Concordia graduates working in the arts
When Michael Oberholtzer first moved to New York, his life wasn't much fun. He worked the nightshift as a hotel bellman from 11PM until 7AM, then would try to grab some sleep for an hour or two before his first acting class started at 10AM.
Oberholtzer allowed himself only one indulgence during those two long years: on his days off, he would use his old college ID to get student rush tickets for Broadways shows, paying as little as $25 for a seat. Years later, he still remembers the first production he saw, the play Pillowman starring Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum at the Booth Theater. “The whole atmosphere, it was awesome,” he recounts. “It’s a beautiful theater.”
Just last week, a new play called Hand to God opened at the Booth, but this time Oberholtzer wasn’t watching from the audience. He was up on stage, making his Broadway debut.
Hand to God centers around a shy student named Jason who finds an outlet for his creativity at a Christian puppet ministry run by his mother. Oberholtzer plays Timmie, a sullen teen who is also in the group. In a glowing review of the show in the New York Times, theater critic Charles Isherwood noted that in one particular scene “Mr. Oberholtzer’s exhilaration and terror [combine] to riotous effect.”
Oberholtzer traveled a long road to get to the bright lights of Broadway. He graduated from Bethlehem Lutheran School and attended Concordia for his freshman and sophomore years before transferring to Bishop Luers. (His mom, Mrs. Mary Ann Oberholtzer, later taught and served as principal of Lutheran South Unity School.)
While a Cadet, he acted in two CLHS plays, The Baseball Show and the original production of Mr. Chris Gieschen’s Star Wreck, and was cast in a statewide production of the classic Our Town.
After high school he went to Columbia College in Chicago, and a chance meeting with one of his drama professors a few weeks before graduation prompted him to start taking acting classes at an acting conservatory in New York after finishing college.
Once Hand to God ends its Broadway run, he’s not sure what comes next. Such is the life of an actor, even a working one like Oberholtzer, whose film and television credits include playing a killer in an episode of Law & Order and one of Vince Vaughn’s many children in the movie Delivery Man.
“Any actor who’s ever tried to do this as a profession will tell you there’s ups and downs and plateaus and valleys,” he says. “I’m just thrilled that I have a job for awhile. That it’s on Broadway is just the icing on the cake.”
If Amanda Campbell hadn’t signed up for a sewing class during her sophomore year at Concordia, she doesn’t think she would have the job she does today. “That’s what made me realize that I wanted to go to school for fashion design,” she says.
The main reason the class was so impactful was her sewing instructor, Mrs. Stacey Salisbury. “She was very easy going and approachable and not intimidating to me,” Campbell remembers. “She was great at having suggestions for things and helping me on the projects I did outside of school.”
It was in Salisbury’s classes that Campbell, who went to St. Paul and Emmanuel – St. Michael before coming to Concordia, learned how to hand sew and machine sew. She loved it so much that she would stay and do extra projects after class. “Then I started taking things apart at home and turning them into purses: jeans, dresses, belts, and clothes I didn’t wear anymore.”
She also took every art class offered at CLHS during her four years. “I really liked 3-D art, commercial art and photography. Taking all those classes and getting a taste of what they’re all about has made me a more well-rounded designer.”
After Concordia, she studied fashion design at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, then got a job working on sportswear at Under Armour in Baltimore. During that time, she was also making custom handbags on the side, and after two years, she moved back to Fort Wayne to work for Vera Bradley.
She is currently a product designer there in the accessories category, where she creates wallets, wristlets, keychains and tech items like phone cases, iPad covers, laptop cases. She’s also designed lots of other things for the company, including bags, scarves, clothes, shoes, hats, water bottles, towels, blankets, bedding and even Christmas ornaments.
The best part of her job, she says, is getting to collaborate with her co-workers. “Working with other creative people is fun because you’re always bouncing ideas off each other. It makes you a better designer because you’re not working with blinders on.”
Campbell says high school is the perfect place to try out creative classes and creative fields. And her advice to students thinking about pursuing a career in the arts is simple. “Don’t be scared if you like to do something creative,” she says. “You can make it a career.”
When Barbara LeMay was in high school, becoming an opera singer never even crossed her mind. “I was planning to be a writer,” she remembers, “but I wanted singing to be a part of my life.”
She came to Concordia from Unity (now Lutheran South Unity School) and admits she could have been a better student during her time as a Cadet. “Pretty much the only areas where I paid good attention to my homework were English and history and choir and drama.”
That included A Capella, and LeMay still speaks glowingly of its then-conductor Mr. Tim LaCroix. “He could get soft, holy sounds out of us that I still don’t often find except from really amazing professionals,” she recalls, “and he would also get these grand, majestic thunderous sounds out of us. That is not easy to do with any choir, let alone high school kids.”
After graduation, LeMay went on to Ball State, where a music teacher saw her potential as an opera singer. “She brought it out of me and taught me how, and I was hooked. My interest had always been theater and music and performing them together, and that’s what opera is: a more classical style of musical theater.”
Her next stop was Yale University, where she began her opera training in earnest, obtaining a master’s degree in music in the process. Afterward, she moved to New York to begin her professional career.
Since then, she’s performed with the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center and the Opera Theatre of Lucca in Italy, among many others. She's also appeared in the world premiere of Central Park, which was broadcast on PBS and nominated for an Emmy. Her most recent performance was in the Cincinnati Chamber Opera’s production of Ariodante in February and March.
Now based in the Indianapolis area – where she lives with her husband and two young children – LeMay travels all over the country to perform with different opera companies. For most productions, she’s away from home for about a month at a time. She also sings at concerts and recitals throughout the year.
“No matter how experienced I get, I still feel nervous before a performance,” LeMay admits, but she says the feeling of being on stage and affecting an audience more than makes up for it, even after having done it for years now. “The rush is still as sweet.”
Katherine Rohrbacher always knew she wanted to be an artist. “That’s all there ever was,” she says. “I don’t know if I even thought of it as a job.”
She came to Concordia after attending Weisser Park Elementary and Holy Cross for middle school and dove right in, taking as many classes from then-art teacher Mrs. Joan Grossman as she could. “She was always very supportive and guiding,” Rohrbacher recalls. “I can still remember projects that she had me do. I really loved what I made and I still have a ton of them.”
Rohrbacher also was a photographer for the yearbook. “I loved being a part of that,” she recounts, particularly the advisor at the time, Mrs. Susan Koehlinger Hebel. “She was awesome.”
Rohrbacher spent so much time in art and art-related classes that by the end of her sophomore year at Concordia, she had already taken every art course offered, so she transferred to South Side High School for her junior and senior years. “I would have had to take independent study for my last two years if I stayed because I was out of art classes,” she says.
After high school, she went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where earned a BFA with a concentration in painting, then came back to Fort Wayne to start her career. Two years later, she was accepted into the Hoffberger School of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore for graduate study. Her thesis project there memorialized people she knew at Concordia who had passed away, including Grossman.
Her next move was to Los Angeles, where she resides today, in a downtown loft that also contains her studio space. She has shown her work at exhibitions throughout Southern California and was recently selected to be the first artist represented by the Laura Korman Gallery, which opens next month in Santa Monica with a solo show of Rohrbacher’s work.
Over the years, the media she’s worked in has evolved – from painting to glitter and different forms of three-dimensional art – but whatever she creates, Rohrbacher says there’s always a spiritual aspect to it.
“I believe it’s what I’m meant to do and it’s definitely a God-given talent,” she states. “I think about that every time I make a painting. This isn’t just coming from me.”
When Joe Harkenrider walks into work every morning, he knows he’s going to have fun. It's one of the perks of working in comedy. “I get to laugh a bunch,” he says. “Not a lot of people are getting paid to do that.”
But when he began his freshman year at Concordia after graduating from Emmanuel – St. Michael, his plan was to be a marine biologist. That quickly changed, Harkenrider says, because of Mr. Will Neumeyer, his video productions teacher here at the high school.
“He saw something in me and opened more doors for me because I needed more doors to open for me,” Harkenrider remembers. “I was doing a lot of work beyond the assignments and he allowed me more access to equipment and facilities so I could learn even more than what was being taught in the class.”
After high school, Harkenrider spent a year at IPFW taking his general education requirements, then transferred to Columbia College in Chicago, where he earned an interdisciplinary degree in film and photography.
He spent the second half of his senior year enrolled in Columbia’s semester-in-Los Angeles program, during which time he landed an internship at Comedy Central. That led to a paid position in the department that develops new shows for the channel.
As part of that job, he would sit in on the meetings when people came in to pitch Comedy Central ideas for TV shows. One particular online sketch comedy group that wanted to star in their own half-hour sitcom caught Harkenrider’s eye. “There’s something with these guys,” he remembers telling his bosses, “and if we don’t do something with these guys, somebody else will.” The show they were pitching became Workaholics.
Harkenrider eventually left the company fora position at Dickhouse Productions, where he worked on Jacka** 3D, among other projects. Last year he returned to Comedy Central to be an in-house producer for digital series and one-off sketch videos in their online division, CC Studios.
His duties in that job are constantly changing, as the projects he’s creating are always different. That makes it challenging, he says, but also keeps it interesting. “I’ll never get bored.”