Baker coming home to lead Springer Theatre Academy

Baker coming home to lead Springer Theatre Academy
Sally Baker
Sally Baker

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The Springer Opera House announced Monday that the search for a new director of the Springer Theatre Academy has concluded with the hiring of Sally Vander Gheynst Baker.

Baker will replace the retiring Ron Anderson and will begin her tenure at the Springer in late May. Anderson announced his retirement last fall after serving as founding director of the Theatre Academy since 1996.

A search committee, consisting of representatives from the Springer board of directors, senior staff, Springer Theatre Academy parents and students conducted a four-month search, interviewing candidates from New York, Virginia, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Georgia.

Baker will take over two highly successful Springer programs, the Springer Theatre Academy and the Springer Children's Theatre. The Theatre Academy, the Springer's young-actor training program, currently has 700 active students and has trained over 6,000 students in theatre arts with the guiding mission of “teaching life skills through stage skills.”

The Springer Children's Theatre grew out of the Springer Theatre Academy and has presented professional level productions for tens of thousands of children from area school groups and family audiences since 2001.

"I am thrilled to accept this position," said Baker. "I feel I've been built for it. Every program I have ever run and every class I have ever taught has been preparing me to become the director of the Springer Theatre Academy and the Springer Children's Theatre. I am humbled to take over from Ron and excited to help move these incredible programs into the future."

Baker is a Columbus native and has a long history with the Springer, from being a child actor in the 1980s to being a regular guest instructor at the Springer Theatre Academy and guest director with the Springer Children's Theatre.

She is the daughter of the late Carol Vander Gheynst, who retired from Muscogee County Schools as director of planning, and Paul Vander Gheynst, a former professor of music at the Schwob School and dean of the CSU College of Arts and Letters.

Baker is a graduate of Hardaway High School and holds a bachelor's in English education from the University of Georgia. After several years in Georgia as an English and drama teacher, Baker moved to California to become the education coordinator for the California Theatre Center, a national children's theatre touring company.

She later moved to Texas to earn her master's in theatre for youth at the University of Texas at Austin. She was then recruited and hired to become Education Coordinator for the Nashville Children's Theatre.

Following her tenure there, she returned to Georgia to teach drama and English, first at Oconee County High School and then at Winder-Barrow High School.

Baker comes to Columbus with her husband Brad Baker, a youth minister in north Atlanta, and their daughter Evie Baker, age 3.

During the interview process, Baker impressed the search committee with her enthusiasm and optimism, love of children, passion for theatre, ability to clearly articulate programming goals and strategies, dedication to the Springer Theatre Academy's mission, and her commitment to the Columbus community.

"Sally Baker is absolutely the right person for this job. She was born for it," Anderson said. "There is no one better qualified, gifted or suited to take over the Springer Theatre Academy and Springer Children's Theatre. We are very, very fortunate to have her, and I couldn't be happier."

A reception for Sally Baker and her family will be held at the Springer's McClure Theatre at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 15 following the 2 p.m. performance of "The Borrowers" by the Springer Children's Theatre.