Why did you decide to go into theatre as a career? Was theatre something you always knew you wanted to pursue?
I wasn’t always sure theatre education was going to be my career path but I definitely fell in love with the arts in middle and high school and pursued theatre as I went further in my education. I went to the Goodman School of Drama and had a wonderful experience there. I later moved to Seattle and for a short amount of time started a small theatre company with a few other people. We were responsible for raising money, finding space, doing everything. I was lucky enough to meet somebody who had a space for the company and was looking for someone to teach elementary age acting classes. Within 20mins of teaching that first class I knew that theatre education was what I was meant to do. Teaching fulfills me artistically, it’s fantastic being in a classroom with young people who are making connections and participating. I immediately pursued more teaching and training opportunities and that’s really what I’ve been doing ever since.
So that was your first experiencing with teaching and then after that you knew you wanted to continue?
Yes, I knew that was what I was meant to do. And honestly I think timing is everything. I was in the right place at the right time as a lot of creative teaching techniques were being developed. Whenever I speak about our field and people who are interested in pursuing a role similar to mine I think I had the right background for that right moment in time and worked very hard to continue to grow and develop with the field. Twenty-five years from now, perhaps the next wave of theatre educators will have a different background.
How did you become involved with Seattle Children’s Theatre?
Before I came here I was a drama teacher in schools and worked as a teaching artist and arts administrator at a few other theatres. I still remember the first time I was sitting in the audience at an SCT Mainstage show with my oldest daughter saying to myself this is where I want to be. SCT has such an incredible history and reputation. My first position at SCT was as a teaching artist. We have a very large drama school program and we are also out in schools for hundreds of hours each year. We also have programs for training classroom teachers focusing on how they can integrate drama into their practice. So the impact of our program spreads even further. My first connection to SCT was as a teacher, and that has always helped me in my job to know what elements are needed to run a successful class, how to train our teaching artists so they can be successful, and how to train classroom teachers.
What advice do you have for anyone breaking into the field of theatre for young audiences?
Many things come to mind. Be flexible. Be willing to work very very very hard. Never ever stop learning. I think something that’s really helped me in my career path is the idea that everyday there’s the opportunity to learn something new. Even running a large successful program, we are always interested in morphing and doing the right things for our programs. Never stand still. In this career, always be willing to learn and grow.
Can you talk about your role as President of TYA/USA, and how TYA/USA has helped your career?
TYA/USA is the United States branch of the international organization ASSITEJ. It’s a real honor to be board president and serve with an incredible group of people who share the same passion for the field. The board and membership bring a wonderful diverse TYA perspective.
We’re spread out all over the country, and it does sometimes feel like you’re in your own in your own little bubble, inventing programming. TYA has allowed me to make connections with colleagues all over the country and that have been so valuable. We’re able to share our best practices and then learn about the best practices in from people all over the world. Being board president means having the opportunity to work with an incredibly dedicated board to make sure we provided important resources for the field and act as a conduit for field wide connections. That includes TYA Today magazine, offering an Ann Shaw Fellowship, professional development webinars and field gatherings such One Theatre World. And then not only connecting TYA in the US, but seeing how we fit into the international picture as well.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing the impact on the young people we serve. My biggest joy is being in a classroom with young people who are actively engaged, are being brave and feeling safe to use their creativity. Being in the classroom with students means you have the immediate opportunity to assess the value of a program and I feel really privileged to see that happen right in front of me on a daily basis.
Karen Sharp is the Education Director for Seattle Children’s Theatre. She has taught and coordinated arts education programs for almost 20 years including several years as a drama specialist in a public elementary school. Karen began teaching for Seattle Children’s Theatre in 1998 and has taught classes for students ages 3 through 21 years old in addition to training classroom teachers how to integrate drama into core curriculum areas. In 1999 Karen joined the SCT staff, beginning her tenure as the Education Outreach Coordinator, and then serving as the Drama School Director, and, since 2005, as SCT Education Director where she oversees both the Drama School and Outreach programs and is responsible for spearheading the educational vision for SCT. In addition Karen is an adjunct faculty member for the Seattle University MFA Arts Leadership program, Cornish College of the Arts and has been a guest lecturer at several universities. Recently she collaborated with Shakespeare Center Los Angles to develop a creative drama performance piece. Karen has presented at several local and national conferences including the 2011 and 2013 One Theatre World conferences, 2012 AATE Theatre in our Schools regional conference and the 2013 AATE national conference. Karen is the current Board President of TYA/USA and Secretary of The Winifred Ward Scholarship Foundation.