#BehindtheCurtain: Get to Know Sean Barnett

 In Blog, San Diego Broadway Shows

Get ready for “the best, and the worst, and the crazy, and the scary”, because SDMT is about to dive into the world of Evan Goldman as he becomes a teenager in 13 The Musical! We are so excited to bring you 13 as our 2024 Pre-Professional Production, and we can’t think of anyone better to help guide our young artists than our incredible director, Sean Barnett! Sean is making his SDMT Directorial debut with this production, but he is no stranger to the SDMT Stage. Having appeared in two of our Pre-Professional productions as an actor (Rent and The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee), we are delighted to have Sean join us again, this time in a different and exciting new role. As a rising Junior in the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama Directing Program, Sean brings a wealth of knowledge and emotional maturity to this heartfelt production. This week, we had a chance to get to know Sean a little more in this Behind the Curtain blog, so keep reading to hear his answers! Then be sure to get your tickets for 13 so you can see Sean’s vision come to life on the SDMT Stage from July 19-28.


How long have you been doing musical theatre, whether in a performing or directing role? And what inspired you to get into it in the first place?

I’ve been doing musical theatre for about 10 years (almost to the day when we started rehearsals for 13!). My mom was the manager of my town’s community theatre, so I grew up going to see shows through elementary school field trips. However, I did not take to performing in them until I was 10 and sports proved to not be the thing I was good at.

I played John Darling in a production of Peter Pan Jr. and didn’t look back. I’ve always had an incredibly active imagination since I was a young kid with storytelling mediums as my security blankets (many hours perusing through Hollywood Video and my face in front of a TV screen watching Cartoon Network), so theatre felt like the closest thing that could connect me to that innate part of myself. I started working as a professional actor at age 13 in the Riverside/San Diego County theatre communities. At 15, I gained an interest in directing after seeing and working with people close to my age trying their hand at it, which made it feel possible for a young person like me to explore it. Hence, the strange and unusual writer-director-actor multihyphenate you see in front of you today!

Photo by Mark Holmes

If you could tell the audience anything about this show, what would it be? Does it have any special meaning or significance to you personally?

13 is a show that’s near and dear to my heart both on a theatre-making level and a life/story level. It was one of the first shows I ever performed in the ensemble at 11 years old (incredibly embarrassing photo incoming!) A couple of years later, I was able to come back to the show in the role of Archie alongside my childhood theatre friends (Another embarrassing photo below WOOOOOHOOOOO!)

Now that it’s entered my life again at 21, I recognize the impact that it has had on my own life and why this story is so important. At its heart, this show is a story about navigating change and the idea that growing up is a PROCESS. Not something that is decided by a singular event or numbered milestone. Having been a freshman in college going through significant amounts of change when I first came up with the idea to do this show again, I have very deeply connected with this material and even feel that I am almost living the story as I am helping tell it for the SDMT audience.

If you had to pick, what is your favorite scene or number in the show?

My favorite moment in the show now and forever will always be “A Little More Homework”. It’s such a beautifully simple finale to our story that really brings home what this show is. It’s a means of connection between the performers and the audience. A way for the young people represented onstage to honestly call to the adults in their lives the need for support instead of judgment. I hope that people walk away from the show with a stronger sense of empathy for either the teenager in their life or themselves at that age. The validation that no matter what you feel in your own life, there are always other people who feel the same way and are going through the same experiences. That is the thing that I hope that for our audience transcends the confines of age.

What is a dream show of yours to direct? If you have a few, feel free to list them!

There’s a production of Newsies that’s been dwelling within me ever since I started directing. It’s one of those musicals that just encapsulates you in this group of young people learning how to connect and advocate for themselves in a spectacular and deeply human way. I sense a common theme here!

I am also a tremendous lover of all things comedy and newer works. Another dream show of mine is The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals, which is an alien invasion horror-comedy about a cynical “normal” man who wakes up to find his town infectiously singing and dancing. Essentially, very weird, silly, and sweet stories are what I find myself attracted to the most. And as always, being a writer/director, I always love the idea of directing a new work that’s never been seen before. Maybe one day! 

Photo by Mark Holmes

This show dives into the tumultuous years of becoming a teenager and all of the joys and stress being 13 can bring. What’s something you remember experiencing during your own 13th year of life?

Even as a little homeschooled child actor, I do vividly remember the feeling of being looked under a microscope. Like if I didn’t do everything perfectly or in the way people expected of me, I was disappointing others. Like I wasn’t living up to the flashy checkmarks of what a true “adult was. What even is an “adult” by definition? The struggle to communicate, trying to find your place amongst your peers, navigating the way your body/mind is changing, the endless questions of why this is all happening to you. This age is the first time you go through this significant amount of change, which is what makes Jason Robert Brown, Robert Horn, and Dan Elish’s illustration so specific to the point where it feels universal for people going through change at any stage of their lives.

Having worked on both sides of the table as both a performer and a creative, is there one you enjoy more than the other? Also, what’s the most challenging part about your role as director?

I have what feels like a strange relationship with being a multi-hyphenate creative that I’ve realized now is a pretty common experience after talking to other multi-hyphenates. I love doing both equally and regularly flip-flop between them. When I direct, I get sad when I can’t be on that stage with the cast to perform the full length of a run. Then, when acting, I feel this fiery need to tell a full story in my own voice. Even as I work on this show, the thought of getting back onstage and performing again is very enticing. It’s really a never-ending blessing and curse!

For the challenging parts of directing, it’s always about the dance of spinning a thousand plates at once. I recently watched an interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro in which he said as a director you need to be “both tough as nails and extremely fragile”. Being able to lead a full team of designers/musicians/choreographers/crew while still being in tune on an interpersonal level with your actors is something that will always be the tightrope you walk without letting the pendulum swing too far one way or the other. That is both incredibly scary and the most exhilarating part of directing for me!



13 Creative Team:
Director: Sean Barnett
Music Director: Matt Ignacio
Choreographer: Erica Kahn


CLICK HERE to buy tickets!


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