If Johanna Cabatingan has one simple piece of advice for anyone contemplating a career in theater and willing to get in on the ground floor, it's to volunteer.
"Get to know the theater that's in your community, and get to know the people that work there," said Cabatingan, who has worked four years at the Springer Opera House in Columbus. "That's a great thing about volunteering here is you're not by yourself doing something. You're working with a staff member. You're working with somebody backstage."
Cabatingan, 26, should know the path into theater very well. The Columbus High and University of Evansville graduate actually first took part in the Springer Theatre Academy as a sixth-grader. While in college, she taught during the summers and then upon earning her degree, landed here as a volunteer coordinator.
Yes, she does have acting on her résumé, most recently as a stepsister in the production of "Cinderella." But her true joy is getting the word out about the Springer and its programs that are aimed at putting young students in touch with the arts. Today, she is education coordinator with the Springer Theatre Academy.
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The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Cabatingan recently about her job, why she enjoys it and what the future may hold for her.
What does an education coordinator do?
I am in charge of a lot of our arts outreach programming. Basically, that's an umbrella for the classes that we do for the academy and have year-round. That also encompasses the Theater for Young Audiences program that we have. That's one of our biggest programs for the schools. We offer several of our children's theater productions and our main theater productions to the schools and we offer field trips.
This is meant to expose kids to the theater?
Yes. It's a big way of integrating an arts experience into their school year. For instance, this year the children's theater put on productions of "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing." We also had groups come see our production of "Annie" this past December, which was a huge hit. The great thing about those plays
that we choose for the Theater for Young Audiences season is that it doesn't just cater to audiences of an elementary grade, but it goes to high school ages as well. We kind of run the gamut.
The students get a unique experience?
I think that's the great thing about it. A lot of these students don't get the opportunity to come to the Springer. The arts experience for us doesn't just start with sitting down in the seat and seeing the production. It's getting off the bus, walking into the State Theatre of Georgia, getting immersed in the building and the history that we have, and then coming to see the show. So it's just kind of this huge experience all around from the moment they walk in the door until the moment they leave after seeing a production.
How many students do you entertain?
We usually can accommodate up to 16,000 students during the year. For "Annie," we sold a little over 3,000 tickets for that one show. We offered five different options, different days when they could come and take a field trip. Currently, for this season, we've had about 7,000 already come through our building and see the numerous shows that we've offered since July all of the way to December.
You line up all of those groups?
Yeah. One of my most favorite parts of the job is setting up relationships with the schools, relationships with certain teachers at the schools. And it's really great to see them come back over and over again. We offer great rates for the schools to make it possible for them to come see these shows.
You work with educators and talk to students to determine what type of programming to offer?
Yes. Specifically, with the Theater for Young Audiences, it's creating relationships with the schools and the teachers, and seeing what their interests are, and seeing the students and how excited they are about coming to see the show, and their reactions during the show and after the show. It's really fun. For a lot of these students, coming to the Springer is their first time seeing a show. You ask them after the show how they enjoyed it and they're just floored.
What's the most challenging thing about your job?
I think one of the more difficult aspects is just keeping up with everything. Specifically, interests of students, interests of teachers ... How can we keep things relevant for our academy students and for the public who comes to see our shows? What are they interested in? ... Reading scripts, going through scripts, keeping up with what kids are talking about nowadays ... Just making sure that we're up to date on everything and creating successful programming.
Is this job a stepping stone for your career?
This is a job that I enjoy, and it has been a great experience for me and, hopefully, I can do bigger and better things in the future with this type of position ... I really enjoy working in a nonprofit organization for students. I don't know if (my career will include) expanding this program and making it bigger and better, or going somewhere else and taking the example of Ron Anderson and the Springer Opera House and the theater academy and offering it to another place that doesn't have it.
Is acting something you enjoy?
I think it's more of a side project. It's refreshing sometimes to be back on stage and to be back in rehearsal. But I'm a theater education major. After being in this job, I really enjoy the programming aspect, coming up with programming for students, helping with curriculum, and creating programming that can be successful. And finding teachers who can help implement these programs that we create. I do miss performing sometimes, but I really embrace this role.
What's it like working at the Springer?
It's busy. We have great members on staff who are creative in various aspects. We've got the production staff. We have the educational staff with us. There's the admin staff upstairs. There's never a dull moment. People are always thinking ... It's always exciting to stop in the hallway and talk to someone, then all of a sudden you come up with an idea from a hallway meeting and it turns into something that improves the whole theater experience.
Some have said the Springer is haunted (by actor Edwin Booth or a construction worker who died there). Have you seen a ghost?
No. (laughs) But I get that question all the time, especially from the kids that come in. Of course, (Springer director) Paul (Pierce) has that ghost book. But, me, I have not had the pleasure of meeting anyone yet, which is surprising. People are impressed that after four years of working in the theater and sometimes being here late at night, I haven't seen anything. Not yet, maybe sometime soon. (laughs)
Aside from volunteering, what advice would you have for those considering a career in theater, with the exception of acting?
In our line of work, networking is pretty big ... And just reading up on everything that happens in the theater, whether it's here or on Broadway. Read and be knowledgeable and keep yourself up to date.
There are so many different skills that are needed in this line of work, not just acting and theater and play knowledge. We need customer-service skills. We need people who have the business background. We have people with education backgrounds.
There's so much more that goes behind (acting) to make a successful theater company. You should never feel limited with us. Any skill you have is a positive skill.