Dakota Graf has always been a drawn to the arts. From exploring visual and literary works to playing the drums and guitar, the 17-year-old gravitates toward all forms of self expression.
But it’s in the theater where Dakota has found a second home. Currently performing in the hit production, “Showstoppers,” at the Brunswick Actor’s Theatre, the Brunswick High School senior has also appeared in a number of school plays and musicals. A few of those include “The Laramie Project,””Emma!,” “A Pop Musical,” “Lily Plants a Garden” and “Elektra.”
But it was the Mark Twain classic, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” that first lit the spark for the thespain.
“I was in Lucy Lynn Bryson’s acting class at Brunswick High when I accidentally agreed to do my first show, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.’ In the show, there was this terrifying nightmare scene with Tom, played by the incredible Nick Hodge, and of course the first day I come to rehearsal is the day the other cast members are rehearsing it,” Dakota said.
“People were banging on platforms, whispering and making animal noises, and I almost turned around and left from being so creeped out. They convinced me to stay and play the part of a young boy named Joe Harper, but it’s odd to think that I’d fall in love with something that utterly terrified me at first.”
Since then, Dakota has become a regular in productions there. Later, she joining the Brunswick Actor’s Theatre, where she’s seen much success today. In fact, “Showstoppers,” was recently given an encore performance, which will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the downtown location. It’s a place that has become very special for Dakota.
“Amy Lovin offered me a part in ‘My Three Angels’ at the Brunswick Actors Theatre, which has given me a second family and home,” she said.
Regardless of where Dakota’s performing, she thrives on the transformative nature of the craft. With each role, she is able to assume a new identity every time she steps on stage. That allows her a chance to better understand the world around her.
“With every show I’m in, I get to travel to new locations and experience life with a new perspective. Through the stage, I’ve met a vast array of people unlike myself, I’ve practiced cultures and beliefs different than my own, and I’ve seen through the eyes of others,” she said.
“You can’t even begin to imagine how eye-opening that can be until you’ve lived as someone else. Theater gives you a different perspective, thus making you more open-minded and aware when it comes to certain sides of arguments and everyday issues. By playing roles different than that of the one you live every day in, you can begin to understand why morals and compassion are so imperative.”
All of those lessons will accompany Dakota as she moves to her next phase — college. Of course, as a duel enrollment student, she has already had a taste of that life. She will wrap up an associate of science degree from the College of Coastal Georgia before heading to Columbus State University to pursue a bachelor of fine arts degree as a theater major.
“Eventually I’d like to be a director, but I love all aspects of theater. I’m open to acting, directing, technical theater, stage managing, costuming, and perhaps even teaching if that’s where the road leads me. I want to do what I love for the rest of my life,” she said.
“I get to be someone else every day as a career. In a joking sense, it’s almost like getting paid to play pretend.”
Of course, Dakota also fully believes in the art as a means to share greater life lessons and messages of unity. It’s something she feels could benefit the whole of humanity.
“Theater is important because it teaches people how to be civil towards one another. It shows people how to spread love and demonstrates how hate brings us down as a race,” she said.
“Theater gives people understanding in a way that nothing else can. Theater is a reflection of life, and it provides an open book for us to learn from.”
Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Lindsey Adkison at email@example.com or at 265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.