A&S Class of '24: Actor Cecilia Huang Has Sights Set on Success Behind the Scenes

Drama major and Miller Arts Scholar Cecilia Huang
A Miller Arts Scholar, Cecilia Huang has been accepted in Northwestern University's graduate Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.
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Xinmeng (Cecilia) Huang spent many of her childhood weekends in theaters and movie theaters. She loved watching performance — on the stage and screen — and performing grew into a high school passion that bloomed at the University of Virginia.

Huang declared drama as her major after one introductory acting class, and she has been “unstoppable” since then, Department of Drama chair Richard Will said. Huang directed and acted in numerous Department of Drama and student club productions and was admitted to UVA’s Miller Arts Scholars Program, an interdisciplinary collective of University artists supported by grants and a creative community that serves to embolden their art.

And while continuing to act in major Department of Drama productions such as the 2022 stage version of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” — Huang played the meddling, good-natured widow, Mrs. Jennings — she developed a skill and flair for overseeing the behind-the-scenes skills required to produce major theatrical shows. Huang has accepted a spot this fall in Northwestern University’s Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a competitive master’s program for creative people seeking to develop business and entrepreneurial skills for careers in entertainment, media and the arts.

“I came to UVA thinking that maybe pre-law would be a path, but I’ve been a drama kid and a theater kid my whole life,” said Huang, who was born in mainland China. “The major shift for me has been shifting toward more of the organization level of theater, learning about the administrative side managing productions.”

Working with spreadsheets and crunching numbers for drama productions did not come naturally for Huang, but she was a quick study, watching YouTube videos and taking online courses to master those duties quickly. She also credits the College’s UVA Catalyst program, an undergraduate program designed to help Arts & Sciences students flourish in the world of work after graduating, with helping her recognize the many professional skills she had developed through acting and stage production.

“Catalyst helped me recognize all the skills I have thanks to drama. I remember one class when Asst. Prof. Charlie Gleek asked us to write down all the relevant skills we use [in our extracurriculars and other activities]. When I finished my list, I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s a lot!’" said Huang, who served as president of the Miller Arts Scholar program this past year. "I had communication skills, project management experience, leadership roles … I even taught myself how to read financial statements, which is something I had to do as chair of Spectrum Theatre [a student run theater at UVA] to report our finances to the University.”

For the past year, Huang also served as an intern for UVA’s Darden Center for Global Initiatives at the Darden School of Business. Her duties there included leading a competitive benchmarking analysis of MBA programs at 25 peer universities and reviewing Darden’s philanthropy project, Darden Art.

“Those are all skills I could have developed majoring in finance or computer science, and those are fantastic majors, don’t get me wrong,” Huang said. “But I also learned a lot about how to think critically and do things strategically through my experience in drama and my liberal arts classes.”


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