Dorothy Jo Oberfoell: an interview with Greenbrier Valley Theatre’s new educational director

By Autumn Shelton, RealWV

LEWISBURG, W.Va. – It’s been four months since Dorothy Jo Oberfoell took over as educational director for the Greenbrier Valley Theatre (GVT) and, so far, she is breaking a leg. 

In a recent interview with Real WV, Oberfoell discussed her background, educational programs offered by the GVT, and why it’s important for children to learn about the arts. 

Originally from Dubuque, Iowa, Oberfoell grew up in a large family, and has loved the performing arts for as long as she can remember. 

“I’ve always been creative and involved in storytelling and singing and dancing around the house,” Oberfoell said. “So realizing that theater was an opportunity to combine all of those things was really exciting to me.” 

In elementary school, Oberfoell participated in children’s theater and took dance classes, but a high school performance of “Two Rooms” by Lee Blessing (about the Iranian Hostage Crisis of the 1970s) solidified her career path. 

“I was helping with costume design and directing and doing other elements rather than just performing,” Oberfoell said. “That was really intriguing to me. That was the first time I did a sophisticated role, and helped do research on the production. Then, in college I got to expand on that even more and that’s just what I have been doing ever since. I love to be involved in all aspects of the process.” 

Oberfoell graduated from Wisconsin’s Viterbo University in 2019 with a BFA in theater and an emphasis in acting. After substitute teaching and working with the Missoula Children’s Theatre, she found her current home at the GVT where she educates children in the performing arts. 

“We do a lot of outreach programming here in the theater as well as in the community,” Oberfoell said, adding that the purpose of the educational programs are to “be engaging, be inclusive, have quality theater education and teach life skills to students that will continue into adulthood.” 

One of these programs is the “Acting It Out” program, where Oberfoell travels to local schools to teach a dramatic workshop for the non-theater classroom. 

“The workshops are designed to be STEM based,” Oberfoell said. “It’s a chance to get the students on their feet and engaged in a topic or subject that they may not otherwise have the opportunity for. It’s a unique way of teaching that subject.” 

Greenbrier County Schools has partnered with the GVT to provide up to 50 separate workshops to Greenbrier County classrooms at no charge to the classroom teacher, Oberfoell explained. Teachers may select a lesson from the Acting It Out guide on the GVT website, fill out the workshop request form, and Oberfoell will contact the teacher to schedule a classroom visit.  

One popular workshop is the “Rube Goldberg Machine,” suited for grades 5-9. 

According to the workshop guide, this lesson begins “by defining and examining man-made simple and complex machines, followed by a discussion of simple machines within the human body.” At the end of the workshop, students will try to construct a Rube Goldberg Machine using their own bodies as well as “nontraditional materials.” 

Oberfoell said that her favorite workshop involved her speaking to a class about costumes and the importance of what characters wear. 

“We talked about everybody’s favorite character and why we think they wear what they wear and why they might wear a particular color, or a particular shirt or pants,” Oberfoell said. “It was exciting. The kids were excited about it. They got to draw their own characters using some of their favorite colors, keeping in mind all of those things we had discussed, to design their characters.” 

In addition to Acting It Out workshops, GVT holds after-school programs for children interested in the performing arts. 

The classes are held in the fall and spring, and there are separate classes for those in K-1st, 2nd-3rd, 4th-6th, and 7th-12th grades, Oberfoell explained. There is also an audition only conservatory program for students in 8th-12th grades. 

These classes, which last about an hour, are independent of Greenbrier County Schools, but Oberfoell noted that “homeschool students, students from throughout Greenbrier County, the Greenbrier Community School and other private schools are enrolled in the classes.” 

The classes cost about $90 per semester, but sibling discounts and scholarships are available for students, Oberfoell said. The registration deadline for the spring semester is Jan. 8. 

“If people are interested, we would love to have them,” Oberfoell said, adding that the spring semester culminates in a showcase performance for family and friends. 

“For those in K-12, not in the audition class, we are doing things a little differently this year,” Oberfoell added. “We are doing a showcase all together. It’s meant to be an opportunity for everyone to see and support each other.” 

Also, in the spring, preparations are being made for the student musical “Finding Nemo Jr.”

This production will be open to the public and auditions will be held on Jan. 4, Oberfoell said. Students in middle and high school are invited to audition. 

Another component of the GVT Youth Education Program is the student matinee program. This program gives students from throughout the region the chance to watch a professional show. 

Currently, students are able to visit the GVT to watch a production of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” Oberfoell said. 

“Around 200 students are coming to see the production,” Oberfoell said. “Earlier this year, in October and November, about 1,000 students came to the GVT to watch a performance of “Frankenstein.” 

“Teachers can bring students to the shows at a discounted rate, and we provide teachers with study guides before the show,” Oberfoell said. “Following the show, students have the opportunity to speak with performers.” 

With all of the educational opportunities provided by the GVT, Oberfoell stays busy, but she said she enjoys her new position. 

“There is a lot of programming that we do during the school year, and in the summer,” Oberfoell said. “The arts have a lot to teach students about their own emotions, about empathy, about life skills, cooperation, teamwork, creativity, imagination, and all of those things can help to become successful and creative adults and students moving forward.” 

“The staff has been very supportive of me coming into this position,” she concluded. “It’s been very exciting to work with everyone, and they have been really great.” 

To learn more about educational programs offered by GVT, visit their website

To contact Oberfoell, email Education@gvtheatre.org

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