SPOTLIGHT: Director Sarah Barthel

IMG_1783Age: 40

Job: Educator & Theatre Director

Contact Info: @lompochighdrama on Instagram and Lompoc High Drama on Facebook

What is your background in theatre and education?

I’ve been teaching at Lompoc High since 2000, and for the first 2 years I taught Math. I’ve been the Theatre Director since 2002 and the Visual & Performing Arts Department Chair since 2017. Since I play the piano, my principal asked me to take on a section of choir as well. For this coming school year I will continue as the Theatre Director, but will also teach a Calculus class and Choir class. 

My grandmother loved music and encouraged me and my cousins to put on little performances for her in her living room. Sometimes we lip-synced, sometimes we created short plays. She would pay us in candy or quarters! My dad is a drummer and throughout my life he played with several different bands. Most of my early musical theatre knowledge comes from sitting on the floor by his drum set during rehearsals or even performances. 

By time I got to college I was ready to be a math teacher. My plan was to teach during the school year and audition for summer stock theatre when I could. But when I saw audition notices go up on campus, I couldn’t stay away from the theatre. After a year of participating in almost every theatre production at my college, the principal director suggested I take some theatre classes and earn a second major since I was doing all the performance work anyway. I graduated summa cum laude in 1999 with a BS in Mathematics and Theatre.

Since 2011 I’ve worked with the Young People’s Project at PCPA, teaching and coordinating alongside workshop leaders, choreographers, and music directors. 

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What do you love most about the theatre?

Theatre allows me both to experience other people’s perspectives and to share mine. I love the cyclical nature of theatre work. There is a structure to the process in which my left-brain self relishes: auditions, rehearsals, technical work, previews, opening and closing. Theatre can celebrate, it can teach, it can reprimand, it can help us look back, and it can honor. Theatre can give a voice to those who often go unheard. It is a place where a family naturally forms and students find a support system beyond their loved ones at home. Theatre gives us a way to express things that we sometimes can’t put into words. 

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How do you nurture creativity in your students?

Whenever possible, I try to give them choice in the activities we do. Usually that means providing some kind of structure within which anything goes. We’ve written sketch comedy skits, we’ve tackled contentless scenes, we’ve played improv games… The beautiful thing about theatre class is that no two are ever alike with so many different personal journeys, experiences, and stories coming into the classroom every year. Above all, I encourage my students to share what they have: they may not be the best singer or the best dancer or the best actress, but they do have things to offer that can open themselves up for their art.

Are there other areas of your life where you exercise creativity?

I play the piano at our church. Though I am much more of a music reader than an improvising musician, I’ve gotten good at fudging transitions to time the music out with whatever is happening in the service. 

I also truly believe that teaching is one of the professions that requires the most creativity. Parenting is similar: how do I get the kids to pick up their Legos AND set the table? Hmm…that requires some creativity! 

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