Barb Hilt: Director, Designer and Teacher – Theatre People
By Mitch Stark
This week I’m proud to introduce you to theatre teacher Barb Hilt. I worked with Barb designing projections for her premiere event of the show Miss You Like Hell. Barb is an incredible visionary in the regional and educational theatre spaces in Kansas, and I hope you enjoy reading her musings on the art form as much as I did.
Barb Hilt, theatre director and teacher
What’s a show that inspires you? (explain away!)
I am inspired by different shows for different reasons. I just finished reading two plays by John Logan and two plays by John Patrick Shanley. All of them were drastically different in the subject matter that they approached but all were excellent writing about life and the human experience and helped me to understand something that I hadn’t fully realized for myself yet. The best theatre makes us understand more about ourselves. Sometimes that can be a musical like The Open Air Theater’s Little Shop of Horrors. I am often inspired by the reinterpretation of a show that everyone knows or has seen before or of characters that we already know as in John Logan’s Peter and Alice where we hear a new story about Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. I also like to see something that is considered “old” or “irrelevant” revitalized into something still true to the script but new to the viewers and opens up Shakespeare or Sophocles to a whole new audience. I love when my expectations are destroyed by a production team and replaced with something new.
What’s one of your happiest moments in theatre?
One of my happiest moments in theatre was taking Hamlet to the International Thespian Festival in 2019. It was stressful and we learned so much from the experience, but getting to see my students from the middle of nowhere Kansas on a prestigious stage was such a moment of pride and joy. It was especially so because these students would have never imagined themselves on a stage in front of their peers in this way when I began the program at our school. We expanded and grew and worked very hard to get to the point that something like that was possible. It was doubly impressive for these particular students who are mostly second generation immigrants and many were English Language Learners.
What’s the biggest ‘fail’ or goof you’ve seen on stage? (do tell the story)
I have seen many unfortunate stage moments, but one in particular moment that stands out is at a school where I was coaching a speech team and I went to see their play and the entire set fell down around them. It was so disheartening as the students really just wanted to have a successful play, and in fact the lead actress told me that she “just wanted to walk through a doorway on stage” before she graduated. I had accepted to coach an after school forensics program and we had some mild success starting out. The following year, I produced a musical for them while I was student teaching. This particular school had not had a musical in over 30 years from what I could find out and I made it a whole school musical elementary to high school. Many students went on to do more theatre after that and I believe it was transformative for them. The students did keep going despite the set problems. Afterwards, I looked at how the set was put together and it was not supported well and the walls were more like platforms. I was able to remake them the next year and use them as platforms. It was just unfortunate that the students had to make their way through the production like that.
Why do you love theatre?
I love theatre because it is the place that I go to find truth and to help students find truth as well. I became a teacher well after I received my bachelors degree. I started working at a girl’s youth home that was just a step away from juvenile detention. I discovered in my time there that the girls were capable of so much more. It has been my mission to find students who need theatre in their lives and not just settle for who shows up to an audition. There are many students who feel hopeless and desperate, but I have found that theatre can transform and save lives. The trick is to find that thing that activates it for each student and we have to be innovators for an act of theatre to occur not just on the stage but in the hearts of the audience and the students. So, I am always looking for ways to reinvent the experience and make it relative to each student. I love theatre because I love my students and I work to help them make it through that teenage experience with a sense that they are not alone and theatre provides that.
Theatre is for…
Something that any student of mine will hopefully remember is me asking them to be adaptable and to alter their perception to try to see outside of their own perspective. Working with my students at Garden City High School has changed my beliefs and attitudes greatly. I have learned so much from my students and one thing that I have tried to reinforce is that as teachers we have to be willing to try to understand where each of our student’s beliefs were formed and why. If we can adapt to those around us and try to have understanding of the vastly different human experiences then that is what theatre is for because we are storytellers and we have this awesome responsibility to tell those stories with care and truth.
More About Barb
Barb Hilt is currently starting her first year as director of theatre at Salina Central High School in Salina, KS and is the former director of Garden City High School in Garden City, KS. Barbara has received several awards for directing high school theatre from state awards programs. In 2018, she was awarded the Outstanding Secondary Educator Award from Pittsburg State University. She is also a Fund for Teachers Fellow. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Culver-Stockton College in 2002 and a Master in Teaching degree from Pittsburg State University in 2012. Prior to pursuing teaching she has worked as an actor, director and designer for several community theatres and regional theatres. In 2018, she directed the production of Hamlet that was selected as a mainstage production for the International Thespian Festival. In 2019, the production of Miss You Like Hell was selected to perform at the Kansas Thespian Festival as well as developing the School Edition of this production with Theatrical Rights Worldwide.