As kids all over America head back to school, Broadway.com decided to ask our favorite Broadway stars to look back at their own years in the classroom—and share a school picture! Next up, Jenni Barber, who recently took over the role of Grace Farrell in the Broadway.com Audience Choice Award-winning revival of Annie, looks back on the teacher who become a dear friend, her “wild passion for theater” and the way she made school a whole lot brighter.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
My sixth grade teacher, Cheri Gaul. She took the extra step to really understand the heart of a student and taught with incredible compassion. I always felt like I could come to her with anything, from school projects to social stuff. Cheri is still a huge part of my life and has become a very dear friend and confidante.
In school you would have been named “most likely to…”
Be an actor (surprise, surprise). I had such a wild passion for theater at a very early age. It gave me power and purpose and turned whatever fear I had as a kid into boldness. Theater is, and will always be, a magical method for positive transformation. It certainly was for me.
What song sums up your school experience and why?
"I Wish It So" by Marc Blitzstein. The lyrics describe exactly how I felt through most of my school days. "I've an unrest inside me, oh, it's long I had, such an unrest inside me...I've such grand aims with so many names, that I grow numb. But sure one is bound to come, because I wish, I wish it so." I enjoyed school, but I was so ready to get out of my small town and start on that bucket list!
What’s your favorite back-to-school item?
A fresh box of Crayola crayons, 120 count. Nothing better than a brand new Cerulean to make back-to-school brighter.
What class did you dread and why?
Ugh, gym class. I actually was an active kid, but I was also kinda small and not very competitive, so I would get run over on the soccer field and pushed to the side in basketball. I did do well on the Presidential Fitness Test!
In which extracurricular activities did you participate?
In junior high I participated in school government, choir, played the flute in band, and cheerleading (that was a brief and horrifying experiment in school politics that I never wanted to repeat). Once I got to high school, I was accepted into a program where I could take half of my classes at the local university branch, which meant I could also sneak in some theater courses along with the required lectures. That was fantastic preparation for college. By the time I got to the University of Michigan, I could rock a bluebook and score a script. Wow. That sounds really nerdy.
Describe your school-age self in three words.
Creative, inquisitive, determined.
What advice would you give to your school-age self?
Trust your instincts and speak up. You have the right to ask as many questions as you want, and don't be afraid to push boundaries if you aren't getting the answers you deserve. Let every challenge inspire you to go further.