May marks a major milestone in the Plano Arts community as Sara Egelston Akers steps away from her full-time role at North Texas Performing Arts after more than 30 years. Since announcing her retirement in February, she has heard from countless people including many whom she mentored at one time or another. Some are performing on Broadway. Others are now teaching aspiring performers themselves.
“It’s been very heartwarming to hear from so many people, especially from children who went through the program,” she says.
Sara first made her mark on the Plano arts scene in 1991, when she founded the Plano Children’s Theatre. It was one of the first companies dedicated to putting children on stage. Her casting philosophy was that any child could play any role, including those from diverse backgrounds as well as those with disabilities.
Even as a child, Sara said she always knew she was an artist. It seemed she was dancing almost as soon as she could stand, she says.
When she was 3 years old, her mother put her in a tap dance class. From then on, dancing and performing motivated her to get through school, she says. In fourth grade, she started choreographing shows.
She trained under Texie Waterman, who would later gain fame as the first Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders choreographer. She then studied under Toni Beck, who later founded and chaired the SMU dance department.
After going to college at SMU and the University of Texas, she married Jeran Akers. They moved back to the Dallas area and had a son, Joshua.
At that time, she figured she would live the life of a stay-at-home mom. After not working for two or three years, she convinced her church, Grace Presbyterian, to put on a performance of the Wizard of Oz. As the end of rehearsals neared, people involved with the production began asking what was next.
After looking around and realizing there was nothing similar around, Sara set about founding the children’s theater. Three families involved in the Wizard of Oz become the founding board. They began raising money, including the first contribution from her parents.
She went through the long, costly process of establishing the nonprofit. She also printed brochures to announce the theater’s arrival. Those two tasks alone consumed about half the money they’d raised.
“She has a gift for being able to find connections between people and bring them together.” — NTPA CEO Darrell Rodenbaugh
Around the same time, her mother’s cancer returned. Sara brought her home to take care of her. It looked as though the Children’s Theatre would not get off the ground, but her mom had other ideas.
“The last time I saw my mother, she said, ‘promise me that you are going to start that little children’s theater,’ ” Sara recalls.
In the spring of 1992, Sara began the Plano Children’s Theatre from the double-wide trailers at Grace Presbyterian. She had 50 students and a budget of around $800. The following spring, the number of students had jumped to 175.
“I wanted it to be a place where children could grow their skills and their life skills,” she says. “I wanted to help them learn how to communicate with each other, and I wanted some of the things that I learned growing up to be a part of it.
Sara had previously worked at the Lamplighter School in Dallas. While there, she met a child named David on the autism spectrum, but he was also a fantastic performer. She wanted to make sure that her new theater had a place for kids like David.
By 1994 the stakes were raised even higher. Sara was divorced and needed to find a way to support her and her young son. She could no longer do the Children’s Theatre as a side project. If she was going to provide for her family, the Theatre would have to succeed.
That year, the Theatre moved to its first location near the intersection of 15th Street and Custer Road.
By 2005, the Children’s Theatre had expanded into McKinney. Today North Texas Performing Art has a presence in Fairview, Frisco, Dallas and Southlake. Thanks in large part to her fundraising and networking efforts, NTPA moved into new headquarters at the Willow Bend Center of the Arts in 2017.
“Sara is the ultimate connector,” says NTPA CEO Darrell Rodenbaugh.“She has a gift for being able to find connections between people and bring them together.”
Even though the size of the organization has changed, Sara says its core mission remains helping kids improve their skills onstage, while also teaching them skills that will serve them well in life.
She considers the NTPA her family. It was a family she leaned on considerably when her son Joshua passed away in 2019. He also had been active in the organization.
“I don’t know if I would have made it without this family,” she says.
While she may be stepping back, Sara insists she is by no means fully retired. After investing so much of her life into the organization, she says there was no way she could just walk away completely. Sara will continue to serve on the NTPA board of directors and plans to volunteer for many events. She also plans to work more on her own art and spend time with her sister’s family.
In honor of her accomplishments, North Texas Performing Arts has established the Sara Egelston Akers Legacy Fund, providing a need-based scholarship intended to give more students access to performing arts classes.
“Sara’s impact on the performing arts across North Texas has been profound, and her work has impacted thousands of families,” Rodenbaugh says. “Sara is a gifted educator, counselor, leader, artist and dear friend. We wish her the very best of happiness as she moves into this next phase of her life.”