Character actor switches roles, now at Kingsland

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Sarah Kohn’s a real character taking a new direction.

The Spring Valley resident, who describes her theater — and some of her real life — experience as “definitely a character actor,” is now the advisor of Kingsland High School’s Drama Department.

“I have surprised myself with this position.  I didn’t think I would ever be on this side of productions, but I was approached by Megan Hammon, the retired Drama Club advisor and director, and Emily Biermann this summer,” said Kohn. “I worked with both of them during the Ag Days production.  The more I thought about it, the more excited I got.  I knew some of the students already and that there are very active, supportive parents that help as well.  Megan has been a huge help working with me and teaching me the ins and outs of this job.  It’s not easy, and she has given me big shoes to fill.  She is loved by the kids and did a fantastic job with Kingsland’s productions.”      

Kohn grew up in Spring Valley.  She and her husband, Brent, lived in the Twin Cities and Rochester before returning to Spring Valley. They have a son in the Air Force and two grandchildren. 

Her day job is a nurse at Olmsted Medical Center. In her spare time, people may see her running the streets of Spring Valley or biking in Lanesboro where they have a home they try to get to on the weekends. 

She has been involved in plays for 20 years with experience in more than 20 productions, including performances in Spring Valley and Wykoff, community theatre in Lanesboro, and The Rep and Civic Theatre in Rochester. 

“I didn’t actually start doing theatre until I was in my 30s.  I was not in productions while in high school, as they were always musicals and I wasn’t in choir, so I never auditioned.  And there were no one-act competitions at that time,” she said. “When my family and I moved back to Spring Valley, that was the one thing I told myself I was going to do — audition for a Brave Community Theatre production, and as they say, ‘The rest is history.’”   

She said that directing the Drama Department’s thespians will keep her involved in theater and challenged by the work of putting productions onstage. There are three separate activities with Kingsland Drama.

The Drama Club meets twice a month during the school year. It is open to all students in seventh through 12th grade and they don’t have to be in any of the productions to be in the club.  Students learn acting techniques, play games, perform acting exercises and have fun, noted Kohn. 

The one-act play is an actual competition within the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL).  This play, a one-act that last 35 minutes or fewer, is performed at the subsection level and all the way to state, as long as the students continue to place. 

The third activity is the spring play, which is a full-length play, a musical every other year. 

“I’ve been busy, almost immediately, getting ready for the one-act, as auditions and rehearsals started the week of Nov. 5,” said Kohn. “Once the rehearsals start rolling along, it will be time for me to start working on the spring play, going over the script, blocking, thinking about props, etc.”  

Kohn most enjoys being in theatrical productions for the work that it takes to develop a character. 

“My favorite part is creating the character I will play,” she said. “Although the script and director give direction to who this person is to be, the actor is responsible to bring the character to life.” 

She’s ready to learn what she’ll like about directing, starting with the one-act play. 

“I have watched myself, over the past few years, pay more and more attention to the entire play that I am performing in -- watching how other characters act, watching the blocking, the sets, etc. -- all the while thinking to myself, ‘If I was directing this, how would I have done it differently?’  This is perfect timing for me to challenge myself and put on a new hat while working in theatre,” said Kohn. “I am really looking forward to working with the students on their character development and individual performance.  I’m anxious to work on character development and how each actor can portray their character to its fullest, no matter how large or small their part is.”    

She hopes to accomplish several things for the KHS Drama Department, including getting more people in the community to know about Kingsland Drama. 

“Kingsland has had a reputation, for years, of producing extremely talented student actors, and this year is no different,” she said. “I want more of the community to come to Kingsland’s productions so the students can share their talents with the public.  There’s no larger thrill for an actor than the feedback of an audience.” 

Participation in the Drama Club varies, Kohn noted, with attendance fluctuating at each meeting, as students are busy with lots of activities. 

“The thing that has impressed me the most about these kids is that they act as a group, almost a family.  The eighth graders are as much a part of the club as the senior high students,” she said.

Theater is beneficial to students as it teaches them self-confidence while speaking, acting or singing in front of an audience.  It allows students who are shy to “be someone else,” she noted and “have a character to draw out their personality.”  It also allows students that are very outgoing to control their personality and funnel their energy into different types of characters. 

“Kids are able to use their artistic abilities to design and build sets, put costumes together, incorporate props, create a character with makeup and hairstyles,” she added. “I love that Kingsland’s Drama is seventh through 12th grades so the younger actors can learn from the older, seasoned actors.” 

As director, she’s excited to explore what it takes to push the students to give their best performances. 

“If I was asked this a year from now, my hope is that I can say, ‘I am able to help my actors tell their story so that the audience is completely entertained.’  As someone told me recently, the difference between a person who gets up on stage and a person who doesn’t is the ability to let yourself become someone else and not worry what others are thinking of you,” she explained.  “When I get on stage, I don’t think of myself as Sarah Kohn on stage, playing a character.  I think only of the character when I’m on stage.  An actor is able to let themselves go and be someone else completely.  I want that experience for each and every student.” 

Kingsland Drama Club students have already gone on a field trip with Kohn to “Dracula Prince of Blood” at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro and, though it might be the only one of the year, she’s glad they had the opportunity to see professional theatre so close to Spring Valley.

Kohn extended an invitation to the community to check out her student actors and actresses doing what they’re growing to do best. A public performance of the one-act play will be held in January and the spring play will be held the middle of May.

“We have a huge amount of talent at Kingsland, and I want the community to come and see their talents in action,” she said.