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Alumni Spotlight: Forrest Penrod

We continue our Alumni Spotlight series with filmmaker, actor, writer, director, teacher, and Sitar alum, Forrest Penrod. Forrest has been involved in our community since he was very young, and is a great representative for what it means to “grow up at Sitar”. Take a look at these photos, and read on for Forrest’s feature about inspiration, creativity, and community.

Students Leah, Forrest, and Sia. Sitar Arts Center. 2018

Forrest, you write scripts, direct, act, and so much more. What inspires your creativity?

I find inspiration in everything, from the shape of flowers to historical anecdotes to the rhythms of how people talk. I think the key is to always wonder, to always learn, and to always choose to look behind that next curtain (or better yet, imagine what’s behind the curtain: a window, a dragon, the Wizard of Oz?). A favorite quote of mine is attributed to Socrates, “I know that I know nothing.” Well I don’t think it’s a coincidence that kids are the most wildly creative humans on the planet. For them, the world and the stars above are brand new and every day brings endless answers, poses twice as many questions, and challenges their every notion of existence whether consciously or subconsciously. Pablo Picasso said “Every child is an artist” and Carl Sagan said “Everybody starts out a scientist”. We’re born curious but whether we remain so is for us to decide. I try to navigate life as if I know nothing so that I always learn something.

As someone who battles depression, who has experienced lows that seemed to sap my soul from me, I realized that an artist has to create even when the muses turn fickle, for at no other time does art become more essential. A void can only be filled, better by something that might help, and that very lack of inspiration can be a boost unto itself. In those moments I was stripped and found only myself and a need to process who I found, art my method of laying myself out.

Typical activities I do to help the creative juices circulate: Go for a walk, exercise, garden, play with my cats, listen to music, doodle, and take frequent breaks to avoid burnout.

“Art is holistic. I couldn’t write if it wasn’t for the friends, mentors, and role models enriching my life by simply being part of it.”

Forrest Penrod

You have participated in several Sitar summer musical productions, can you tell us a fond memory you have from one of the productions?

Sitar is generational. While every student interacts with older or younger students, there are distinct age groups that tend to stick together. Never was that clearer to me than in Fiddler On the Roof. There is a wedding scene where I’m playing one of the fathers and the groom is a student who I could still vividly remember as a toddler. I cried during one of the last rehearsals, it was an odd but clarifying moment.

Forrest & Christina Lucas in Fiddler On the Roof. Sitar Arts Center. 2017

What role does community serve in supporting your writing, directing, and acting?

Writing is performed for one person but that person does not exist in isolation. Art is holistic. I couldn’t write if it wasn’t for the friends, mentors, and role models enriching my life by simply being part of it. By writing I funnel aspects of my soul onto paper but I have to be someone to funnel experiences from and without the community I belong to, without my friends and family, who am I? They keep me honest, on track, and have my back when the going gets rough.

Why are art and community engagement important to you?

A community cannot exist without communication, empathy, or unity. Until we can reach each other’s minds, art remains the best way of both expressing abstract emotions as well as bringing people together to do something constructive, to build, to bridge gaps.

Forrest & Sitar Summer students in Seussical. Sitar Arts Center. 2019

Can you tell us about your experience as a volunteer teacher at Sitar? What kind of things did you learn about yourself, and how has it helped you? 

There was a time where I was about ready to quit drawing and writing altogether. I wasn’t getting anywhere with any of my projects fast. I was totally defeated. However, seeing the students create, practice, perform gave me renewed belief in what I wanted to do with my life.

Looking forward, what do you see for yourself, your art, and your community?

At the moment I am editing a manuscript that I will attempt to get published this year and I plan to continue writing.