How Steve Umberger Told an Unheard Community’s Story Through Live Theater

steve umberger

On this episode of #WeGotGoals, we heard from Steve Umberger, professional theater director and creative director at Playworks Group. After founding and leading the first and only professional theater company in Charlotte, North Carolina for 25 years, Umberger shifted gears to make what he loved about theater – its ability to connect people on the most human level – the doorway into important conversations our culture tends to shy away from.

Beginning in 2018, he launched two projects that allowed two groups of people – one of a homeless population and one of an aging population inside a nursing home – to share their stories in ways they never told (or would dream of telling) before. Ultimately, the formation of these scripts culminated in two live productions performed for sold-out audiences, plus documentaries filmed throughout the process.

On the podcast, we talk about the impact live theater had on how the audience viewed and interacted with these stories.

“Just like the power to gather in any community—in fitness, or whatever the group is—but in live theater, there is a real union between what’s going on on stage and what’s happening in the audience,” Umberger said. “There’s a commonality that begins to happen that literally can change you in lots of ways.”

But even more than that, we talk about the impact of community on an even deeper level, for the individuals who participated in the creation of the project in the first place.

“They were very different groups … the retirement community is set for life, and the homeless population, a very different story … and yet, both of these groups came to be as tight … as a real family.

“People are people regardless of their economic status or life circumstances.”


  • 5m: Umberger talks about his interest in exploring how theater and documentary style work could be combined to portray real stories, and real words from real people who had not previously been given a platform to share their stories.
  • 8m 28s: Umberger explains his mindset on manifesting the things you want and need in order to make accomplishing your goals a reality.
  • 9m 42s: We approach the topic of the benefits art—and especially live performance—holds to offer perspective on culture and society.
  • 12m 28s: Umberger shared how the two big projects, Call Me By My Name and Acting Our Age, came to be.
  • 15m 37s: Umberger describes the initial goal of getting these stories on stage, but how over two years of consistent work on the projects, the goals morphed and in some ways, surpassed what he imagined.
  • 24m 07s: We talk about the impact of working on a small scale, with a small group of people, on a deeper level that creates lasting, meaningful change and the potential for much greater impact outside of that small group.
  • 27m 08s: Umberger shares the big goal he’s proud to have accomplished thus far.
  • 30m: Drilling the power of community one notch deeper, Umberger acknowledges that making your dreams a reality is only possible with colleagues around you to support you.
  • 34m 40s: Umberger shares his goal for the audience when you see these productions or documentaries.
  • 39m 05s: Umberger talks about the strength of humanity within the groups he got to know, the aging and the homeless populations.
  • 43m 40s: Umberger shares his advice for reaching communities in a meaningful way – big and small – based on what he’s learned.

Resources mentioned:

Listen to this podcast about this director’s big goal to share a marginalized community’s story, what he learned about himself in the process, and what we can take away as a lesson for our own goal-setting endeavors.

If you love this episode as much as we do, subscribe to the #WeGotGoals podcast wherever you like to listen to podcasts, including on Apple and Spotify (and hey, leave us a rating while you’re at it!).


About Maggie Umberger

Maggie moved to Chicago from North Carolina in 2014 with a degree in Journalism and Spanish, a 200-hour yoga certification, a group fitness cert and a passion to teach and to sweat. It wasn't until she found aSweatLife that she really started to feel at home. Here, she's incorporated her passion for health and wellness into her career as she helps to build the network of Ambassadors, trainers and fitness enthusiasts that exist within the aSweatLife ecosystem. You can also find her coaching at CrossTown Fitness and teaching yoga classes at Bare Feet Power Yoga, Yoga Six and exhale.