Sarah Langan, In Residence Programs Manager for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
I had the pleasure of speaking to Sarah Langan, the In Residence Programs Manager for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. She oversees almost 1,000 classes and workshops offered to visiting student and adult groups each season in addition to overseeing the company members who teach these classes. Sarah is responsible for managing such celebrated programs as the OSF's Festival Noon Series and the OSF Institute classes for adults and families. She has presented at the prestigious Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Theatre Educators conference, among others. She has designed curricula for, and taught theater arts to, students at various organizations and colleges in New York, Colorado, and Oregon. She holds a Master's Degree in Theatre Studies from Leeds University in the United Kingdom.
1. What advice you would give to graduating students? The biggest piece of advice I would give people graduating is to stay open to it all. I think, at least in my experience, you graduate with your major. You think that there is this certain path you have to follow that's going to stair-step you up the ladder of success, but that happens very rarely. There is no "one way" to handle your career post-college. It's a much more freeing mantra to move forward, staying open to what life might throw in front of you, whether it's good or bad.
2. If you could go back in time and speak to your college self what would you say? I'd say to stop worrying about comparing myself to my classmates and to worry more about pursuing my own wants. There's a lot of pressure, at least for graduating students, to "get it right," and I would tell myself to take it easy and dig deeper into what is really important to me. It's important to know you aren't like everybody else, and what might be right for somebody else to be doing isn't necessarily what's right for you.
3. What would you say was the biggest mistake you made in your career? I think I've burned a few bridges, not a lot, but a few, whether through just carelessness or lack of insight. Were I to do it over again, I would just be a little more mindful that you never really know where one thing might pay off that you never in a million years thought would have any bearing on some other aspect of your life or your career. The people that you meet along the way in your life don't really go away.
4. Where did you get your first job in the theater and what was your big break? It's funny that those two questions are together, just because they are so not the same for me. My first real paying job in the theater, other than acting in a children's theater, was teaching for a children's theater. I was hired on as a teaching assistant one summer between my senior year of high school and my freshmen year of college, which certainly was not my big break, but was a real insight into my future work in education at a theater company. And I guess my big break was, this sounds really bizarre, but I think it was actually managing a hotel at a ski resort in Colorado. It was something I never in a million years thought I would ever do, but it taught me about what I was capable of. I say it's my big break because I think it's actually what got me my job at OSF. Although my theater background and my degree helped, it was the management experience that actually opened up a whole new world in the non-profit sector and in the performing arts.
5. What do you think are three habits that contributed to your success? I think the three biggest ones for me have been reading, writing, and doing my homework. I read a lot. I help create curriculum for the plays we do in a season, and I program a lot of different things for groups that are coming to the festival. It's important to me to keep reading the new plays, to keep re-reading Shakespeare, frankly to be reading the other study guides and the other works that theaters across the country are producing. This is not stuff I get paid to do, this is like my bedtime reading! But it pays off because I feel like I really am in touch with what is going on for the most part. As for writing, I have to say, just looking at resumes and cover letters for all the people we hire, it's just shocking to me how many people are poor writers and submit these materials. I feel people need to be able to write to be able to do just about anything. And then doing my homework is kind of in line with these other two. It's important to know what's out there, what to apply for in the first place, and to figure out what other avenues may appeal to you. There are so many jobs out there, when I was first looking at jobs after college, I found ones that I didn't even know existed!
7. What are you working on now? Right now and in the next year I am beginning to start more assessment work--assessment of OSF education programs, which is really a fascinating field. One of the real problems is we have a huge supply of arts in this country, but not a huge demand. I think one of the ways of creating demand is to look at the quantitative analysis and data of how theater actually affects students. It's important to show that the kids who were in this drama class had increased scores in X,Y, and Z. It sounds a little dry, but it's really become a kind of fascinating thing to examine and makes me hopeful that the arts are going to be able to fight for the same sort of resources that other departments and other educational facilities can. I am also doing a lot of reading and writing about Shakespeare in performance, which is something to kind of schmooze with the lecturers about that I have to hire when I go to these conferences for lecture theory. And what comes after that, I'm not sure. I have to take my own advice and sort of stay open to it all and figure out what the next thing is!