“I was born and raised here,” said Sara Gorby, education and production director for St. Thomas Playhouse. Her story is one of theater, performance, the pursuit of dreams, the power of community and the importance of teaching the arts to future generations.
Though now a director in her own community-based theater company, Gorby arrived not through acting or stagecraft, but music.
“I’m a singer and a dancer first, an actor third,” she said.
A lifelong devotee of the arts, she said her first love was music, established at a young age. As an adult, since coming to the playhouse in 2008, she has devoted herself to fostering a love of the arts in the children of the Wood River Valley.
In doing so, she follows the examples of her own mentors and teachers. Gorby traced the roots of her artistry all the way back to elementary school, giving special credit to her music teacher, Paula Schwab.
“She gave me some solos, taught me to sing,” Gorby said. “That was my introduction to the arts—music in elementary school with Paula Schwab.”
In fifth grade, she and a friend wrote, directed, cast and produced their own rendition of “Cinderella,” based largely on the animated Disney classic. This was her first substantial experience behind the scenes in a theatrical setting, and, as she said, “We did it in our lunchroom at Hailey Elementary.”
Apart from a play or two in high school, “Cinderella” represented the extent of Gorby’s stage repertoire until she pursued higher education at College of Southern Idaho and later at the University of Utah. At the former, age 19, she decided on a whim to audition for the school musical, “Annie Get Your Gun,” expecting a minor role. Instead, she landed the titular heroine.
“That was my first musical ever,” she said. “I caught the bug and that was it. I realized this is what I want to do.”
After college, she returned to the valley where she was raised. Though she was not previously a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sun Valley, the church’s theatrical offerings—the playhouse—drew her in.
She began working at the church in 2005 and joined the playhouse as a regular staff member before long. Shortly thereafter, Gorby began to develop what became known as Company B, St. Thomas’ summer day camp.
“I was really interested in doing something different and new for the valley,” she said, highlighting the multifaceted theatrical education participating children receive.
The performance-based camp teaches children all aspects of theater, from acting and dancing to costume design and set construction.
The impact Gorby and the playhouse have on children is plain to see.
“In theater, sometimes there are hundreds of people watching just you speak. For a kid, that really empowers them to feel that their voice matters,” said Brett Moellenberg, managing director of the playhouse. “That’s something they can carry through life well beyond doing theater.”
Gorby has found that many of the children she works with experience the same magic of performance that inspired her years ago.
“We hear from parents as their children get into middle school and high school how much their experience has helped them in theater,” she said. “They’re giving presentations or working on their senior projects, and they’re really comfortable in their skin.”
Her perspective is not limited to that of a teacher, though, as she also witnesses this firsthand as the mother of a sixth-grade daughter, Ida Belle, who has taken after both her mother and father, developing a keen love of theater.
Clearly, some qualities are inherited.
“My sixth-grader loves theater. She’s very involved and she’s really coming into her own. My husband’s also in theater, too,” she noted, with a chuckle. “Some people are soccer families. We’re a theater family.”