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Four times a day, Meadows dances in flashy costumes and sings songs of "Big Top Dreams," the show she performed in this summer.

Mackenzie Meadows looked out her bedroom window and was surprised to see the sun rising. She looked over at her clock: 6 a.m. She glanced at the three songs in front of her, and while she may have been a little tired after staying up all night writing down her thoughts before they disappeared, she wasn’t too upset. 

“When creativity hits, you just do it,” the senior musical theatre major said. “It’s just such a rush. [Writing] is my favorite thing to do, especially when I’m feeling inspired.”

Meadows has been singing, dancing and writing music for as long as she can remember. When she was in high school, she stumbled upon musical theater and knew it was right for her. After she found out she could major in musical theatre at JMU, she was ecstatic. She’s never looked back. 

This summer, Meadows performed at Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She was a part of its new show, “Big Top Dreams.” The performance tells the story of Annie, a sweeper at the circus who dreams of ditching her broom to become a star. The high-energy show is a little more than 20 minutes long and runs four times a day.

In “Big Top Dreams,” Meadows performs as a swing, meaning she studies multiple major roles and performs them throughout the season. While it was nerve-wracking, she remembers the excitement of going on stage for one of those roles.

“When we had to go in the first day of performances, it was just a rush,” Meadows said. “Although it was difficult at first, I didn’t realize how much I was learning just by watching it every day during the rehearsal process. It was honestly a little easier than I thought it was going to be every day, but it was still intimidating.”

Desmond Montoya, a recent graduate of the University of Alabama, plays the Harlequin Clown in “Big Top Dreams.” He explained that while performing multiple times a day can be exhausting, it also gives the performer artistic freedom to explore their characters.

“It’s really fun to get out there for those 23 minutes and assess what you did and how maybe you want to try something different in the next show,” Montoya said. “You really have the freedom to continue to make choices throughout the whole process.”

Much like the main character in “Big Top Dreams,” Meadows has always dreamed of becoming a star. She’s been singing and writing ever since she can remember and knew she always wanted to be a performer. She views her music as an emotional outlet to help her through hardships and troubled times. 

This summer, Meadows released her first single, “Good for Me.” Although she wrote the song in 2015 while still in high school, the message resonates with her all these years later. 

“I wrote [‘Good for Me’] in 2015 when a stupid boy from high school broke my heart,” Meadows said. “I just remember it being one of the first songs that I wrote that really stuck with me, something that I was proud and something I really love. I’d written a bunch of other things, but that was just a full song, and it meant something to me.”

Along with “Good for Me,” she was able to record six additional songs last summer, which she plans on releasing in an EP around Christmas this year. She explained that being in the studio was a creative experience and that by the end of her sessions, it felt like home. 

“It felt surreal, but it also felt so right,” Meadows said. “I remember [thinking] this is where I’m supposed to be. I feel comfortable here. I feel comfortable to make mistakes. I just loved every second of it.”

Al Gravina, a junior musical theatre major at JMU, is Meadows’ close friend and her self-proclaimed No. 1 fan. He thinks her music can connect to a large audience and that it shows her versatility as a performer. 

“I think what she’s doing is really awesome and really cool because it’s different than musical theater,” Gravina said. “She really is passionate about it, and I’ve even heard some of her unreleased stuff, and I just think it is so awesome.”

As Meadows’ starts her senior year, she’s excited for what the future may hold. She wants her music to be impactful for her listeners and help them through tough times, just as her songwriting has done for her. 

“I want to be the next Beyonce. That’s all there is to it,” Meadows said. “It sounds crazy, but I have known my entire life that that’s what I want to do. I want to travel the world and have my songs mean something to someone because music has always been there for me, and it’s my only true love.” 

Contact Camryn Finn at finnce@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.