Director Profile: Lauren Darby

City High’s New Theater Director Makes Her Mark On the Award-Winning Program


Esther Puderbaugh

Darby holds a prop-in-progress for ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

Esther Puderbaugh, A&E Editor

As the lights rise in Opstad Auditorium, theater director Lauren Darby can be found working on set pieces for this fall’s play, Peter and the Starcatcher. This is Darby’s first year back at City after a two year hiatus working in a handful of other spots around the district. During the school day, Darby teaches AVID and in the Success Center. 

“This will be the back and ribs of the crocodile,” Darby said as she worked on constructing a prop. “To be able to see something take shape out of nothing and to be a bunch of hula hoops and string and suddenly you have a crocodile [is really amazing].” 

Darby began her theatrical career in the eighth grade as a crew member and eventually worked her way up to being stage manager at her high school. Fueled by a love of these experiences, Darby had aspirations to pursue theater in college. 

“When I went to college I thought that I wanted to go into theater so I did some stage management in college,” Darby said. “Then I realized that the theater piece of it was great and fun and creative and I love that, but what I really loved was the education aspect of it and what you could do in an educational theater space.”

Darby feels that she owes this realization to her experiences on crew in high school. 

“I recognized what I had gotten out of that experience and the lessons and job skills I had gotten out of all of that,” Darby said. “[I] realized that that was a really unique experience for high school that you don’t necessarily get in other activities or even jobs that are available to high schoolers. I definitely had a significant amount of responsibility and control and opportunities for developing my craft and working with a wide variety of people and I wanted to provide that for others.”

While in college, Darby did her student teaching in the Iowa City area and at City High, and was immediately drawn to the drama department. 

“I knew that at some point I wanted to get into educational theater so when I went to school to become a teacher much later and started doing observations and practica with teachers in Iowa City, I immediately came over to the auditorium, walked in and saw Rich (Burke) and Doug (Lestina) and Troy (Peters) and said ‘Hi I am a pre-service teacher can I help out in any way?’ And they were like ‘Sure, pick up a drill and go to town’ and so I helped out with set building for Mary Poppins.”

Darby believes the drama department to be a unique place for learning.  

“I think this space is an incredible space. Very few high schools have the resources that City does for doing theater. The fact that we have a scene shop, the fact that we have an auditorium as beautiful as Opstad, that we have adult staff who can provide this semi-professional experience for teenagers, it’s much more than anything I ever had and it’s a really amazing thing,” Darby said. “I have learned so much working with the staff and volunteers and they have been so supportive of me. I just think that the collective experience and the passion of the people who are involved in it make it such a great space that, as I said, it’s this educational environment of ‘What can you learn by doing and by experimenting?’.” 

With her background in stage management, Darby feels very excited about the amount of student interest in crew. 

“The fact that we have so many students who want to be involved, especially in crew,” Darby said. “The fact that I came up through crew and not performance I think is an important thing because a lot of people see crew as kind of like a consolation prize. Like ‘oh you didn’t get into the show so you do crew’. That really gets to me because I think crew is incredible. There [are] so many great opportunities and as I always said as a stage manager, I have a guaranteed leading role everytime!” 

Darby is very excited to be returning to directing at City and is looking to the future with new ideas and goals for the department. 

“I have a lot of goals for things outside of a traditional fall play/spring musical where we can embed more theater into other spaces rather than having to get more people in this space. Hopefully that will go somewhere, I think it depends on how we can create a sense of ‘theater is more than just flashy costumes or big dance numbers’ but theater as a process,” Darby said. “Even if there is no performance that comes out of it, there is still something that students are learning along the way and that a good performance comes out of actors who feel empowered and joyful and everything else will follow from that.”

One of Darby’s goals is to bring in new faces to the department. 

“We get a lot of students who do theater who also do other performing arts. I would like to bring in students who maybe have never set foot in this wing,” Darby said. “I want to bring in students who would never identify as a drama kid but who have a story to tell and who have a need for some kind of self expression and who can find it here.”

Darby aims to foster a fun and safe space for students to express themselves creatively and to build community.

“I hope that whatever we do it’s fun. I want people to enjoy it. I want people to enjoy the learning experience and to feel like they did get something out of it beyond just accolades for their performance,” Darby said. “That we can use theater as a tool of self discovery, of healing, as a safe place to take risks and try things out, [and] that everything we’re doing centers community and creating the kind of community that people need. [That] we are creating an ensemble that works together and leads to a feeling of being a part of something larger.”