Freshman Summer Sanders never felt like she fit into a small-town atmosphere, so after graduating from Highland High School in Hardy, Arkansas, she decided to use her talents and big personality to major in theater.
Sanders’ theater career began in middle school when she starred in “Annie” as a newsboy — a part that her director created as a way to ensure everyone had a role.
She said that after “Annie”, she knew she wanted to pursue theater for the rest of her life.
“I’ve always been really imaginative and really spacey, and I’ve always kind of loved imagining things and making up stories,” Sanders said. “It was really fun to kind of play make-believe, but professionally.”
Sanders said it was hard growing up in a small town because she felt like “the odd duck.”
“I just fell in love with the escapism and telling myself that ‘Hey, I don’t have to be in Sharp County’ because I could be in New York or I could be a princess,” Sanders said.
In high school, Sanders said she tried to perform in any play she could. As a senior, she played the Cat in the Hat in “Seussical” in what was her biggest role yet.
Sanders said the transition from high school theater to college-level theater was difficult because more of the responsibility was on her to read the play and prepare for the role.
“I think I’m slowly getting the hang of it … and now knowing the system, I can work with the system,” Sanders said.“It’s just a matter of trial and error.”
Sanders said it’s been fun to be around others who are also passionate about theater.
“To finally be in a place where everyone cares and where everyone loves this and where it’s everyone’s passion …it’s been a lot of fun,” Sanders said.
She said she’s learned from many of the older students in the program because they’ve all gone through what she’s experiencing now.
Sanders said she’s written three plays and that she hopes to be a published playwright before she graduates.
In her senior year of high school, she wrote her first play, which was about two people in an elevator who, during an awkward conversation, discover that they know each other. The characters realize that one character had bullied the other in school for being transgender. When they discover this, the elevator breaks, and they are stuck with nothing else to do but talk about it.
“The theme is that you don’t have to forgive people,” Sanders said. “[This play] made me think that I really can do this, so I just kept on writing.”
Sanders said LGBTQ representation in her plays is important.
“Even in something like theater, which is known for being ‘gay’… there’s not really as much representation as people think there is,” Sanders said.
Sanders said she’s grown in acting in addition to technical aspects of theater and feels more well-rounded and mature. She said that being in a more open-minded environment has helped her express herself.
“That’s the problem with people: They don’t think they can get into theater because ‘Oh, I’m not an actor. Oh, I’m not outgoing,’ but you don’t have to be,” Sanders said. “I barely talked in high school,and look at me now — I can’t shut up.”
Photo by Caroline Bivens.