Turtle Tales: Take the Unpaid Internship

Megan McQuillan'99. Photo courtesy of Megan McQuillan.

BRIAN SHOBE, Turtle Tales Columnist 

What does it mean to pratice the liberal arts? What do alums go on to do after graduation? And how does their Beloit education continue to influence them? This weekly series aims to answer each of those questions by sharing the thoughts and stories of your fellow turtles – lifelong practioners of the liberal arts. 

Flip on the TV and you might see her advertising pharmaceuticals. Go to a film screening in Japan, and you might see her in a Western-style movie. Or stop by a bar in New York City and you might just find her among a “small little clan of Beloiters that span many years and meet for beers.”

Her name is Megan McQuillan. She’s from the class of 1999 and a professional actress. As successful as she is now, she admits it was a long, hard journey. There were no well-worn paths from Beloit to New York, so her career was dependent on two things: hustle and creating her own opportunities.

Her first example of this was an unpaid directing internship at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis after graduation. She had never directed a play before, but immersed herself in the work and learned on the go. “I made myself available for anything,” she says.

Megan worked late nights and came to work early in the mornings. She stretched out the $500 she had in her pocket over four months and slept on the couch of her old RA’s parents. After that, the Guthrie Theatre hired her as an assistant stage manager, and she remained there in various paid and unpaid positions for another year. It was a watershed experience and propelled her forward into graduate school.

“Take the unpaid internship, if you can,” she advises current students. “Don’t get sucked into worrying about the practical stuff for the first couple years. Follow your curiosity and reconcile yourself to the fact that you’re going to be super poor for awhile. Practicing the liberal arts means pursuing a big full brain… not necessarily for any financial gain or public recognition.”

When asked how Beloit prepared her for a career in acting, she replies, “I have a breadth of knowledge[…]I have familiarity with art, geology, and different cultures of the world, which for what I do – I portray people from different backgrounds and places- is sort of key. I’m a more intelligent actor.”

Furthermore, “What Beloit did was strengthen me[…]as a human being[…]my intellect, my drive, my hustle. Because I was confident in my critical thinking skills and in my omnivorous learning, I was able to weather the challenges of the real world.”

One of those challenges is to make ends meet. “Acting isn’t a full-time job, you know,” she says. McQuillan works as a studio manager for a contemporary painter, a job she is serendipitously qualified for because of her museum studies minor and experience curating the student art gallery. “This sort of unintended pursuit of what I was interested in led me to my side job here in New York[…]weird[…]but this is so Beloit.”



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