Hilltop Awakening

(Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
January 9, 2017

Bradley’s theatre department family persuaded stage enthusiast Sarah Heilbronner ’17 that theatre could be more than a fun hobby. Opportunities showed her that she could market theatre by day and find the limelight after work.

The theatre family welcomed Chicago native Heilbronner as a freshman who played a supporting role her first semester in “Sideshow.” Several “just for fun” theatre courses and productions later, she formally declared a theatre arts and advertising double major. Those experiences built the foundation for a Bradley journey that included a lead role in popular musical “Spring Awakening,” a marketing internship with Chicago’s noted Porchlight Music Theatre and a marketing/advertising job she created within Bradley’s theatre department.

“It was amazing to do everything I wanted,” she said. “I had many interests that I wanted to continue in college. I pursued them all and will leave Bradley satisfied as a person because I got to explore them all.”

Heilbronner was welcomed to her campus home by theatre alumna Erin Kennedy ’14, whose mentorship helped the then-freshman navigate college and theatre department life. Grateful for the lasting friendship and lessons in professionalism, Heilbronner vowed to return the favor her senior year. She now is the proud “theatre mom” to several freshmen.

“Erin is my biggest role model because she’s so talented, confident and professional,” Heilbronner said. “I didn’t expect to feel so welcomed by upperclassmen. It’s a dream come true to use my influence to be that friendly mentor to younger students now.”

Heilbronner found her theatre niche as the volunteer publicist and a center-stage role in the theatre department’s production of alt-rock musical “Spring Awakening.” She pushed herself to master the lead female role’s challenging part while she worked to generate buzz on campus.

As a result, Heilbronner gained confidence in her acting and marketing abilities. Though she shined in the spotlight, she was most impacted by her role promoting the show, which ranked among the best-attended Bradley theatre productions.

“It was the best feeling to see what I had to say made a difference,” she said. “I did a lot of things I’d never done before, and I did them well. That was the first time I realized I really could do this.”

The show also revealed the value of faculty mentors like theatre department chair Scott Kanoff. Kanoff had impressed Heilbronner by the time he spent coaching supporting cast members like her during her freshman debut in “Sideshow.” That respect grew as she continued with “Spring Awakening” and other shows.

Heilbronner pursued her theatre marketing interest with her faculty mentor’s encouragement. She expanded the traditional role of campus show publicist with his encouragement. They worked together to create a student marketing position within the theatre department for her junior and senior years. That role freed Heilbronner’s advertising creativity to strengthen campus engagement in theatre activities while she honed her acting skills onstage.

“I’ve learned more than I expected because of people like Prof. Kanoff,” she said. “It’s been great having him there the whole time because he’s seen me grow in ways I can’t see from my perspective. He, like all the theatre professors, has pushed me to do my best in whatever I’m doing.”

A summer marketing internship at Porchlight Musical Theatre confirmed Heilbronner’s pursuit of a career in the arts. As an intern, she saw how her theatre interest merged with her creative communication skills. She assisted PMT’s community outreach and fundraising efforts through production of videos and printed promotions.

That enabled her to unleash the full range of her creativity in a professional setting as she eyes a career in a major theatre hub like Chicago, New York City or London.

“I felt like I made a difference in a part of Chicago I wasn’t completely familiar with,” Heilbronner. “I succeeded there because of everything I was able to do at Bradley. I’m confident I’ll be able to use my interests to make a living and impact the theatre world while I’m at it.”