More often than not, people get stuck in careers they have no passion for, following the same mundane routine every day and longing for a career that sets their hearts on fire. With unbreakable determination, incredible work ethic and eyes fixed on God, Sarah Dearstyne landed a dream job. After an extensive audition process, Dearstyne was cast in the first national tour of the musical Bandstand just two years after graduating from AU.
Dearstyne grew up in Rochester, New York, and began her college career at the University of Buffalo in New York studying dance performance. Before long, Dearstyne felt led to transfer to a smaller, Christian school. A Google search brought Dearstyne to AU for her junior and senior years. Dearstyne explained that in searching for a college, she focused on finding a Christian school with a notable dance program. She attended AU for dance performance, but also took voice lessons from Dr. Richard Sowers and was highly involved in the AU Chorale. Sowers spoke very highly of Dearstyne.
“She was a bright star in the group,” he said. “She was so quick to learn things and so willing to try to do things she wasn’t familiar with.”
Not only did Dearstyne positively affect AU Chorale, but the experience affected her abundantly in the best ways possible. After getting cast in Bandstand, the casting director spoke with the actors and mentioned that one of the most influential factors in the casting process was if the person was someone who others could spend seven months on a bus with.
Dearstyne explained that she has been able to share not only her positivity but her faith as well in the theatre community.
“I feel like I’ve been called to do this and the Lord had put this on my heart from a young age,” she said. “With experiences like meeting WWII veterans, I’ve been able to use the gifts that God has given me to bring joy and I think that’s really what it’s about for me—sparking joy in other people and being able to share my faith just through something as simple as sharing the joy of Christ with others.”
Bandstand is a musical about the homecoming of WWII soldiers and the effects it had on the soldiers and families. In the musical, Donny Novitski, a soldier who witnessed his best friend’s death in the war, is asked to check on Julia Trojan, the wife of Novitski’s friend. Novitski struggles with the pain and trauma from the war and Trojan struggles with the grief of her loss, but they both find solace in music. They form a band of veterans to enter a competition and get to New York. The show marries the music of the 1940s with the emotional complexity of the effects of WWII on humanity.
Dearstyne fills numerous roles on the national tour, including swing and understudy. Swings learn multiple roles referred to as tracks, including different characters’ choreography, lifts, personalities, partners, costume changes, stage directions and prop usage. Swings do not perform in every show but fill in when needed.
Along with swinging five ensemble roles, Dearstyne also understudies the female lead, Julia, in case the usual Julia is unable to perform. This includes learning all of Julia’s choreography, blocking, costume changes, lines and music. With just two weeks of rehearsals, she learned how to be six different people for a two-hour show. Swings and understudies like Dearstyne prove to be the unsung heroes of the theatre world, carrying out near-impossible tasks with precision and a smile.
The audition process required incredible patience, stamina and determination, all three of which happen to be in Dearstyne’s toolbox. She explained how the entire audition unfolded.
“I had my first audition at the end of March and, through someone I knew, was invited to be a stand-in dancer at a random, unrelated project where I met one of the casting directors for Bandstand,” she said. “He was able to get me into an invited call, so I went the first day and he was teaching the choreography. I made it through the first two cuts and there were some of us who were asked to stay and sing. After that initial audition, I had four callbacks over the course of a month. Overall it was a very positive experience; I felt like I was always learning something regardless of the outcome, which is how you want to feel in a setting like that.”