Kara Seigal '03
Twenty-two young people in Lima, Peru are singing and dancing their hearts out in a fast-paced production of the Broadway musical, Wicked, thanks in part to the experiences their director had on the stage at GUS.
Kara Seigal, GUS ‘03, is the founder and director of Spotlight, a musical theater training program for 10-17-year-olds who want professional training for the stage. Her love of theater was first nurtured at GUS. Her love of Peru began with friendships in high school at Pingree with two classmates from Peru whose families she visited during breaks. Seigal, who graduated from the Gallatin School at New York University with a double major in ethnomusicology and Latin American Studies, continued to perform in musicals in college, as she had at GUS and later in high school.
When she moved to Peru in 2011, Seigal, managed an NGO called South American Explorers that catered to travelers. Later, she created a performing arts tour. As she showed people around a Lima neighborhood, her partner, a magician, did card tricks that integrated Peruvian culture and history! In the midst of that entrepreneurial venture, a contact at the University of Chicago asked if Seigal would be the musical director of a musical theater program for youth in the summer (which, by the way, is winter in Peru). She said, yes, and has been doing that ever since, still spending the rest of the year in Lima as music director at a British international school called Hiram Bingham.
It was then and there that Seigal came up with the idea for Spotlight. “I have been experimenting with building small businesses over the past eight years,” she explains. “I knew that pursuing this type of company would have a great chance of success based on the number of kids that I have worked with over the years who wanted to pursue musical theater on a more advanced level here in Lima.” Her research confirmed that there were few opportunities for these youth, especially in English.
So she decided to fill the gap. Seigal quit her job at Hiram Bingham and launched Spotlight, offering what she believes is a great avenue for self-expression and improving one’s English skills. Spotlight, rehearsing in a rented dance studio and theater, offers two sessions a year during which they workshop two shows. Seigal, who directs all the shows, invites professionals from the United States to come down and help train the students. So far, a Broadway choreographer and two actors from the Tisch School at NYU have joined her. She also has established an internship program for high school graduates who would like a post-graduate experience as an assistant choreographer or director. An exchange program has some students from the University of Chicago program coming to Lima and some from Spotlight going to Chicago. “I like to keep my international exchanges small,” says Seigal, “so I generally limit it to five or six students per session (both in Peru and in Chicago). The kids stay with host families, participate in rehearsals and go on excursions around the city.”
Over the past three years, Spotlight has produced Beauty and the Beast, Hairspray, and Aladdin. “I'm not sure I have a method to picking them,” says Seigal, “but I certainly have to adapt the storylines based on where I am. For example, we contextualized Hairspray as a story that had more to do with class-based discrimination so that our Peruvian kids could relate.”
What are Seigal’s hopes for the future? In five years, she hopes to be one of the top performing arts programs in Lima. She would also like to establish another coordinate program in the United States, perhaps something closer to the Northeast. “There are not that many collaborative cross-cultural exchange programs for performing arts,” she says. She’d like to add to what there is. And though she is very established in her life in Peru, she would like to split her time between there and somewhere closer to her roots in the Greater Boston area.
When she looks back at her years at GUS, she recalls with appreciation the emphasis on performing arts, global connections, and diversity. “I definitely took that with me,” Seigal says. She remembers all the opportunities she had on the stage at GUS and strives to provide those now for her students. “Kids here in Lima don't have the same opportunities I had for performing arts and programs that cultivate growth and creativity as a young adult. To be able to provide that is incredibly rewarding.”