#PeopleOfWilmDE: Sarah Nowak

Theater teacher and director Sarah Nowak has kept Wilmington, DE as a part of her story since birth, which is exactly why she is this week’s #PeopleofWilmDE. Read her story below:

“It wasn’t until I left Delaware to go to college that I appreciated how unique Wilmington’s theater community is. I remember talking to a friend as a freshman theater major at University of Maryland about our pre-college theater experience. She told me about her high school’s musicals and the opportunities she’s had to see professional productions in the DC area, where UMD is located.

‘Did you ever do any community theater?’ I asked. She looked puzzled.

‘I don’t think we had anything like that,’ she said.

Sarah Nowak of Wilmington, DE in a production
Theater director and teacher Sarah Nowak with her cast on set

By the time I entered college, I’d had the opportunity to perform with several local community theaters. I’d spent my teenage years working backstage, building sets, and running spotlights as well. I’d taken for granted that this was how all theater kids were; we did our school plays as well as participating in community shows. I found out that I was more of the exception than the rule. In other cities, there really aren’t a ton of non-professional theater opportunities, especially for young people. I realized the thing that had made all the difference in my theatrical upbringing was the place I’d grown up: Wilmington.

Sarah Nowak of Wilmington, DE in Pippin
Sarah Nowak on the set of Pippin

When I was 7 years old, my grandparents brought me to see a musical, Anne of Green Gables, at the Delaware Children’s Theater on Delaware Avenue. I was transfixed. I loved the singing, the dancing, the costumes, all of it. I wanted to be up there with them. The next year I auditioned for my first show at DCT. The director, the wonderful Marie Swajeski, listened to me sing ‘This Little Light of Mine’ while I bounced up and down wildly, unable to contain my excitement. After gently asking me to sing it one more time with a little less bouncing, Marie cast me in the show, Pinnocchio. To be clear, I was not a wildly talented kid. But Marie saw how passionate I was, and she wanted to give me the opportunity to learn and grow at the Children’s Theater. That theater became my second home all through middle and high school, and it still is.

I attended Cab Calloway School of the Arts for middle and high school, and participated in their incredible theater program. After college, I came right back to Cab to teach. I now teach 6th and 7th grade reading, and 12th grade psychology. Some years I teach a theater class as well, but even when I don’t, I always incorporate theater into my reading classes.

Now, as an adult in the Wilmington theater community, I primarily direct. One year ago, last February, I was directing musicals at the Delaware Children’s Theater (James and the Giant Peach), the Wilmington Drama League (Falsettos), and Cab Calloway middle school (Frozen). I often think about Marie Swajeski’s philosophies when I direct: How can I cultivate a love of theater in young people? How do I give them opportunities to explore this beautiful artform? How do I reach the audience and help them explore the message of the show?

Of course, the pandemic brought the theater scene to a screeching halt. Wilmington’s theaters have been working tirelessly through quarantine to find ways to bring theater to people’s homes, but live shows with audiences aren’t happening. Falsettos and James and the Giant Peach have been suspended until they can be performed safely, which will still be a while.

This has been a tough time for the theater community, but I know we will come out on the other side ready to dive right back in.

Someday, I would love to add my own small production company to the half-dozen fantastic community theaters in Wilmington.

Theater teacher and director Sarah Nowak with her troupe
Sarah Nowak with one of her production’s cast and crew

I want to create progressive productions with feminist and queer messages. I want to experiment with non-traditional performance spaces and produce my own original musicals. I know that whenever I’m ready to start this endeavor, the Wilmington theater community will be right there, supporting me as they always have.”

Follow Sarah Nowak on Instagram and Facebook. Follow Delaware Children’s Theater, Wilmington Drama League, and Cab Calloway School of the Arts on Instagram.
Check out more #PeopleofWilmDE and nominate a Wilmingtonian who should be featured in the comments below! Also email us with your suggestions at info@wilmtoday.com

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