Savannah with Lin-Manuel Miranda Savannah with Lin-Manuel MirandaThis past winter break, Savannah Ritz ’20 traveled to Puerto Rico with Lin-Manuel Miranda, his family, and the cast of the Tony Award–winning Hamilton a couple weeks before the show’s history-making run of performances on the island. Ritz was selected to participate in the experience as a recipient of the National Theater Institute’s (NTI’s) Miranda Family Fund scholarship, an award that helps support the inclusion of artists of color in theater. She had previously studied at the NTI’s musical theater program, which is based at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, in Waterford, Connecticut, in summer 2018.

“It was great—the absolute most amazing opportunity of my life—and I am so grateful,” gushes Ritz. “Meeting Lin was so inspiring and so much fun! I absolutely fell in love with the culture in Puerto Rico, and it was so cool to explore with my friends. All in all, it was the best time!”

Having the opportunity to meet a cultural icon was a rare, fantastic experience, but traveling around the globe is not new to the Southwestern junior: she has been performing onstage and gaining experience in arts administration for the past several years—work that has taken her from Texas to the Northeast to the U.K. to Puerto Rico and back again.

On and backstage

People often assume that Ritz is double-majoring in theater and business so that she can indulge in her passion but still make money, but they’d be wrong. “I love theater. It’s something that’s really important to me and makes me really happy, so I decided to dedicate my life to it. But in addition to performing, I’m also really interested in the business side of it: being an arts administrator, artistic director, or producer.” So when it came time to declare the two specializations within her theater major, Ritz chose performance and arts management—or rather, she invented the pairing. Studying business was the perfect complement: “I just wanted to understand the professional process that goes into any business administration because that is going to be important if I start my own production company. … It’s something that I think is going to aid me in achieving and getting as much as I can out of my theater major.”

This kind of planning—often years in advance—is a primary characteristic of Ritz’s personality, as is her self-deprecating sense of humor: she’s the kind of person who wakes up at 3 a.m. to make lists of theater graduate programs she wants to apply to two years before applications would be due. She attributes such habits to her being “a nerd” and “a crazy person” whereas others would simply call her “ambitious” and “prepared.” Another case in point: Ritz spent the fall of 2018 studying abroad with the Southwestern London Program, but she originally took notice of the opportunity when she was in high school. “When I applied to Southwestern way back when, this London program caught my eye. I’d never been to London, and I thought, ‘I love the city, and I love the theater. It would be amazing to spend a semester there.’” It became a deciding factor in choosing Southwestern.

Savannah Ritz '20 A rare opportunity

During her sojourn in the U.K. capital, Ritz took courses in British life and culture, consumer behavior, and international business. The last is a class taught by Andy Ross, Southwestern’s director of business internships, an assistant professor of business, and “a wonderful human being,” Ritz says. The class is only offered through study abroad. “I took that because I can’t take it at home,” she explains. “It’s kinda cool to take an international business course while studying internationally. … And I really enjoyed his consumer behavior class. It’s a really awesome class, and especially in London, we talked about consumer behavior in the U.K. as well as in the States, so it just broadened [our understanding] even further.”

Ever committed to intertwining business with performance and arts administration, Ritz asked her internship coordinators to help her find a placement in London’s thriving theater community. She found that position at the Actors Centre, the U.K.’s leading hub for performers from around the world. “They support artists and playwrights, directors and actors—everyone in the industry there,” she says. “They have classes, writer’s groups, a small theater that people can rent out, [and a] studio hire, so if you need to self-tape or want to run a rehearsal, it gives you a quiet space to work and create.” Ritz served as a communications intern for the Actors Centre, assisting with social media and creating advertising content. She also managed their annual fundraising event, the Agent-a-Thon, in which actors donate money to receive advice from theater, television, and film agents who have volunteered their time and expertise. “It’s a really nice environment, and it was very, very close to producing”—a rare opportunity for an undergraduate internship. Ritz is thankful to her advisors at Southwestern and its partner, the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES), for the experiences she enjoyed in London: “I got very lucky in that a lot of the people at IES and Professor Ross really helped me find a place that put my two majors together and benefited me moving forward. … I feel like I was able to get a lot out of the semester.”

“The flower of cities all”

Beyond school and work, Ritz was delighted by London’s cosmopolitan character. “It’s just a hub for so many things, for music and for business and finance—all this different stuff, and it’s just so crazy to be right in the middle of it. … The city gives so much, and things are constantly happening.” More specifically, the theater scene was transportive, with certain plays leaving Ritz positively breathless. “I got to see a lot of good theater—so good—and it blows my mind,” she shares. “I left a theater performance physically struggling for breath. … That’s amazing whenever someone’s art can actually physically affect you. It’s really great there.”

She also admires the effortless travel culture of Europe more generally—a culture she was not familiar with as a lifelong resident of Texas. “It’s like that saying: ’Americans think 100 years is a long time; Europeans think 100 miles is a long way,’” Ritz comments. “My roommate left for Dublin, and we had friends going to Barcelona. We were just traveling around the world, but it’s just crazy to me that I could be in Paris in a couple hours if I really wanted to.”

In addition to seeing the sights, studying abroad connected Ritz with many new friends who live not only in the U.K. but also in such far-flung locales as Budapest. It’s a highlight that Ritz relates to Southwestern’s core values. “It’s honestly my favorite thing,” she reflects. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m a theater person and I like diverse perspectives. I don’t know if it’s because when I was in high school, … their whole thing was trying to educate with a global perspective. But I value this experience because there’s not much point in learning and educating yourself without a global perspective. So I think study abroad is really cool and really important … . I don’t know who I’d be as a student if I hadn’t done this.”

“I value this experience because there’s not much point in learning and educating yourself without a global perspective. So I think study abroad is really cool and really important … . I don’t know who I’d be as a student if I hadn’t done this.”

Studying abroad for personal growth

That’s not to say that studying abroad presents no challenges. For Ritz, budgeting posed the greatest difficulty, including converting pounds to dollars and learning restraint when it came to purchasing theater tickets—even student-discounted passes can put a major dent in the pocketbook. “It comes for you in the night because you think you’re fine, and suddenly you’ve spent so much money,” she warns. “Having that budget but really working to stick to it [is important] because … you can get as much out of it as you can.” But learning those financial lessons was a valuable part of the experience. “There’s just a lot of growing in general [when] you’re studying abroad. If you’ve never been out of the country, it’s a lot to be away from your family, and it’s a lot to be away from all the friends that you have. But I’m really happy with the way I was able to grow as a person and become stronger academically there.”

To students who might be hedging about whether study abroad is right for them, Ritz enthusiastically exclaims, “Do it! Even if you think you can’t make it work, people like Tisha [Korkús, director of intercultural learning], people at Southwestern, and any professors who are going will make it work for you. … That’s Southwestern’s entire thing: the [students] who go here are the kind of people who want everything out of what they’re doing, and they’re very ambitious, and they’re just generally good human beings, so I think that everyone should [study abroad] at some point. It really opens your perspective and makes you a better student and human in general.”

“There and back again”

After returning to Southwestern from her semester in London and whirlwind trip to Puerto Rico, Ritz resumed her positions as a marketing and administrative intern as well as a box-office manager for the Sarofim School of Fine Arts. Next fall, she plans to study away again at the NTI in Connecticut—the company that enabled her to travel with the Miranda family to Puerto Rico over winter break. “I’m very excited and beyond grateful that I actually got in,” Ritz says. “It’s a really wonderful place and has given me a lot to think about in terms of what I’m going to be doing afterwards.” Afterwards might include graduate school, and this theater maven would love to return to the U.K. for further study. Alternatively, she would jump at the chance to return to the NTI as an apprentice or intern. Ultimately, she wants to end up in New York City doing what she loves. Whatever the future holds, Ritz’s confidence is unwavering, and audiences can undoubtedly look forward to seeing her perform and produce her own breathtaking theater back at Southwestern and beyond graduation.