Emilie Baartman is the Education Assistant at Gulfshore Playhouse.
What age did you discover you were interested in theatre? Was there a particular event or experience that revealed your interest?
When I was younger I was diagnosed with autism, and for me it was difficult to communicate with others and stay focused. It was also hard for me to make new friends in class and in other various activities, especially if they only saw the autism aspect. When I was in first grade, after seeing my dad in a community production, my interest in theatre really skyrocketed. My parents signed me up for week-long theatre and acting camps. My first full length production was A Midsummer Night’s Dream at age 11, and that show helped me realize that theatre was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Theatre gave me the opportunity for people to realize that there is more to me than just my autism, and to offer others the gifts and stories that I was able to share onstage.
You are called the “Education Assistant” at Gulfshore Playhouse. Can you talk a little about what that position entails?
As the Education Assistant, I help the Director of Education with the in-school programs, our touring show with the Holocaust Museum, and our STAR Academy productions, whether it is helping during rehearsals, planning out workshops, or communicating with schools and organizations to discuss possible workshops or residencies. We also work on planning the Synergy Series for the main stage productions where we have audience members share opinions and talk about topics that relate to our shows.
How did you end up pursuing this particular aspect of theatre?
During the summer between my junior and senior year of college, I was fortunate to have worked on an all-ability production of The Wizard of Oz with the Black Hills Playhouse. It was a little nerve-wracking at first because I’ve never really had experience working with people with special needs, and I mostly came from an acting background. But seeing the cast members in that show performing their hearts out on the stage, seeing them make lifelong friendships, and finding a space where they are able to be themselves was so rewarding, and it also reminded me of what I wanted to be in theatre in the first place.
Not only was this my introduction to educational theatre, it was the beginning of my relationship with BHP where I worked for them as a touring actor/director, traveling across South Dakota and working with children of all backgrounds and many different communities, including Indigenous students, on week-long residencies, and also as a teaching artist for all ability productions in Sioux Falls. I was also able to tour with the National Theatre for Children, touring Indiana and North Carolina and performing a show in schools about the importance of energy conservation.
What does a typical day in your role look like?
As of right now, it’s lesson planning and preparing for auditions/rehearsals at home with the occasional cocker spaniel sitting on my lap. Once we’re back in the offices and in rehearsal, it usually doesn’t take long to make it from a typical day to an atypical day. It will be printing out scripts, then it will be running back and forth from the Norris Center or Fleischmann Park making sure we have everything we need for that day’s rehearsal. It will also include creating new in-school programs, managing bookings, and planning discussion topics for the Synergy Series.
What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
There’s always something new each day. Even if it’s an office day, there’s always spontaneity. We could start planning a new program for a new organization that we’ve partnered with. We could have someone wanting to know about private lessons or our variety of programming. We could have a great idea about how to engage our audiences more through our Synergy Series. Each day has me standing on the edge of my toes for news ideas and new ways to engage others through theatre.
What is your proudest achievement at Gulfshore Playhouse so far?
Looking at the past year since I started working here, the connections that I have made through the programs are astounding. Every person that I met has some sort of unique theatre background, and it is so fun to learn about what they did and how theatre has impacted them. For instance, with our partnership with the Senior Center, I was able to meet one of the seniors who once had a theater in his garage up in St. Petersburg, FL where he held 300 performances within 5 years! I still run into students and adults from previous programs at the grocery store and at Walmart, and they’re always asking me when we are getting started with the next production/performance. Seeing how the programs changed these students’ lives, and how they’re able to use what they have learned at Gulfshore Playhouse for school or for future opportunities, it always makes me take a step back and realize how theatre is impactful to anyone, regardless of having a performing arts background or not, and that every little thing that we do to let their confidence grow is worth it.