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When Caitlin Elliott heard her name announced as the first recipient of The Greg Chew Theater Scholarship, she knew she was taking on a legacy. Caitlin didn’t work directly with Greg Chew during his 35 years as an English teacher and drama director at Urbana High School, but she was aware of the impact he had on his students, and on high school theater. “It feels very surreal to be mentioned with Greg Chew.” she says. “Everyone at UHS respected him so much. I feel a great responsibility to carry out his dreams for theater, and for artists.”
Receiving this scholarship affirmed Caitlin’s passion for theater and validated her pursuit of the arts. “Theater can be a hard career because there is not a clear cut path,” she explains. Like Greg Chew, Caitlin regards theater as more than a means of self-expression. She sees it as an opportunity to connect with the human experience and create a shared understanding between people.
During her senior year at Urbana High School, Caitlin performed as Jo Marsh in Little Women. “Playing Jo Marsh allowed me to step into someone else’s life and understand why they are the way they are,” she explains. Caitlin enjoyed being part of a small cast where she could explore how families interact. As the cast explored their relationships onstage, it influenced their relationships offstage, and Caitlin forged lasting friendships with cast members.
This spring, Caitlin played a housewife in Working, a musical based on Studs Terkle’s book People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. As part of their preparation for the show, all of the cast members interviewed someone in the community who shared the same job as their character. Caitlin said those interviews clarified her role and provided a strong sense of community. After one performance, Caitlin was approached by a stay-at-home mom in the audience. “What you said on stage was exactly what I want my husband or my family or others to know,” the parent told her.
Theater is a difficult field, but creating this shared understanding is the reason Caitlin wants to pursue it.
Caitlin is eager to begin her formal training at the University of Illinois as a media and cinema studies student this fall. Since 2001, Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation has awarded nearly $83,000 in scholarships and awards. The Greg Chew Theatre Scholarship fund was established in May, 2014, at the time of Mr. Chew’s passing. Caitlin Elliot is the first recipient.