Becoming Sarah...Part One

Alicia Dempster

As most of the people reading this know, I am a theatre person. Not just someone that likes theatre. Theatre has always been my jealous mistress and her art, from page to stage, is something that will always tug at me, pulling me to her. I spent my formative years hanging around my father’s theatre and as soon as I was able to be a part of a production, I was hooked. I did shows through middle school and high school, graduated with a Theatre/Musical Theatre double-major from Ohio Northern University and have continued to pursue it in some way, shape or form since I left college. 

I spent most of my educational theatre experience on the stage. However, I the latter part of my college years saw me dividing my time between performing and stage managing/directing. The older I got, the more I found myself shifting from the performing side to the artistic/production side of things. Since the mid-90s, my resume is largely comprised of directing and producing credits. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve appeared onstage since 1994.*

I don’t audition for shows because I truly love directing and, generally speaking, my directing schedule eats up a good chunk of my calendar. The other reason is because there are a few age-appropriate roles that resonate with me. As the mother of three with a full-time job, I have to be selective about the projects I take on. As it would happen, there were a few shows with roles that piqued my interest: Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire and Pam in Oblivion. As luck would also have it, my directing schedule calmed down a bit. So I auditioned for both and was cast in neither. I was disappointed, yes, but as a director I am very pragmatic. I was able to lick my wounds in short order and move on. As my husband says, “There will always be shows.”

Then in November 2014, TheatreWorks New Milford announced that they were doing Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still. The play is a drama about a photojournalist and her reporter boyfriend dealing with their changing relationship while she recovers from injuries sustained in an Iraqi roadside bombing. The role is Sarah Goodwin, which was originated by Laura Linney in both the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions. And, miraculously, a few weeks ago I was cast in that role.


With great excitement, I took to Facebook and posted that obligatory humble brag: I am so excited to announce that I will be portraying the role of Sarah Goodwin in Theatreworks New Milford's production of Donald Margulies' riveting play TIME STANDS STILL! This is my first significant dramatic role in over 20 years and I am thrilled (and terrified) beyond measure to sink my teeth into this one! (Roll your eyes as ye may, I felt that in this instance a little boasting could be withstood by my friends and acquaintances, most of whom are theatre people. Naturally.)

The reality is, after reviewing my performing resume, I haven’t had a leading role in a play in over 30 years. Not since my high school production of Life With Father. I’ve had leads in musicals and some great supporting roles in plays but not a principal role in a play. The last time I was cast in a lead was in 1995. Ironically, it was as Sarah in Children of a Lesser God at TheatreWorks. Sadly, the production ended up being cancelled and I never had the chance to portray Sarah. Now, 20 years later, I will bring a different Sarah to life on the TheatreWorks’ stage.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my thoughts on easing out of the director’s chair and returning to the stage. I will also be discussing the process of developing a complex character from both the technical and artistic perspectives. What lies before me is one of the most challenging and invigorating experiences of my life: Becoming Sarah. And I can’t wait!

* Gladys, a gender-bent role in The Diviners, Ensemble in Barnum and Assassins and Annie in A Christmas Twist. I also stepped into a production of My First Time that I was directing when one of my actresses had to leave the production the night before opening because of a family emergency. 

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