Dramas Dynamic Duo Teams Up

Luke Smith

In just the first minute of my first theater rehearsal, I was overcome with a sense of intensity and focus not unlike that of a varsity lacrosse practice. Dana Sato and Daniel Tobiassen run a tight ship, and despite the often eccentric, outspoken nature of their cast and crew, they approach the program with a measured stoicism that instantly commands the attention of the theater production.

“I think when people think drama teachers, they think that drama teacher from High School Musical – that crazy, floaty, big glasses [woman]- and, in my experience, that’s not what good directors are,” Sato said.

Sato and Tobiassen certainly do not fit that image. They come across just as sober, focused and deliberate as any coach — fully by design.

“I swam competitively for 13 years, and I was a good athlete. Part of what I try to bring here is the best of some of my coaches and my directors,” Sato said. “Some of what my directors were missing was that drive, and some of my coaches were missing that passion.”

The delicate balance she walks of being kind but understated, encouraging but motivational and loving but disciplined is one that resonates with Sato’s students.

“Sato is not as intense- she slides you into this level of comfort, where you don’t realize how much she is capable of pulling from you. She’s very easy to work with- but she makes you want to work very hard, and can escalate very suddenly, gradually raising your expectations- and your performance- without you realizing,” student director Maya Ward said.

For Tobiassen’s part, there is far less subtlety involved. The expectations are clear from the onset, owing both to his stern persona and the nature of his work as a technical director.

“I do have a high level of expectation, where she might “scaffolda��… but consider the power tools back there, consider the circle saw and the power saw — I’ve never had one accident back there,” Tobiassen said.

It is true that one cannot gradually raise the expectations when the nature of the work can be, in all seriousness, life threatening; rigid discipline is a job requirement. Even so, there is an equally philosophical bend to his approach.

Tobiassen asks: “Why is it that [athletes] get to have the coach mentality? That sense of being on a team and working together to build something, to build to a win? Our shows are our wins. Why do kids that can’t be an athlete, or just don’t want to be, have to miss that opportunity in their childhood?”

The pair, married in spring 2016, are known for their personal commitment to running the show. They make a great team- working incredibly hard together, as they put tremendous amounts of themselves into each production.

“They devote so much time and energy into the show,” junior Rebecca Ehlers said. “They keep it very professional- I didn’t even know they were a couple until halfway through [my first show].”

Sato and Tobiassen’s efforts have inspired a brilliant program- which leaves room for the refuge of fun and freedom necessary in a theatre environment- but is overlain by a stunningly powerful culture of relentlessness, focus, discipline and pride in the craft- an important lesson in any teenager’s formative years.

“The kids who stick around get a lot out of it,” Sato said, understated as ever.