20Q: Catching up with youth theater maven Edie Baran


Angela Major

Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece includes a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her personality.

Edie Baran

Edie Baran has an extensive background in theater as a director, producer, instructor, actor and storyteller. She holds a theater and education degree from UW-Madison. The founder of SpotLight on Kids, she currently is an arts integration teaching artist who conducts residencies at schools in Rock and Dane counties. Along with teaching Creative Kids classes at the Janesville Performing Arts Center, Baran also teaches music, movement and storytelling to adults and children with disabilities through VSA WI. Most recently, Baran was named interim executive director for the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra. She can be reached by email at ediebaran@gmail.com.

1. What is the biggest challenge in working with children? Their parents (laughing). Kids, in general, can't see the whole picture—the end we are working toward. They get impatient with doing things in increments.

2. Does working with kids keep you young at heart? Yes, and young in spirit and young mentally and physically. You wouldn't guess I was really 102, would you?

3. Do you collect anything? Not really. I do like elephant figurines, however.

4. Have you ever met anyone famous? I worked at Punchinello's in Chicago on State and Rush—an infamous corner. I waited on Zsa Zsa Gabor—who was an absolute pain in the butt; Leslie Caron, who was very much a lady; Maggie Smith, who was a hoot!; Margaret Hamilton, who was not scary, and Barry Manilow, who was very melancholy.

5. What is the most rewarding aspect to being a theater educator and director? Providing an environment through which people of all ages can create something unique, and finding ways to ensure that each person on the stage or in the classroom participates as fully as they possibly can.

6. What is your stance on clowns? Cute and funny or odd and creepy? Creepy—can't even answer this question.

7. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you: I love “The Waltons,” especially John-Boy. Also, I was born in Germany.

8. Have any of your students gone on to become professional performers? Numerous students have become professionals in the field of theater and music—as performers, directors, designers and teachers. But I was just one of many people—parents, teachers and other directors—who influenced them. I was merely a small part of their young lives.

9. Have you ever acted on stage yourself? I started acting in high school (in Chicago) and then went on to work with various experimental theaters in Chicago. The first children's theater I ever worked in was the Alice Liddell Children's Theatre Company in Chicago. After moving to Janesville, I became involved with Janesville Little Theatre (the original Stage One) and UW-Rock County Theater as an actor, director and lighting designer. I also did a short stint as a professional mime in Chicago.

10. Was theater a big part of life in your home growing up? No, not at all. I have no idea where all this theatrical, artistic expression of mine came from.

11. Name a popular actor/singer/artist who doesn't appeal to you: Miley Cyrus.

12. What is the biggest obstacle you face when trying to get kids involved in theater? Sometimes they just want to be a “star” and are not willing to do the hard work (that's true of adult actors, too). Time is a problem; kids are way too over-booked these days and don't understand the importance of regular rehearsals and commitment.

13. What character in theater best parallels you as a person? The Wicked Witch of the West (laughing).

14. What was your favorite play or movie as a child? “The Wizard of Oz”—the movie.

15. How do you turn an introverted child into an extroverted actor/actress? Be patient and let them find their own pace. You can't rush this. Give them small things to do that you know they'll be able to accomplish—maybe a walk-on part or just one or two lines.

16. What skills can be gained by participating in theater? Becoming a creative problem solver, learning how to work collaboratively, learning how to work in a cooperative environment, discipline, self-confidence, satisfaction in completing a job with others, sheer wonderment and joy at creating something that never existed before.

17. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Red Vines and toilet paper.

18. Share one thing you wish parents knew/better understood about youth theater: There is no such thing as a small part. Cooperation and collaboration are more important than talent.

19. If you weren't a local theater educator and director, what would you do for a living? Well, at one point in my life, I wanted to drive trucks cross country.

20. Some people believe funding the arts is a waste of money. Explain why they are wrong: The arts, as a whole, truly make us human. We need ways to be creative and to express ourselves. The arts touch our souls. Through arts education we become better thinkers and problem-solvers and more productive, better workers. Business owners want people who “think out of the box.” Where do you think we learn how to do that? The arts are intertwined in all aspects of our lives. We need to keep them alive and healthy!

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