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September 21, 2021

Born to Shine


Drawn to all things theatrical from an early age, transfer student Sarah Elston ’20 matured into a well-rounded thespian at Guilford College.

She explains her initial attraction to the stage: “I was very, very emotional as a child. When I stumbled upon children’s theater I just fell in love with it. But there weren’t a lot of opportunities. So when I got to high school and had the ability to audition for musicals and plays, I went in full force from there,” she recalls.

As she began to consider her career options, her path became clear. “I started getting a lot of outside affirmations from other people saying, ‘You’re really good at this. Really consider doing this.’”

After transferring from Point Park University in Pittsburgh to Guilford College in her junior year, the Pennsylvania native jumped right into the Theatre Studies program. She was part of every production, including playing the titular role of Hamlet for her senior thesis project. The production was cut short, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

[Learn more about becoming a Guilford College transfer student.]

Yet 2020 wasn’t without its positive moments for Sarah. In the spring she won the Theatre Studies Department’s Donald Deagon Award, named for the longtime chair of the department. And it wasn't until her senior year that someone said she should teach. “That really hit a chord in me,” Sarah said.

Sarah, a graduate student at the University of Louisville, encourages aspiring Theatre Studies majors to contact the department: “I received a response within five minutes from the department chair at the time, and she had two existing students email me as well. It was an immediate match.”

Sarah Elston '20
Transfer student and Theatre Studies major

On With the Show

Sarah decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in theatre and was accepted at the University of Louisville. She says she’s excited to learn more about the industry, including teaching the craft. 

“The B.A. in Theatre Studies at Guilford attracted me because it offered a wide range of experiences, not just in performance. So I really pride myself in my participation in all aspects of the theater business. I love the technical challenge. I love collaborating with other artists,” she explains. “Here at the University of Louisville I have opportunities to enhance my teaching methods — to work on myself as a performer but also as an instructor.” 

Next year, she’ll teach “Introduction to Acting” as a communication course at the university. “It’s really to encourage students to take risks and play outside their comfort zone and feel free to fail. I feel like failure is such an important process — learning how to pick yourself up and refocus, redirect, and shoot for something greater,” Sarah says.

Guilford Roots Remain

Guilford Theatre Studies Professor Beth Ritson-Lavender, a co-chair of the department, greatly influenced Sarah’s approach to teaching. 

“She is an incredible director and an incredible educator and really just a captivating artist,” Sarah says. “Beth is an outstanding performer, and the way she runs her classroom has taught me how to encourage students to find and push their boundaries without risking their health or safety.”

Sarah also fondly remembers the camaraderie with fellow theatre students and the Guilford productions being of the highest caliber. 

“Everybody was there to work hard because of a love and passion for theatre and for the craft. That made it really easy to show up,” she says. “Sometimes it seems like we’re just rolling on the floor pretending to cry, but no, there's a lot of work that goes into it, and it’s really important work, too.”

She encourages aspiring Theatre Studies majors to contact the department: “I received a response within five minutes from the department chair at the time, and she had two existing students email me as well. It was an immediate match.”

Are you an aspiring actor who wants to study theater in college? Schedule a personalized visit to Guilford College to learn more about the Theatre Studies Department, where students thrive and learn from supportive faculty who help them build a career they love.