“Proving to myself that I am capable of living a life of theater in Santa Barbara,” answers Danielle Draper when I ask what she is most proud of. “I’ve spent my years out of college holding down multiple jobs and finding time to work professionally in theater in a variety of aspects in this city. The fact that I’m still doing that today, and still loving it, is mind-blowing.”
Danielle is one of the founding members of the Roaming Theatre Collaborative, which also includes Karen Baltzy, Lindsey Twigg, Harrison Derbyshire, and Lucas Nelson. Together, they have been performing innovative art, including cabarets and re-imagined classic plays, in unusual venues across Santa Barbara.
“We saw there were a lot of theatre companies in town but none run by people our age,” she explains. “One of the things I learned at Westmont was to find a space and build the show from the ground up.”
The venerated theater artist and teacher John Blondell taught her that. The Roaming Theatre’s first endeavor was Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit. She describes their approach as “grungy” and Performed at Fishbon on Quarantina Street, she describes their approach as “grungy.”
“We turned people away,” she tells me, surprised. “People from the theater community supported us!”
On September 21, the Roaming Theatre’s second cabaret invited younger artists to test their work, and participants included a jazz band, dancers, singers, songwriters, and actors doing stage readings of new plays. “We found out something was missing in Santa Barbara,” she says.
Danielle was raised in Orange County and attended Trabuco Hills High School, where she participated in their advanced theater company called Off The Wall. She was cast in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the Merry Wives of Windsor as well as the musicals Grease and Cinderella.
In 2012, she chose to her father’s alma mater Westmont College to study theatre arts. “I didn’t see myself studying theatre at a Christian college,” she admits. “I thought the theatre program would be overshadowed by religion.” All of her apprehensions vanished when she met John Blondell while touring the campus.
After she’d chosen to come to Santa Barbara, her parents divorced, and her dad, John Draper, also moved here. He is now a chaplain at Cottage Hospital.
During her first two years at Westmont, she was not cast in any plays. “I thought I wasn’t going to act,” she divulges. “Ironically, I was really shy back then and I was bad at putting myself out there.”
The lighting professor, Jonathan Hicks, introduced her to theatre lighting and mentored her in design. During her junior year, Lindsey Twigg co-wrote and performed a piece called PB & J, in which Danielle played the left side of the brain and Lindsey the right. “We realized we were collaborators and writing partners,” Danielle shares.
They went on to create their senior thesis entitled Sinner/Saint. “My side of the piece spoke about my bisexuality,” she explains, “while my partner spoke about her uncle, who ended up dying of AIDS. She didn’t knew about it until later in life.”
Before performing Sinner/Saint, Danielle sent it to the school’s provost to read. “I wanted to make sure the school was aware this was something we were doing,” she explains. “It ended up being the highlight of my time at Westmont.”
Her work won an Indy Award from this newspaper. In their memorable acceptance speech, Danielle and Lindsey thanked their church and school for “offering reconciliation in response to their discovery of same-sex love.”
Since graduating in 2016, Danielle has been doing lighting design, sound engineering, and house managing at the Marjorie Luke Theatre. She is also the ticketing coordinator during SBIFF and is assistant manager at the Riviera Theatre.
“The Santa Barbara theater community has been very supportive, but that doesn’t make it easy for young people to create art,” she says. “It’s so expensive. We want to push the boundaries of what is traditional, safe theatre. We want to show S.B. there are other types of theatre. Theater for me at the end of the day is about storytelling. Through our Roaming Theatre Collaborative, we’ve been able to touch so many people. That’s why I keep coming back.”
Danielle Draper answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
That moment in musical theater, usually before intermission, when the lead sings a song about rising above something and they hit a huge note that gives me a tingly feeling all over. If we could all feel that all the time, I’ll bet you a dollar most of our problems wouldn’t feel so overwhelming!
What is your greatest fear?
Not living my passion. I never want to become stuck in a job or relationship that steals time away from my art.
Who do you most admire?
My lighting professor and mentor Jonathan Hicks. He saw my interest in lighting and pushed me into a new theatrical world of color. Jonathan is the hardest working person I’ve ever met. He supports a family, works as a professor, lights shows professionally, and still finds time to push his students.
What do you like most about your job?
The people with whom I work. My teams, without a doubt, from all my jobs are some of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met. I’ve been blessed with bosses who love to teach and are incredibly supportive.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I love makeup. For me, the act of doing my makeup is like a calming meditation. Having that one-on-one time with myself is very important in my daily routine.
What is your current state of mind?
Anxious. It’s like my brain is a computer with too many tabs open, but one of those tabs is playing music (probably showtunes) and I can’t find that tab to close it.
What is the quality you most like in people?
When people can laugh at themselves.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
When they don’t take the time to hear both sides of a story.
What do you most value in friends?
I’m drawn to people who have shown they are supportive, good-humored, and kind.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I’m incredibly laid-back and calm. My friends say I’m naturally stoned. While that’s not the case, I think I’m more hopeful that my mood will reach out and calm the room.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Y’all.’ I think in a past life I lived as a cowgirl on a farm.
Which talent would you most like to have?What I wouldn’t give to be a better singer. I’m a musical theater fan who can’t actually sing, but that has not stopped me from trying!
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I am a procrastinator in the worst way. Since I always finish my task in the very last second, I’ve never had to learn my lesson. Why fix something that ain’t broke (another way of procrastinating)?
Where would you most like to live?
Berlin. I spent two months there while in college and I still miss everything about that place. The people are open and friendly to outsiders. The city is dripping in all types of art, so much so that there’s graffiti everywhere. But they don’t clean up any of it because they consider it self-expression and never want to censor anyone.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have a stuffed animal from when I was three. His name is Big Monkey. His eyes are so worn out that I’ve had to repaint them with nail polish. He wears a little sweater to cover up all his holes because I don’t know how to sew them shut. I don’t really need him for anything, but I’m glad he’s still here.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My parents. They have both been through so much hardship and, at the end of the day, are no longer together. But despite that, they have a sense of humor that is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
What is your motto?
“Keep Calm and Carry On.” No joke I probably say that to myself at least once a day.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Robert Edmond Jones. I found his book The Dramatic Imagination when I almost lost hope in being a theater maker. His words on collaboration across all aspects of the stage is the backbone for how I strive towards creating theater.
On what occasion do you lie?
When I’m confronted by how often I actually go to Dunkin’ Donuts….