I grew up in the south side suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, a place I still call home in my heart. I didn’t grow up a theatre kid, but the arts were very much a part of my life. I started dancing when I was 4years old. After years of dance and dreams of being a ballerina my body began to take shape, the once tiny petite form suddenly became a petite hourglass figure by age 10. My ballet teacher and I both knew I would never have the build for a ballerina. But I kept dancing because I felt so deeply connected to the grace and beauty of this expression, it made me feel something that I didn’t feel with anything else in the world. When I was 12 my family moved to Texas. Talk about a culture shock! I didn’t dance again for four years. Though the move felt devastating, I would realize years later that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was the next step in shaping the future career that, unbeknownst to me, had already chosen me. In high school I joined a choir program that was one of the best in the nation. I began to learn musicianship, technique, I learned to sight read, to work as an ensemble, to compete at the national level. As a sophomore I auditioned and was placed in Chamber Choir, Vocal Ensemble And also became a member of Premiere which was an exclusive women’s group who sang and danced  – performing a program with music from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  My senior year I also became the vocalist for the Jazz Band – learning a whole new repertoire with the most incredible young musicians. I performed at a multitude of venues throughout San Antonio and various Jazz competitions. I was finding my voice, slowly but surely breaking down the walls that seemed to exist between myself and my freedom of expression.

At this moment in time I saw my first professional musical. As a kid the only  musicals I had ever seen were movie musicals. I was captivated by The King and I and The Man of La Mancha. But in the 1980’s, PBS aired the Papermill Playhouse production of Showboat on television and there was an audience??!! I was glued to the television. For years, even as the video tape deteriorated I would still watch it, often late at night when I couldn’t sleep. That production is still severed into my memory to this day. In High school I saw a touring production of Les Miserable and I was floored. What was this thing?? I was completely engulfed in the experience, speechless, I cried – it just exploded out of me. Soon after I saw another touring production, of Miss Saigon – I basically was a basket of tears by the end of the show. Barely a human. I had never felt so much before. I wanted to be part of that – I wanted to feel that again and again and again.

As I graduated high school the connection still hadn’t clicked. I was all set to go off to school to do vocal performance (Opera) – because I still didn’t understand that musical theatre was a thing you could major in in college. A turn of events – and I decided to take a year off from school entirely. During this time I found out about auditions for a theatre program. I decided to go for it – though I still didn’t really know what IT was. I didn’t get in. I was heart broken, but I didn’t know why? I didn’t even know what this thing was so why was I so devastated when I couldn’t have it? The head of the department called me to tell me I didn’t get into the program. But he made me an offer…according to him my lack of knowledge of theatre came through loud and clear when I basically did everything wrong in my audition. “Here’s the good news,” he said, “when you sing, you become a different person, you come alive! I want to see if we can get that out of you as an actor?”. So, he let me take classes with their theatre majors – then I re-auditioned and  three months later and was accepted into the program. I knew, the day I got that call that this was what I was meant to do. With all the years of feeling like I was just catching up, the overwhelming doubt, self criticism, the fear of having all eyes on me while also loving the act of being on that stage and questioning whether this was the right path for me…I never stopped. I kept pursuing, because somewhere deep down inside me I knew this was where I belonged, I knew there was nothing in the world I wanted more.

15 years later I’m still here. My journey is my own, my mistakes are my own, my success is measured by the fact that I keep going, I keep fighting, I keep working, I keep showing up. I have been blessed to work in this a lot in this business and I look forward to the years to come. We each have our own beautiful journey – I hope you find yours!

-Sarah Smith

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