. Parker blew me away. VCU was my only choice!”

Donna remembers, “My favorite class was basic scene design taught by Ron Keller. I learned so much about analyzing scripts in a different way and thinking about the visual elements of a script…something I could bring into directing and acting. And also Ron Keller was such a warm person and he brought a lot of himself into his teaching, which is beneficial to the students.”

(Right) Donna in “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” at RTP in 2010.

After graduating, Donna went to Virginia Beach where she worked as a bartender to start paying off her student loans. She chose to go back to VCU for her MFA, “because I knew I could get what I wanted in a master’s program. I had a good rapport with the professors and knew that RVA had a solid theatre scene, which I wanted to come back and explore. It was important to be able to do theatre in school and professionally at the same time.”

(third from left) Donna in “The Life of Hannah” at Firehouse Theatre, 2012.

When she returned, “My favorite class was Seminar with Dr. Campbell. We really got into the nitty gritty of a lot of different topics and perspectives as a large group. Dr Campbell pushed everyone to analyze all of their thoughts. You couldn’t just say something, you had to whittle it down to the finest detail. I don’t know that anyone had ever pushed me as hard as he did.”

(from right) Donna Coghill, Kristen Swansen, and Amy Berlin. From a Style piece on “All’s Well That Ends with Monique” that Donna directed in 2011.

Donna’s graduate school job was as a library research assistant. She kept that after graduation and has been a librarian at Cabell Library for 28 years. “I love working at VCU because it is such a diverse institution. People throw that word around and it is beginning to lose its meaning, but I truly believe it.” Plus, as she points out, “Luckily, I don’t have to grade!”

Donna and the VCU libraries crew

Donna has always made time to work in theatre. She’s directed, produced and acted for many local companies over the years. “I’ve also been lucky that Richmond has such a vibrant theatre community, and one that has continued to welcome me as a part of it.”

Donna has been a longtime booster of VCU and our alumni. She was on the VCU alumni board for six years because, “I think it is important to give back and I wanted to see if I could impact the theatre alumni from a place on a larger board.” She’s also driven several efforts to get us back in communication, including setting up the early mailing list that’s evolved into the one we use for this newsletter. We all thank you, Donna, for your tireless enthusiasm and commitment to VCUarts Theatre! 

Compiled by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the December 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter