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WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

Behind the scenes to center stage: Leiwant and Sanders pursue theater at NYU

Grace Hsu
Leiwant and Sanders pose for pictures in front of the WATA trophy case.

Theater has the ability to connect people of all ages, evoke strong emotions, and bring stories to life. However, the various facets of theater stretch far beyond the main stage. Despite both committing to New York University (NYU) for theater, seniors Dylan Leiwant and Gaby Sanders will each take the stage for vastly different majors this coming fall.

At NYU, Leiwant will study Vocal Performance with a specialization in Musical Theatre at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Sanders will study Directing at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. While Leiwant will train in voice, acting, and dance through intensive workshop classes, related academic coursework, and private lessons, Sanders will expand her knowledge in a program called Playwrights Horizons where she will train in acting, directing, design, and playwriting.

Leiwant’s love for music and time spent in the musicals at Westford Academy Theater Arts (WATA) led him to decide to major in musical theater. As a musician and singer who enjoys learning and listening to new music, Leiwant will be able to take more music theory and music-based classes.  However, for Sanders, it took a little longer to find her niche.

“I became very passionate about [theater] very quickly, but I didn’t really know exactly where I fit in in the whole theater world,” Sanders said. “I acted, I did design stuff. But when I got to start some directing experience, I really felt like that’s where I fit, because you bring in all of your aspects of experience, into one thing where you can take control of this division and work with a lot of different [and] interesting people.”

Leiwant first started acting in sixth grade, in the middle school production of Big: The Musical. Although he had originally wanted to try the technical aspects of theater, his parents convinced him to take on an acting position. This jump-started his love for theater, and Leiwant has since participated in musicals, plays, and productions for six years.

For Sanders, discovering her passion came quicker, at the age of eight. Her older brother had attended the Summer School for the Performing Arts (SSPA), and when Sanders turned eight, she joined the program as well.

Since starting theater so many years ago, Leiwant and Sanders have each played many characters with a wide range of personalities. Most notably, in the fall musical Little Shop of Horrors, Leiwant played the nerdy male protagonist, Seymour Krelborn, and Sanders played the role of Emily Kapoor in WATA’s award-winning METG submission, Disgraced. Although the characters could not be more different, both roles pushed the actors to their limits, unlocking their untapped potential.

“The role I liked most was Seymour because he’s very animated. […] The best part of theater is the feeling of when you’re onstage and the immediate reaction that you get from the audience. And, even if they don’t verbally respond, you can see it in their faces. You can feel the tension in the room,” Leiwant said. “The feeling from the audience is incredible when you’re on stage and you’re performing, you’re singing, you just finished a really strong number, and you just hit a note that you find particularly difficult, and you feel awesome about it.”

Theater Arts teacher Michael Towers, who has guided Leiwant and Sanders through their years of theater since they joined SSPA, can attest to their growth. Towers believes that the roles of Seymour and Emily have helped them grow tremendously this year and that Leiwant and Sanders are two of the most successful students ever in the history of the WA theater department.

“[Dylan’s] vocal range has has grown tremendously. Now I will call him one of the best singers ever to come through our department,” Towers said. “[…] With Gaby playing this very, very, very difficult role of Emily in Disgraced, this would be an extraordinary opportunity for any actor. But if you had the opportunity to see it, you would know that the ability to do physically what she did was extraordinary, parsing through these very difficult topics.”

Leiwant and Sanders are looking forward to the opportunities they will have in New York City, including the connections they will be able to make and people they will be able to meet.

“I’m most excited for the social aspect of living in the city and getting to know new people from different backgrounds, but also working with these professors who have a wide range of experiences and most of all, working with professors who work in the theater world on Broadway,” Sanders said. “So I think that’s really cool. I’m excited for the connections and being able to interact with people that have real-world experience.”

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About the Contributor
Grace Hsu
Grace Hsu, Features Editor
Hi, my name is Grace Hsu and I am a sophomore as well as one of the features editors of the Ghostwriter. This is my second year on the paper and I joined because I like to read and write. In my free time, I like to listen to Taylor Swift and spend time with my friends and family. I also swim competitively and I love to go to the beach. I'm looking forward to another great year!

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    Mira LeiwantMay 26, 2024 at 9:39 am

    So proud of Dylan and Gabi and can’t wait to see what’s in store for their futures!!