photos by Jessica Breaux

Leading Roles

Theater programs at Bernardo Heights Middle School (BHMS) give students the opportunity to discover and explore their passion for performance – and so much more. Whether they want a turn in the spotlight, a chance to get creative with costume design, or to learn the technical intricacies of lighting and rigging, students are front and center in every performance. Musical Theater Director Katie Newbanks shared more with 92128 Magazine.


Q&A with Katie Newbanks, Musical Theater Director

What is the mission of the theater department at your school?
The mission of the Performing Arts Department at BHMS is to give as many students as possible the experience of collaborating and performing.

What is the history of the department?
The Performing Arts Department is constantly changing and growing. The Musical Theatre Club specifically was founded in 2013 by me and Rachel Johnson. When we started, it was with 24 students who performed a short 40-minute musical with few costumes and no sets. Over the past five years, we have definitely grown and evolved. Laura Miles became our musical director in 2015. We now have up to 200 kids audition for our shows, and we present full-length Broadway shows, complete with props, sets, and costumes all designed and worked on by students. Our backstage crew is all students as well. We now have high school students who have gone through our program and come back to help mentor the middle schoolers. We present two full-scale musicals each year with casts of 50 to 70.

At-A-Glance | Musical Theater Director


Name: Katie Newbanks
Education: B.A. in Theatre Communications, M.A. in Teaching with Technology
Community: Westwood
Hobbies & Interests: Traveling, theater, reading, spending time with my family
Family: Husband – Danny; children – Kaylee (Sophomore at RBHS) and Carly (seventh grader at BHMS)
Favorite Places in 92128: Bernardo Heights Middle School and Rancho Bernardo High School

What classes and clubs are available for students who want to be involved?
The Performing Arts Department offers many opportunities to BHMS students – Beginning, Advanced, and Jazz Bands, Beginning and Advanced Orchestra, Beginning and Advanced Choir, Advanced Musical Theatre Class, Musical Theatre Club, and Drama.

What is your role in the department, and what does that entail?
I am the director of the Musical Theatre Club. Along with Laura Miles, the music director, we
run all aspects of the Musical Theatre Club.


What is your professional background, and what sparked your interest in working with middle school students?
I have worked professionally as an actress, as well as a theater producer. I also taught middle school and high school theatre for many years. I began working as a choreographer for a middle school show choir while still in college. That experience sparked my interest in working with middle school students. I found my people!


What has been the most rewarding part of your role? The most challenging?
Producing two full-scale musicals a year with at least 100 students on stage and behind the scenes can be very challenging, but the finished product is also the most rewarding.

Who designs the sets and costumes for the school’s shows?
I conceptualize what I want the sets and costumes to look like, then my husband, Danny Newbanks, comes up with the set design, and my mother, Mary Acosta, and brother, Tim McLaughlin, run with the costume design.

Aside from performing in a production, what other roles are available to students?
We try to make our shows as student-led as possible. Costume, Prop, Set, and Publicity Crews are staffed by students, with either a parent or high school mentor leading them. We have student stage managers leading our backstage crews, and we also have students running the front of house.


Can you tell us about any recent productions?
We just finished up Schoolhouse Rock in January, which was so much fun!

Can you tell us about any upcoming productions?
We are switching gears and presenting The Lion King Jr. on May 17 to 19. This will be our most ambitious show yet, with many exciting costumes and masks.

Are there any ways for the community to get involved?
We always welcome help from the community! Anyone interested in helping out can email us at

Do you have any favorite memories or experiences at Bernardo Heights Middle School?
I have had too many wonderful memories and experiences at BHMS to count. I will say winning our first National Youth Arts awards last year was very exciting.

At-A-Glance | Performing Arts Department

Classes: Beginning, Advanced, and Jazz Band; Beginning and Advanced Orchestra; Beginning and Advanced Choir; Advanced Musical Theatre; Musical Theatre Club; and Drama
Theater Website:
Performing Arts Website: