Few can call themselves a thespian, fewer than that can say they’ve performed on Broadway. Director of Theater Cara Kem can say both.
Since taking over the theatre program in 2014, Kem has used this illustrious background in the profession to help students reach their potential.
Having been raised by a dance teacher for a mother and a gymnastics coach for a father, the spotlight was never too far away.
“My mother put my brother and I into dance early on to teach us how to focus,” Kem said.
The attention live performance brings that would dismay many kids didn’t get to Kem. “I was a huge ham, I loved it when people would look at me.”
This held true for productions she wasn’t even cast in. As Kem recalled of a show where only her brother was cast, she was quick to remind the director, “How do you expect me to be a star if you don’t put me in your show?”
This persistence paid off as her “big break” came at just 13 years old. She was cast in Music Theater of Wichita’s production of Gypsy, replacing future Tony award winner, Kristin Chenoweth in the role of Dainty June, a role typically reserved for college students.
“[That was] before she was famous,” Kem added.
After graduating with her BS from the University of Central Oklahoma, Kem moved to New York to pursue her dream.
“I auditioned for a role that said, ‘tall and statuesque’ and I am 5’2” and curvy, but I thought “all they can say is no.”
They didn’t say no, however, and granted Kem her equity card, which is proof of membership to the Actors’ Equity Association and is basically a license to perform with the best of the best.
Shortly thereafter, Kem secured her first Broadway contract with the Broadway version of “High School Musical.”
However, time in the spotlight isn’t forever and Kem never planned for it be. “I wanted to go [to New York] and have an awesome career and then come home to have a family,” and that’s exactly what she did.
Kem returned home to Oklahoma, and with Cowley just a hop and a skip away, the stars aligned perfectly.
When discussing what her and John Rohr, technical director, do to make each production special, Kem said, “In order to grow, sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone. John and I work very hard to make each show unique.”
This is what gives her students an edge up on the competition. “Because of this our kids walk away well rounded and ready to go to any program,” said Kem.
This particular program used to be run by five separate individuals, including a technical director, an assistant technical director, the director of theater, a volunteer faculty member, and lastly, a choreographer. Since 2014, it’s just been Kem and Rohr.
“I do the job of five people … if I didn’t have my students and especially if I didn’t have John––he really is a right-hand man and we work very closely together,” Kem said. “Thank God that we love each other so much.”
For Kem, despite doing the work of five people, her students are what makes it worth it in the end.
“To see them grow and to see them excel and achieve something is so gratifying,” said Kem.
– By Caleb Parish, Opinion Editor