art by Kara Steele
Kirkwood’s next top director
February 8, 2016
In a place where thousands of heartbroken girls were cut from auditions, Kristi Gunther flourished. Twelve years ago, Kristi Gunther, director of KHS’s freshman/sophomore play, fought for a spot on America’s Next Top Model after her New York college friends urged her to audition for the third season in 2004. After several intense rounds of callbacks, she made the final 14. She quickly realized, however, that modeling is very different than reality TV.
“[Top Model has] so many lies,” Gunther said. “The photographer and the judges were always saying one thing and meaning another. Completely different on camera and off camera.”
While on the show, Gunther was grateful for the opportunity to work with different photographers and enjoyed the overall experience. However, she was often overwhelmed with embarrassment when the judges commented on her modeling and felt like she did not fit in with the other models. After several unique shoots and endeavors, which included makeup retouches, Jamaican swimsuit photos and model strutting, Gunther was eliminated on episode four. Although she fought back tears, it was not long before she realized the show was not an end, but a beginning.
“Top Model, living in New York and studying theater taught me you have to follow your passion,” Gunther said. “You have to follow the thing that matters most to you. After doing Top Model, I found out that’s not where my passion is.”
Following her elimination, Gunther moved back to St. Louis. She found an agent to help her find acting jobs. Before long, she began directing and quickly identified it as a way to stay connected and involved with performing arts. In 2014, she was hired at KHS to direct the freshman/sophomore play, Arabian Nights. Once again, she found herself in a foreign environment. She had a new cast of actors and a brand new space to work with.
“It was tricky building rapport and getting [Kirkwood’s actors] to trust me, and feel like I was worth coming to rehearsal for,” Gunther said. “But it all worked out in the end.”
By closing night of her first show at KHS, Gunther was content with the strong relationships she created with many of the actors. These relationships did not die at the end of Arabian Nights, but instead carried to her current KHS show, Random Acts of Comedy. Jack Rintoul and Maddie Hawes, freshmen, are two of the actors who have been touched by Gunther. Both are astounded by the amount of effort she puts into everything she does and the positive attitude she shares on a daily basis.
“It’s really special how she balances her personal life and helping us out at Kirkwood,” Hawes said. “She is very unique because she can juggle it all and still end up on top.”
Gunther’s actors were shocked when they learned about her experience on Top Model.
“How nice and personable she is in real life really shows that the people who are on those TV shows are normal human beings just like us,” Rintoul said.
From America’s Next Top Model to KHS director, Gunther believes she has received a lot of experience to help her in the world of performing arts. She is extremely happy with the direction her life and passion has taken her.
“Directing theater is totally where I fit,” Gunther said. “I always want to be changing as an artist and do newer and bigger things. I’m really happy [at Kirkwood] and I hope I can keep directing plays here for a long time.”
Kristi Gunther Q&A: America’s Next Top Model
TKC: What do you think of Tyra Banks?
Gunther: “Tyra Banks is really cool. I still have contact with her. She got me a lot of jobs and I learned to be a lot tougher because of her.”
TKC: How close is Reality TV to actual reality?
Gunther: “It’s not like they’re putting words in your mouth, but they’re asking really leading questions. I always tell people this: at the end of reality TV, there is this list of like 20 people called the story writers. If it’s reality, then why do we need story writers?”
TKC: How has Top Model helped you moving forward?
Gunther: “It helped me a lot in the acting and modeling world at the time. It definitely opened up doors. It made me more thick skinned.”
TKC: What is your favorite part of directing?
Gunther: “Working with students and getting to know each of [them], and how I can help develop their craft in a different way. It’s a different challenge for each student because nobody is in the same spot.”
photo courtesy of Kristi Gunther
art by Kara Steele