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Entrepreneur of the Day: Libby Oberlin

Libby Oberlin fell in love with the arts as a little girl spending long summers on Nantucket Island. What started out as fun, whimsical roles in children’s theater soon developed into a hunger for the stage. As she made her way studying the art from Massachusetts to New York City, the budding entrepreneur has settled into the Bay Area as the founder and Director of Education at The Theater School.
Entrepreneur of the Day: Libby Oberlin - Lioness Magazine
Libby Oberlin, founder of The Theater School.

Libby Oberlin fell in love with the arts as a little girl spending long summers on Nantucket Island. What started out as fun, whimsical roles in children’s theater soon developed into a hunger for the stage. As she made her way studying the art from Massachusetts to New York City, the budding entrepreneur has settled into the Bay Area as the founder and Director of Education at The Theater School.

Your Name: Libby Oberlin

Name of your company: The Theater School

Title: Director of Education and Owner

City/State/Country:  Throughout the Bay Area, CA primarily in Marin and Sonoma County

Age: 34

What year was your company founded: 2014

Number of employees: 1 (me, myself, and I)

What do you do? The Theater School is an educational theater company committed to guiding young people toward self-expression, emotional understanding, and shared discovery. We offer classes for grades Kindergarten through 12 in play production, after-school theater classes, camps, in-school residencies, and teacher workshops.

Tell me a little about your background in acting?  When I was seven years old I auditioned for my first play at the local tennis club, The Sconset Casino, on Nantucket Island where my family spent every summer.  I played a cat wearing a yellow unitard, a black fuzzy mask with ears, and I still remember the song that I sang!  After that monumental summer, I was hooked! I started taking classes in Springfield at The Children’s Theater (sadly, no longer in business) and then practically lived at The Drama Studio, a studio near and dear to my heart that still offers incredible classes by talented educators.  In high school I immersed myself in physical theater, Shakespeare, and more Avant-garde work as an ensemble member in Serious Play! based in Northampton, MA.  Sheryl Stoodley of Serious Play! and her then co-director Lisa Enzer, inspired me to not only express myself as an actress, but years later, as I’ve grown into an educator.  I’m proud to call myself one of the founding ensemble members of Serious Play! and encouraged that Sheryl is still creating memorable, important work with that company.

When I was 15 years old I spent the summer at Shakespeare & Company training in their “Young company” program.  To say that summer changed my life would be an understatement. Shakespeare & Company opened my eyes to “becoming” a character, body and soul.  Six days a week we trained as actors, studied dance, stage combat, voice, worked in the box office, set up hundreds of chairs for main stage shows … it was like no experience I’d ever had.

After high school, I studied theater at Hofstra University and was a part of every single show in all my four years in Their New School Department. After college, I made the decision that all actors make – New York or L.A.?  I chose New York to follow my passion for performing theater and continue my love of connecting to the live audience.  I had the pleasure of working with some incredible directors and actors, living off of hotdogs and pizza, while doing off-Broadway theater, auditioning for plays and commercials, waiting tables, and having way too much fun in New York City!

After much guidance and encouragement from my dear friend Joanna Berenson, (a brilliant educator), I found my way to NYU’s graduate program in Educational theater.  The rest, as they say, is history.

What makes your company unique? Theater is about more than putting on a play; it is about a group of people, an ensemble, collaborating to create something they are passionate about, and the revelations they discover along the way. When a young person is given the space to create something from their own experience and based on their opinions, it becomes more meaningful, and the ownership they take in the work is unparalleled. I am interested in process over product, and the beauty of this is that the product always ends incredibly when we focus on the art of creativity, and exploration.

Tell about some of your events and what children get out of it?  During our classes, workshops, or camps you can rely on lots of laughter!  I like to create a joyful experience, where young people are comfortable to be silly, and be themselves.  Once that is established, it becomes so much easier to dive into some of the more vulnerable emotions that theater training can bring about. Young people will leave our classes with an experience that has taught them something special about themselves, the people around them, and gives them confidence in knowing that their voice can make a difference.

We are proud to provide a platform for female entrepreneurs. As a woman, did you encounter any unique experiences in acting because of your gender?

Being an actress, you inevitably are inundated with some believing that your looks are more importance than your talent.  And in many ways, that sadly is an aspect of the business.  If they’re looking for a 5 foot 2 brunette, guess what, I’m not getting the job.  The sooner you realize that these decisions are not personal, the sooner you’ll be able to let loose while auditioning and have a good time.

As a business woman, I feel very fortunate to have learned from so many strong and intelligent women, first and foremost my Mom.  I remember the first time I had to negotiate a raise, and how nervous I was, knowing full well that I deserved it and worked my butt off to earn it.  It’s important for me that I’m honest and direct with my needs, and treat everyone I partner with with the utmost respect.

What are benefits of getting into acting classes as a youth verses an adult?  Being able to express one’s self verbally and emotionally is a learned skill.  When theater education begins at a young age, children have access to an emotional vocabulary that might otherwise take a lot longer to discover.  Language development, self-confidence, teamwork, and creativity are just some of the skills that are learned, all while having fun!  Children innately embrace and excel at play.   Engaging in play is an essential part of development, and can enrich a child’s understanding of self, home, school, friendships, and the world around them.  It is only as we grow that we begin to feel as though play is no longer accepted or important. The Theater School embraces our instincts to play, and helps it flourish.  I myself discovered theater when I was seven years old, incidentally right around the time that my parents were going through a divorce.  I can’t imagine how I would differ as a person, had I not had that creative and emotional outlet, during such a difficult time in my young life.

Why did you get into this type of work?  As I mentioned, theater was my outlet throughout my childhood and young adulthood.  But, teaching theater was something I discovered in my mid 20’s.  Teaching quickly became a passion of mine, so reminiscent to the adrenaline inducing feelings of joy, one gets when they first step out on stage.  I knew that the art form of creating theater was important to me, and something I needed in my life, but I became uninspired by the commercialized, body-image driven aspects of most of the auditions I was experiencing in NYC.  Waiting tables was a blast, a drag, exhilarating, and frustrating and I was looking for a way to make a living through theater.  When Joanna suggested I look into teaching it made so much sense.  Actors make great teachers because they are outgoing, collaborative, and tough-skinned.  So, I thought that maybe this was the career that would bring me happiness and fulfillment while still keeping me connected to my love of theater.  I was right!

If you could give acting advice to readers who want to break into that industry, what would it be? 

Train with companies and teachers you respect and never stop taking classes.  I’m constantly working on myself as an actress and it makes me a better performer and teacher.  Surround yourself with people and professionals who are doing work you are inspired and challenged by.