Carving a career in Chicago theatre
Director, actor, and playwright Sarah Bowden’06 visited Beloit College for the first time in her sophomore year of high school. The college was hosting a conversation with internationally famous primatologist Jane Goodall, and Bowden’s school newspaper had assigned her to write the story.
While also leading to her first byline, Bowden had the chance to check out Beloit. She was impressed with the architecture and loved the overall vibe, and the English and theatre departments really drew her in.
“Both [departments] provided small classes and strong relationships with your professors and collaborators. I was really drawn to Beloit because I knew I would have the space to develop as a writer, with the care and attention I needed from fellow students and from my teachers,” Bowden says.
There were many moments over her four years at Beloit that continued to encourage her pursuit of an arts career, but one experience really stood out.
During a production of Hedda Gabler, Bowden stepped up when one of her friends had to drop out of the stage crew. She worked closely with Professor of English Fran Abbate on comparing the original play and text with the Beloit interpretation and found it eye-opening to be both involved in the production and analyzing it at the same time.
“Those efforts happening simultaneously taught me how to think critically about art and to see how education can use art to enrich our minds. I have never really wanted to do anything else but work on theatre and explore literature with students ever since,” Bowden says.
As a student, Bowden had the chance to participate in all aspects of theatre production, including the scene and costume shops. She worked on the stage crew many times, and even acted in The Ash Girl her senior year. She says her experiences set her up to be a “thoughtful and communicative collaborator,” which has helped her the most in her career.
Since graduating with a major in creative writing and theatre, with a focus on acting and directing, Bowden has written shows that have been produced locally in Chicago and farther away, in New York, Philadelphia, and Stockholm.
She has found that “playwriting is a strange career, in that it has a limited number of opportunities in any given year,” but by nurturing relationships with kind and communicative people, she cultivated success. In addition to playwriting, Bowden teaches literature and language arts at a private academy in Chicago. Many of her students love plays, so she’s able to spend time teaching them about scriptwriting, acting, directing, and design, too.
Because Bowden has ADHD and is “a hard-of-hearing woman,” many of her theatrical works tend to reflect her life experiences.
“I came to write work for actors with disabilities because I knew I never had representation growing up, so showing people what hearing loss is like, or pointing out what coping strategies need to be developed for ADHD, is important to me,” she says. “It allows a bridge to be built between those who don’t understand disability and those who live it, and art is a great empathy generator.” Her works also provide actors with disabilities the chance to take on strong, well-written roles.
Bowden had the chance to connect with current Beloit students and fellow alumni at the inaugural Arts CONNECT festival in September. She was joined by Carly Newman’15 and Jon Dudley’20 to talk about her success in the business of art and strategies for dealing with challenges.
“I had such a wonderful time at the Arts CONNECT festival!” she says. “I know that I would have benefited greatly from seeing alums talk about their experiences when I was on campus. Knowing that making art can be a reality is so important, and sharing your road map to that career can be so useful to students.”
Bowden encourages students pursuing a career in the arts to believe in themselves and resist comparing themselves to anyone else. “The audience for your work will find you. You just need to keep moving forward.”