Shay Manuela ’21. (Photo by Jayne Wexler)

OWU junior at SNL connects with OWU alumnus

Shay Manuela’s life as an Ohio Wesleyan student at the New York Arts Program is different in many ways from the one JP Olsen ’87 lived.

During Olsen’s Big Apple semester in the fall of 1985, he lived at the gritty Paramount Hotel near Times Square, where he saw Andy Warhol at a movie theater on his first day in the program. On television, he could watch Saturday Night Live airing in its 11th season from the NBC studios nearby, with a cast that included Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Lovitz.

Since Manuela arrived in September, she has ended most of her days gazing at the Manhattan skyline from across New York Harbor in Brooklyn Heights, the new home of OWU’s New York Arts Program. And though she spends her evenings in Brooklyn, her daytime view of SNL is much closer.

In her NYAP internship, Manuela is helping to produce the 45th season of NBC’s legendary live sketch comedy program, televised weekly from Rockefeller Center.

“I feel like I’m gaining the best internship experience imaginable: hands-on, in the media capital, with professionals in the field,” says Manuela, a communication major. “Many of the people I work with have been working for SNL for longer than I’ve been alive, which gives me access to knowledge and advice that will prove valuable for the rest of my professional career.”

From the week of the show’s September season premiere through the end of her internship in December, Manuela will be part of the cast of hundreds responsible for turning out the award-winning variety show known for its acerbic satire of American politics and pop culture.

Once you’re in these internships, you’re there.

JP Olsen ’87

New York Arts Program Artist-in-Residence
and Director of Original Programming at HBO

Manuela says SNL is an “ideal learning ground” for how to contribute to a “high-functioning” team in the fast-paced media field. As part of the show’s musical production staff, she works with band and musical guests such as the pop stars Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift. Her four-day week on the job ends with the live show on Saturday, when she gets to see the finished product of the cast and crew’s efforts.

“What I love most about it is seeing the contrast between what is happening backstage to create the result that people see on the television,” Manuela says.

SNL is known across the world — including in Manuela’s native Netherlands, where she says the internet and social media have facilitated its popularity. She’s a fan of 16-year SNL veteran Kenan Thompson, whom she met in her internship’s first week. “He had a role in nearly all of my favorite sketches, and I admire the versatility of roles he can play,” she says.

The NYAP experiences of Manuela and Olsen — though separated by seven subway stops and more than three decades — have brought them together. Call it their NYAP Connection.

They met at OWU last fall, when Olsen, now a journalist and filmmaker, returned to campus and had lunch with the group of students and talked about the New York Arts Program.

Then this fall, Olsen returned to the program as an artist-in-residence. Manuela now attends his NYAP seminar, in which he led a recent discussion on how technology has changed the media industry. And he provides guidance to Manuela and other students.

Director of original programming at HBO JP Olsen leads a seminar, one of his responsibilities as an artist-in-residence at the program where he participated as an OWU student in 1985. (Photo by Noah Manskar ’15)

Olsen’s 1985 NYAP internship at The Paris Review had him sorting through submissions by day and sometimes hobnobbing with literary lions such as Norman Mailer by night. He says the program set him on a path that has led to his current role as director of original programming at HBO, with stops at CBS News, PBS, and The New York Times.

“That experience put me in an environment where I recognized that if you’re good at your job, and you’re working hard, and you’re contributing things of value and being thoughtful about what you’re doing, that there’s a place for you,” Olsen says. “That seat at the table was not a seat that I thought was available to me until I was there. I guess that’s kind of my lesson to all students — once you’re in these internships, you’re there.”

Manuela hopes to maintain a connection with NBCUniversal after her time with SNL. Her NYAP experience also has her thinking about returning to New York for graduate school — though she says her internship will give her professional and personal tools to build on wherever she goes.

And when she leaves in December, Manuela says she’ll miss looking out across the water at the sleepless city that has been a proving ground for innumerable OWU students.

“It’s at those moments that I really have time to stop and realize I’m in New York City,” she says.

By Noah Manskar ’15, a journalist in New York City.

Return to the Winter 2020 OWU Magazine