From a young age, O’Brian was a natural talent on the stage. Her love for dance could be seen in each of her steps as she graciously moved about the floor. As the years passed, she continued to flourish on the dance floor but realized that those talents could be used in a different way as a choreographer. “My journey started while I was in college filling in for a choreographer who was on maternity leave,” said O’Brian. “I was hired to do the Miss Houston Pageant. My cousin was in the pageant and so when they were looking for someone, my aunt gave them my name as a potential replacement. Well, I was hired for the position and was just on cloud nine excited for the opportunity. Little did I know that during the pageant, the producer who does Miss Texas, Kent Parham, was scouting me. He had heard that there was a new choreographer in town and wanted to see what all the hype was about. He loved my work so much that he’s taken me under his wing and named me as his assistant with different pageants.” When Parham gained the producing position with Miss USA, he brought O’Brian along for the ride as well. O’Brian and Parham now have partnered up as choreographer/producer duo in pageants around the world for over 10 years. The duo has done multiple shows including Miss Texas, Miss USA, and Miss Universe.
O’Brian has found these experiences to be invaluable to her current teaching position at Presbyterian School. “Parham has become my mentor behind the scenes teaching me the ins and outs of the pageants. I currently hold the titles of stage assistant and choreographer assistant for him. The process has been invaluable. I’ve learned to watch cameras and choreograph eye contact with the cameras while they are on stage so they look good while they are on TV. Sometimes it’s watching the monitors so I know when to send them on pace, replicating a fashion show. I help choreograph the patterns and the opening number dances. I just love getting to learn the show production behind the scenes of the TV time and watching the quiet commercial breaks to the crazy countdowns to being live. There’s just so much to learn.” O’Brian has taken what she learns and practices in pageant production to apply to her fine arts electives as well as the School's 8th grade musical.
While these experiences have helped O’Brian improve her teaching and middle school classroom, she wanted to take her learning further and just recently pursued a professional development course on Broadway. The workshop included four tickets to Broadway shows that not only allowed participants to watch world-class shows, but also took them backstage to see the set design, learn to teach choreography, all about the tech, directing techniques, or holding auditions. “There were so many great classes but one of my favorites was a Dramatic Workshop. We were working on blocking (simply working out the details of an actor’s moves in relation to the camera) that Peter Flynn (Artistic Director of The Hanger Theater, Founding Artistic Director of the Perry Mansfield New Works Festival, and Associate Professor of Musical Theater at Montclair State University) was directing. I kept getting called out for the work that I was doing. He mentioned over and over again that I was doing exactly what he was envisioning and he kept recognizing my work. As a teacher, that helped grow my confidence but also put me in the shoes of a student. This experience will help me when teaching the PS students as we embark on different roles for different plays!”
Every year, the Broadway Teachers Workshop brings in different special guests to expose participants to different parts of the theater process. “With a lot of professional development, you’re hoping to get one little nugget of gold that you can bring back, but every class in the program taught me so much, I’ve got a notebook full of nuggets and I became re-energized for the school year. My hope is that we can bring the whole PS performing arts faculty next year!”