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Hidden Gems: Meet Ira Bauer-Spector of Breakthrough Workshop Theatre

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ira Bauer-Spector.  

Hi Ira, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I was raised in Colorado, and after receiving two BFA degrees in Musical Theatre and Theatre Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder, I spent a brief time in Chicago before moving to San Diego in 2008 to pursue an MFA in Musical Theatre (Directing) from San Diego State University. I worked at a variety of San Diego-based theatre companies including The Old Globe and Diversionary and discovered a deep passion for directing youth theatre projects, including 9 projects from 2011 to 2016 at San Diego Junior Theatre. The final project I directed at SDJT in 2016, “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” received 15 nominations at the National Youth Arts Awards, and won many including Outstanding Production and Outstanding Direction. 

In 2013, along with my husband Nathan, I founded the educational nonprofit Breakthrough Workshop Theatre, which aims to educate, challenge, celebrate and empower theatre artists of all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels by providing them with unique opportunities that facilitate artistic and personal breakthroughs in a collaborative, ensemble-based environment. 2022 marks the 10th Anniversary Season and in our first 10 years, we have provided over 1,000 artistic opportunities to over 200 different Breakthrough Artists. We have presented projects all over San Diego including in Coronado (the location of most of BWT’s 2022 Season), La Jolla, Old Town, Hillcrest, University Heights, Liberty Station, Ocean Beach, Balboa Park, Mission Gorge, and Downtown, as well as a special event workshop in Las Vegas. 

While BWT is a dream of mine and keeps me artistically challenged, I am also deeply inspired by my full-time job as the Marketing Director for the historic San Diego Civic Youth Ballet in Balboa Park, a position I have held since 2015. During my time at the ballet, five years ago, I received the Betty Peabody Emerging Young Leader of Balboa Park Award from Friends of Balboa Park and have played Mother Ginger in SDCYB’s “The Nutcracker” annually since 2017. My mother was an arts educator for over 40 years and I am deeply honored that I get to follow in her footsteps. 

I currently live in San Diego with my husband Nathan and two cats, Max & Maebelle. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Like every journey, there have been challenges in mine. In order to pursue the career and family that I dreamed I could one day attain, I had to move away from my home state almost 15 years ago. After graduating from San Diego State University with my MFA, I found myself in a position where I was inspired by the creative opportunities, I was being offered throughout the vibrant San Diego youth theatre community, but unfortunately, those jobs were not enough to pay my bills, especially living in a city as expensive as San Diego. Along the way, before I began my tenure at the ballet, I had some pretty awful day jobs that made me question my choices and my ability to create art moving forward. 

However, it was from those very obstacles that Breakthrough Workshop Theatre was founded in 2013. I needed to find a way to continue to be a theatre artist, no matter what, even as the circumstances of my life were trying to prevent that from happening. BWT gave me the understanding that “what an artist is” does not have to be a monolith and can come in many different forms. BWT also gave me the confidence to overcome those obstacles and once again see myself as an artist worthy of respect. Even though I have never made a dollar at BWT and no critics have reviewed our work, I know for a fact that the lives of many of our Breakthrough Artists, as well as many in our audiences, have been forever changed by the impact of our work, and that brings me tremendous pride. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
An experience at Breakthrough Workshop Theatre is unlike any other. There are so many wonderful theatre artists out there who are talented and passionate, but the realities of life have prevented them from pursuing a path in the arts. Some can’t do it because of financial or emotional constraints; others find the intense schedule required of typical theatre production and the stressful audition process to be too cumbersome; while others are simply already committed to supporting loved ones and don’t have enough hours in the day. BWT was designed for those artists. The time commitment for each project is extremely minimal (no more than a weekend) and it allows artists of all kinds to participate, regardless of any obstacles that they might face. We focus each project around the artists attempting to achieve personal and/or artistic “breakthroughs” in their short time with us and have definitely witnessed countless, life-changing breakthroughs from our artists. 

I think if I were to talk about what makes me the proudest about BWT, it would be that so many artists have come back time and time again to join us. I had a mentor in college who used to say, “If you like my work, don’t give me a compliment, just hire me again.” BWT has 10 artists who have participated with us at least once every single season. We have 25 artists who have participated with us over 10 times, with 7 of those artists surpassing the 20-project mark. We have witnessed undeniable transformations as both theatre artists and as people, and I will never take for granted the level of trust that our artists have instilled in us. Breakthroughs are not always easy to accomplish and to do so, you have to approach the process with a fully open heart. We aren’t the theatre company that you’d come to if you are seeking attention and glory and fame and money, but if you are looking to improve yourself and the world around you while creating meaningful art together, then you should consider joining BWT for a breakthrough. 

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I guess this isn’t too surprising for those who know me well, but I have a unique collection of arm tattoos that I am very proud of. Instead of a tattoo sleeve featuring one design and the work of a single artist, I have instead curated a collection of matching diamond-shaped pieces from various artists, in contrasting styles, created in different locations and at significant milestone moments. I consider it to be an art gallery where the exhibition is the story of my life. 

So far, I have five tattoos in this collection: a watercolor galaxy that represents the forever impact of my closest loved ones and inspirations; a geometric sound wave tattoo of Bette Midler’s voice; an illustration of a lightbulb inspired by the many breakthroughs achieved by our artists at Breakthrough Workshop Theatre; a hyper-realistic greyscale portrait of my beloved cat Max; and a second sound wave that is a compilation of three quotes from the final sequences of my favorite play, musical and television series of all time – “Angels in America,” “Rent” & “Pose.” I have received the tattoos at shops in San Clemente, Brooklyn (twice), San Diego, and Los Angeles, and can’t wait to continue curating this collection and collaborating with more artists for many years to come. 

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