Quite the character
Erin Scarberry helps youth pursue her passion for theater.
For more than two decades, Erin Scarberry has honed her own craft while inspiring a new generation of artists.
The 36-year-old Shawnee native and artistic director for Clark Youth Theatre is just as comfortable in the spotlight as behind the scenes — traits she credits to her own training as a young actress.
“Growing up, I was shy and unsure of how to use my own voice, and I think theater provided me with the skills to be able to speak up and to have confidence,”
Scarberry says. “I was just drawn to it — wanting to be on stage. I had a lot of mentors, but I didn’t have a program like Clark, and I can see how beneficial it is to these kids.”
Like many, Scarberry originally thought having an acting career meant moving to an iconic city like Chicago or New York. She briefly moved to Chicago but returned to Oklahoma in 2007 when her grandfather became ill. Although the visit was supposed to be temporary, she spotted her golden ticket through a job posting at the Heller and Clark Theatres.
At Clark, Scarberry has been able to develop meaningful relationships. Some of her students join the theater at 8 years old and stick with it until they graduate high school.
“I’m more and more motivated to see the kids blossom as full, functioning adults, so that when they walk out of the program, they are equipped with the skills they need to succeed, whether that be in theater or in another field,” she says. “I see the program that we are creating as an investment in these individual kids.”
Scarberry also is an actor and producer in the Odeum Theatre troupe, an ensemble of six actors who have worked together since 2009. Their 2015 production “God of Carnage,” a collaboration with the Midwestern Theatre Troupe, won a TATE (Tulsa Awards for Theatre Excellence).
Scarberry also is a painter and mother of three. Rhys, 5; Lily Rane, 3; and Skye Rose, 2, often find themselves at rehearsals with Scarberry and her husband, Whitson Hanna, a barber who also is a member of the Odeum troupe.
Balancing her roles is not always easy, Scarberry says.
“The balance of career and motherhood is such an important part of my life — having to adjust what it means to be an artist and a mother at the same time, but not neglect either of those voices,” she explains. “Perhaps that’s the biggest struggle, but it’s also one of the biggest rewards.”
Whether it’s creating art with her daughters in their kitchen-turned-art-studio, becoming a character on stage or collaborating with colleagues in her theater troupe, Scarberry’s life works best when she is creating.
“It’s hard to shut that off, so I have to be channeling that into something,” she says.
That extends to her students. Scarberry says her job isn’t just about teaching technical skills or how to embody a character; it’s about helping students find their voice.
“It’s the place for misfits,” she says of how Clark Youth Theatre embraces each of its students. “They are all accepted and can find a place to belong and thrive.”
Sept. 22-25, 29-Oct. 2 — “Romeo and Juliet: Live from the Underworld”
7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday. A version of the Shakespearean play set to music, this Clark Youth Theatre production is a collaboration of John Cruncleton, a Clark Theatre staff member and member of the Midwestern Theatre Troupe, and Clark Youth Theatre student Liam Goodwin. $13, adults; $10, seniors, students and military. Visit www.clarkyouththeatre.com.
The Penguin Project
Beginning in November 2015, Clark Youth Theatre partnered with The Penguin Project, a theater program for children with special needs.
Dr. Andrew Morgan at the University of Illinois designed and piloted the program on his belief that theater participation can be therapeutic for special needs children and help them and their families feel less isolated.
Tulsa’s first Penguin Project production in March 2016 was “The Music Man Jr.” It involved 22 artists and 22 student mentors, ranging from ages 10-21. The cast was comprised of children from the Tulsa area with disabilities, genetic disorders and neurological conditions.
Scarberry, who calls the experience “life-changing,” recalls a mother’s comment on her daughter’s lead role: “We never thought she’d have an opportunity like this.”
Clark is finalizing plans for its next Penguin Project production. Interested parents and students can call 918-746-5065. There is no cost to participate.
For more information, visit www.clarkyouththeatre.com.