Sara Gettelfinger

Sara Gettelfinger: True Expression

Sara Gettelfinger Channels Her Artistic Passions 

Photography Provided

Sara GettelfingerSure, the stars come out of Hollywood, California, but who’s to say there aren’t some scattered in other parts of the country? We in Louisville can claim the right to such big names as Muhammad Ali, Jennifer Lawrence and yes, even Tom Cruise (he did live here for a time before he made his way out to the west coast to stake his claim in fame). There are also some stars who may have slipped under the radar, or who are still working to make it.

I’d like you to meet Sara Gettelfinger. Born in Louisville, she attended the Youth Performing Arts school for high school in Louisville. Her parents, thankfully, encouraged her to be well-rounded in both grades and athletics, so there was little to no strife in that regard. The arts, in fact, were always a huge part of her family’s culture. She always loved the theater and everything associated with it – music, performing, the crowds, the ambiance, the thrill of opening night for a new show.

She started dancing at the age of 2. It was in seventh grade when she realized that she wanted to pursue this full time and dedicate her life to it. After high school she enrolled in the Conservatory of Music program at the University of Cincinnati, where she graduated a couple of months early. She told her parents she was going to New York for three weeks. In those three weeks her objective was to find an apartment, an agent and a job. Could that really be done in three weeks? Hard-headed? She’ll agree with that. Determined? Absolutely.

“I lucked out and it happened,” she says.

A big question we want to ask everyone who has managed to make a career out of their art is, “Was it luck or skill?”

“I’ve had a lot of luck in my career, but I’ve also worked very hard,” she says. “But I’m also the poster child for the harder you work, the luckier you get. It’s kind of a big motto of ours as a family.”

Within the first year of being out of school, Gettelfinger got her Equity card doing Fosse. Within six months of that she booked her own broadway show, “Seussical,” based off of the wacky and zany world of Dr. Seuss. For the following 17 years, she was consistently able to find work performing for audiences. She took a short hiatus from the theater around 2007 and 2008 to live in Los Angeles, to be in a classical crossover vocal trio to wet her toes in the record industry. That provided a different set of adventures to work with artists that astounded her, and she found it truly invigorating to be around people who she already admired. Starstruck, stunned and incredibly fortunate is how Gettelfinger felt, and she never took that experience for granted.

Sara GettelfingerEnter John Lithgow from stage right into Gettelfinger’s life. Do I even have to remind you who he is? Dr. Dick Solomon from “3rd Rock from the Sun,” the hilarious Lord Farquaad from “Shrek” – you know him. Gettelfinger met Lithgow co-starring alongside him in the broadway version of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Turns out that he had a separate passion in terms of working with kids and being a children’s author. This jibed with her because she has always loved kids. She would work with younger kids on the coast or fly back home to give master classes on acting. As far as “John” went – she’s on a first-name basis with the legendary star – it was a whole vocation. It took until later in her career to make the transition into working with and teaching kids, like being a lead teacher with preschool children.

The crossover was not only natural and obvious, but also, well, magical. Providence. Or as Dr. Seuss might put it: fabtacular! The change required all of Gettelfinger’s skills – enthusiasm, creativity and spontaneity.

“I can honestly say that when I did decide to leave New York, I really reached a point were I was struggling personally and spiritually in terms of my health, using outside unhealthy things to cope, and just feeling this very profound feeling of, if I just keep chasing my next credit on a resume, this is like a hole in my heart and soul that’s never going to be filled,” she says.

Sara Gettelfinger found ways to be thankful. She’d been 6’ tall since she was fifteen, and as a result she’s still playing some of the same roles since back then.

“I’m just now becoming right for them,” she says. “It’s not like I’m a 4’11’’ ingenue who’s wondering how long I can convince people I’m 25 years old. I play a lot of villains and a lot of scandalous women who are up to no good – some of those older, wonderful character roles that are going to be more in my wheelhouse now in the years to come.”

“What was much more terrifying for me is that while I was really very fortunate that I had never had to have another job, one of the things I remember in my years in New York is sometimes being on the subway in my cozy sweats or dance clothes going to rehearsal,” she adds. “Even though there were sacrifices and hard work, I’d never had any notion of what it was like punching a clock to make a living. My work was my oxygen. That was my biggest thing – was I ever going to have that again.”

As she began to transition into coming home and looking into private coaching in terms of teaching art classes full time, she then began connecting with people who had very small children, which led her into the preschool world. Soon after, she discovered Building Kidz, a performing arts preschool.

Sara Gettelfinger“If I could have everything I could possibly want at a place to work, it sounded like I needed to check this out,” she says.

She was astounded by the natural-light classrooms, the huge studio in the middle, and the baby version of a Shakespeare stage in the park. Having gotten certified and being a lead teacher for a while gave her the groundwork for finding her way through the state-mandated curriculum to prepare the little ones for kindergarten.

“I was challenging myself, learning from academic or structured, scientific and psychological benchmarks as far as gross motor and emotional development – finding ways to get these staples, but discovering how we can use the arts to help with this,” she says. “By teaching early music theory, the children were learning math and division, and counting odd and even numbers. I’m astounded by kids all the time. I often feel like kids are underestimated.”

Since her time as the performing arts director at Building Kidz School, Sara Gettelfinger has moved on to working with ACT Louisville Productions as the musical theater chair. She also will be assisting Holy Trinity on their upcoming production of “The Addams Family.”

If you’re a creative type and can’t seem to figure out how to channel that creativity practically, look to the stars and learn how to marry your artistic self with meeting real-world needs and helping others.

Sara Gettelfinger is fortunate in many ways, but figuring that part out, well, that’s probably her most fortunate stroke of luck, if that’s what we want to call it.

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