It’s spring! Well, not quite. But it certainly feels like it. So welcome to early spring and welcome to “7 Questions” … Sara Strehle Duke, the Executive Director of Encore Stage & Studio. With over 165 full-scale, high-quality plays to its name, Encore is a unique educational community theatre, providing opportunities both onstage and backstage to kids of all ages. Read on to learn more!
1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?
We just wrapped up our production of Night at the Wax Museum: the Musical. There were awakened wax figures, undercover agents, and high schoolers (!) running all over the stage, stopping every now and then to do a dance number. I particularly enjoyed this production because it allowed our student actors to tackle some pretty interesting historical characters: Henry VIII, Butch Cassidy, Cleopatra, Madame Ching, and Lizzie Borden to name a few. The cast and crew did a wonderful job. I think we all had fun with it and learned a little as well.
2. What else are you up to?
We are busy rehearsing our next production, The Brothers Grimm: Out of Order. This show will have a longer than usual run. Besides our eight regular performances, we have been asked to perform at the Arlington Artisphere and the Cherry Blossom Festival. It will be a great opportunity to expose our actors and crew members (all between ages 9 to 18) to new performance venues and new audiences.
Also, our Education Department is currently hosting classes after school and on Saturday mornings. We are offering everything from musical theatre classes to imaginative play for little ones. We are especially proud of our partnership with Kenmore Middle School, where we hold a drama and playwriting class for English as a second language students.
3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?
As a little girl, I would perform made up operas and plays on my parent’s fireplace “stage.” There are several embarrassing home videos of this just itching to be put on YouTube. I credit my parents for encouraging me to explore my dramatic side; they were the ones behind the camera after all. They drove me to and from countless rehearsals. Never once did they question my decision to major in theatre. They have always been behind me 100%!
4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?
Amy Murphy, Managing Director of the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Arden Professional Apprentice program. Amy lets six or so enthusiastic graduates enter her “theatre boot camp” each season. It was a crash course in everything about theatre management — from replacing the toilet paper in the bathrooms, to meeting with donors and managing budgets. In my opinion, Amy is running the best arts administration program out there. It entirely changed my perspective of how a theatre functions and its role in the community. Most importantly, it inspired me to find a creative outlet behind the scenes, in the office. So much more than an internship, the apprentice program is essential to the Arden’s operations; we were treated as valued members of the staff (with paychecks and health insurance). I learned about how a theatre runs from top to bottom and it was an excellent complement to my degree. Thank you for being an awesome teacher, Amy!
5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?
Kids grow up. We are always replacing our actors, stage managers, and crew members as they graduate and go on to college. But I think our greatest challenge is also our greatest contribution. Some of our kids go on to work in the theatre, but most grow up to be attorneys, teachers, scientists… We have the opportunity to instill creativity, teamwork, and innovation in the workforce of the future. It’s a big responsibility.
6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?
Keep in touch with the art. I thoroughly enjoy directing a show or teaching a class every year. It reminds me why I love theatre and working with the kids gives me the opportunity to escape the everyday rush.
7. What’s next?
Putting theatre on the internet. How can we share a show beyond our four walls and make it feel authentic? How can we continue to expand the reach of our programming? We want the creativity of our kids to reach beyond our proscenium. Whether its taking our art to the internet or using it to tackle difficult issues, like bullying, we want to continue to challenge our student actors to help them develop into thoughtful, creative young people, ready to tackle the problems of the next generation.
EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?
Eleanor Roosevelt, J.K. Rowling, and C.S. Lewis.