Positive space: Singer, actress Kennedy Vernengo


Oakland University senior and musical theatre major Kennedy Vernengo has had a love for the arts since she was a young child. She would travel to Chicago’s theater district to watch musicals, look up at the actors onstage and think to herself, “I would love to do that one day.”

Through her education at OU, as well as the many projects she has been involved in, Vernengo has seen her childhood dream come true.

Vernengo first stepped foot into the world of theater in her freshman year of high school. She participated in an outdoor production of “Footloose,” which she said was really bad but incredibly fun. 

“It was really hot, and the rain canceled half of our performances, but I still remember loving it so much,” Vernengo said. “That [production] definitely holds a special place in my heart. Even though it was really bad, I knew at the time I really, really enjoyed it.”

When Vernengo first decided on becoming a musical theatre major, she didn’t know where to begin. She wasn’t sure which university would have her best interests at heart, and she didn’t know that getting into a musical theatre program was a long and strenuous process.

“The process is insane,” she said. “You have to audition for all of these schools. You had to go in and you had to sing for them, and you had to do a monologue and a performance.”

Vernengo was leaning toward attending the University of Michigan until she went to a performing arts college fair and was introduced to OU. Vernengo knew her relationship with the university was meant to be when she booked a tour of the campus and had the opportunity to sit in on a few theater classes.

“I loved how [OU’s musical theatre program] felt like a family,” Vernengo said. “I knew that you would get a lot of one-on-one attention.”

Vernengo has been a part of several productions during her college career, her favorite being the recent staging of “A New Brain.” Vernengo played Mimi Schwinn, the main character’s mother.

“People were telling me that they thought I was actually a 50 year old woman, which did great things for my self-esteem,” she said, “but it was a good thing if they believed that I was, actually.” 

This past January, Vernengo was nominated for an Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) for her role in “A New Brain.” She had to perform two monologues and a scene in front of a group of adjudicators.

Vernengo did not expect anything to come of her experience at KCACTF until she was announced as a semi-finalist, and then a finalist. Though she did not win, Vernengo beat out over 800 people in the Midwest region in her quest for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship.

“Acting is like a tool — if you don’t use it for a while, then it gets rusty,” Vernengo said. “If anything, [KCACTF] was something to shape up my performing skills and something to keep me in check. Getting that far — I felt super proud of myself.”

Most recently, Vernengo starred in a production of the one-woman show, “Love, Linda,” a story told from the perspective of the wife of famed composer, Cole Porter. Though the thought of performing a one-woman show was intimidating, Vernengo said it ended up being a positive experience.

“I loved performing it,” she said. “It was perfect for Valentine’s Day, because it was all about love and it tells the story of the ups and downs of [Linda and Cole’s] relationship. Cole Porter was — and not a lot of people know this, but he was actually gay. They had a very interesting relationship.”

With graduation right around the corner, Vernengo is following any opportunity that comes her way. She is slowly venturing into the film, TV and commercial world in the city where her love for the craft first began. 

“I would love to eventually book something on-screen,” Vernengo said. “I know Chicago is a big place for that. I’m just going to see what opportunities come my way.”