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The Transformative Power of Theatre

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Kaity Young

Kaity Young Portrait

DU student Reanna Magruder finds purpose with the Prison Arts Initiative

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Reanna Magruder acting

Reanna Magruder acting in DU PAI's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" 

Wrestling with her analytical and creative sides, Reanna Magruder, a double-major in theatre and math, didn’t quite know where she fit in in her first years at DU. Her breakthrough moment happened when she became involved with the DU Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI), an organization that empowers the incarcerated population through the arts. Here, she discovered her place where all her passions came together — creativity, critical thinking and social justice.

This project was a manifestation of what I had been looking for but had never quite found: a way to bring the transformation that I have always experienced in theatre into a space where empathy, compassion, community, humanity and social change are so deeply needed,” she said.

Magruder was a part of the DU PAI’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which garnered nation-wide success and was featured in the “New York Times” and other major media outlets.

Reanna Magruder acting
Magruder in DU's Theatre for Social
Change class

Using theatre as a greater social change tool has the potential to shift not only individual’s lives, but the way we operate in society on a larger level,” Magruder offered. “I found my true passion in helping people in prisons feel seen, heard, joyful, engaged in life, connected with the world, compassionate and human through the production.”

Although COVID-19 has changed some of her graduation plans, she’s not letting it stop the long-term goals that she discovered through DU PAI. She will continue to work with DU PAI, pursue her acting and modeling career and eventually attend graduate school for applied theatre in prisons.

“I have grown to see this as a blessing in disguise, having the space to slow down a bit,” said Magruder. “I can let go of the rigidity that can come with plans, really assess what is important in my life and enjoy the little things before diving into the rush of post-graduate life.”

In times of hardship, Magruder proposes that we should never forget the power of art. Whether it’s local or revolutionary, the impact is there. 

“For me it can range from transformative therapeutic work, like in the prisons, or simply wanting to spread joy, and both are completely valid.”

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