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Vickroy: All the stage is a classroom for former actress

SarinRanftl visits with student Ramiro Lagunas hall Eisenhower High School Blue Island.  |  DonnVickroy~Sun-Times Media

Sarina Ranftl visits with student Ramiro Lagunas in the hall at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 18, 2013 7:51AM



It’s a natural progression, Sarina Ranftl says, to go from being in the spotlight to casting one on others.

“You grow and your dreams change,” said Ranftl, who works as an intervention assistant, speech coach and assistant director of plays and musicals at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island. “I love this life now, but I loved that other life, too.”

That other life, in which she lived in Los Angeles, performed on stage and landed supporting roles in three blockbuster movies, was thrilling, stimulating and fulfilling, but so is her current life, in which she helps teenagers dig deep and take command of the roles they are chosen to perform.

In 1995, Ranftl was a fresh-faced Shepard High School grad who heeded a call for open auditions on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“I was supposed to go to Columbia (College), but my financial aid fell through at the last minute,” she said.

It was too late to apply elsewhere, so she floundered a bit, working as a waitress at a Bob Evans.

One day while visiting her grandmother, she caught a glimpse of Oprah on TV. The talk show host announced that famed director Garry Marshall was going to be on an upcoming show, auditioning prospective actors.

She called immediately.

“He (Marshall) gave me a joke and I told it my own way,” Ranftl said. “I wore my Bob Evans uniform for effect.”

Soon after, she got a call back and went on the show again, this time to audition in a scene from “Laverne and Shirley” with actress Penny Marshall. She won the contest and was flown to L.A. to perform a speaking role as a postal worker in “Dear God” with actor Greg Kinnear.

“It was very surreal, something I had dreamed about my whole life,” she said. “I was very aware the entire time that I was blessed. I was determined to make the most of it.”

A year later she was named Female Talent of the Year by the International Modeling and Talent Association in New York.

After reappearing on Oprah a third time to update the audience, Ranftl decided to move to the West Coast city. She stayed for seven years, working as an equity actor at Marshall’s theater, as well as in film. She landed roles in “Raising Helen” with Kate Hudson and “The Princess Diaries 2” with Anne Hathaway.

But the stage proved to be her true calling.

“Theater is where my heart is,” she said. “Film is very structured and not organic. I like to perform live.”

She also liked to learn.

Ranftl studied under Hope Alexander, a well-known director and actress.

“She made me do things I wasn’t comfortable doing,” Ranftl said, recalling the time Alexander cast her as Juliet in the famous Shakespeare play. “I was very nervous about it. But I did it, I made it my own, and it made me less afraid.”

Alexander calls Ranftl “a gifted, passionate, giving, committed, collaborative, funny, sweet, beautiful, silly, complex young woman.”

About the time Ranftl turned 30, she noticed a shift in her goals.

“I felt like I needed something more,” she said.

She came back to the Chicago area, enrolled at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights and began studying English for secondary education.

Mike Jacobson, curriculum director for Community High School District 218’s English department, recalled Ranftl as a student on his speech team.

“She was always just as happy for others who did well as she was for herself,” Jacobson said. Her can-do spirit is stronger than ever, he said. Only now, she applies it to students.

Though District 218 didn’t have an opening for a full-time teacher, he hired her as an intervention specialist. She helps struggling kids get back on track academically.

She also helps with the school’s theatrical productions.

“To see the leaps and bounds the drama program has made is just remarkable,” he said. “The kids really understand and connect to the characters. They understand the subtexts.”

Alexander concurred.

“I am so happy she is teaching and passing on her knowledge and infectious passion to another generation,” she said.

The personal growth has been equally amazing. Ranftl, now 36, was a shy kid, the oldest of four kids, growing up in Alsip. She’d always loved to read but finding theater was life-changing, she said.

She realized her ability to ad-lib while performing her very first role in a fifth-grade production.

“I was carrying a bag of groceries and the bag split and things starting rolling everywhere. I improvised and turned it into something funny. At that moment, I realized I had a talent for being on stage. Of course, once the play was over, I cried my eyes out over the mishap,” she said.

But the experience opened a door and there was no turning back. At Shepard, she was uber-involved — president of the drama club, member of the speech team, editor of the school paper.

“My mom says a light went on in me then; I went from being shy to being alive, especially on stage,” she said.

Now she wants to give others a chance to find their light. She awaits a full-time teaching position and is busy planning her wedding. She recently became engaged to Jon Kledzik, whom she said she loves even more than theater, “If you can believe that.”

“It’s imperative that kids have a place (in high school) where they belong, where they can grow and take risks,” she said.

Theater provides that for many kids, she said.

“I love when I see my theater kids owning who they are. That confidence is so important,” she said. “They won’t need someone to guide them in life. They’ll guide themselves.”

You can catch Ranftl’s work when Eisenhower students perform
“Curious Savage” on Nov. 15 and 16 at the school, 12700 Sacramento Ave., Blue Island; (708) 597-6300; chsd218.eisenhower.school.



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