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New teacher encourages passion, growth through performing arts

Courtesy Megan Conner

Campus drama teacher Megan Conner began her modeling and acting career for a New York agency in 1998.

Campus junior high and high school drama teacher Megan Conner strives to equip her students with a belief in themselves and their acting abilities this fall. Through her new vision for the program, Spotlight Productions, Conner implores her students to act with both confidence and humility.

Beginning dance classes at four-years-old, Conner found a knack for performing at a young age. She participated in various church plays and programs as a child and in junior high she starred in her first ever main-stage production.

While Conner developed a fondness for performing arts throughout her childhood, she soon became wrapped up in athletics during her time at Madera High School.

“High school was a time in my life when I had to choose between performing arts and athletics,” Conner said. “I walked away from stage productions for a while and then fell in love with it again in college.”

While she pursued some modeling and T.V./commercial acting during her last two years in high school, Conner’s primary involvement with stage productions began at Fresno State (FSU). As an English major, Conner used her creative abilities to enhance her performances.

A three-unit tap class to meet her G.E. arts requirement ignited a passion for the performing arts that continues to develop today. She began working in the Dance and Theatre departments at FSU, learning lighting, design, choreography and directing.

“I partnered with the theatre program and choreographed some shows on main-stage there,” Conner said. “It was just a really good opportunity for me to dabble in a lot of different areas of performing arts. I think college gave me a chance to do a lot more with performing arts then what I was doing with it before.” 

In following podcast, Jewel Chandler interviews Megan Conner about her experience with the performing arts, Sept. 30.

Traveling with local theatre and dance companies, Conner used her talents to influence at-risk youths. Following her previous involvements, she taught at Good Company Players while choreographing and directing shows at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre.

“One of my favorite things that I got to do with Good Company was receiving a grant from the Bonner Family Foundation for the Arts,” Conner said. “I got to be part of a traveling musical theatre troupe that would go to low income schools and we would teach them musical theatre. At the end of it we would actually put on a musical production.”

As Conner became swept into the world of theatrical performances, her life took an unexpected detour. She recalls committing her life to Christ at 21-years-old. She stepped away from performing arts in order to pursue a relationship with God. 

Courtesy Megan Conner

Conner (left) and tap dance partner, Erin, performed “I’ve Got Rhythm” in a University Dance Theatre Production at Fresno State in 2003.

“I always wanted a relationship with God,” Conner said. “I just didn’t know that it could be beyond what I understood about it at the time.

“When I got saved the Lord shifted my perspective on performing arts,” Conner continued. “I actually completely walked away from it because I felt like it had become an idol in my life.”

After a spiritual surrender, Conner served as a local church worship leader and instituted a performing arts program there. She began establishing children’s productions and writing and directing her first full-length musical at the church.

Conner considered performing arts as a vital element to her identity. While she filled her time with performances and shows, she prioritized her faith over her profession. She gained a willingness to step away from performing arts altogether to fulfill a different calling.

“Even when we think we are following God’s direction, He calls us to something else,” Conner said. “I didn’t want to trade God’s great plan for my life for something that I thought was right.”

Seven years later, Conner returned to theatre. She was asked to get involved with The Well Community Church in the spring of 2019. There she assisted in the process of putting on the Good Friday production at the church and joined the creative team. A few months later, Conner was granted an unexpected opportunity on the FC campus as the previous drama teacher, Kyle Dodson, left for a job in the Clovis Unified system.

While she did not envision herself as a part of Fresno Christian, a lifelong friend, Lesley Bannister, informed Conner of an opening at the school. Knowing each other for the past 30 years, Bannister saw the potential that FC could have regarding performing arts with Conner as an asset. 

“We lived across the street when we were kids and became really great friends,” Bannister said. “She is very community minded regarding performing arts, which I believe will be a great asset to the school. I especially love the fact that she is all about creating an environment where performing arts can flourish in a way that is Christ centered.”

Sean Conner, Conner’s husband of 16 years, has been involved in a handful of her productions, including recent video projects at the Well Community Church. Sean has watched her flourish in performing arts over the years and recalls some highlighted memories spent on stage with her.

“Megan put on a Christmas production at our old church and I played Jesus,” Sean said. “I was even able to dance with Megan in one of the scenes. She puts 100% into all she does, so getting to see the results of what she creates is amazing. She expands the vision of anything she puts her mind to.”

Courtesy Megan Conner

Megan Conner (rear right) served on the Creative Team at the Well Community Church, performing in the video “Launch” with her husband, Sean (rear left).

Megan’s most current project,Newsies”, draws inspiration from the prominent Broadway musical production. Her overall goal for the performance is to help students encounter a world outside of their comfort zone and attempt things they would never imagine themselves doing.  

“My favorite part about the performing arts is when I notice my students begin to understand what I see in them,” Conner said. “My overall goal is to create a safe space for them where they feel comfortable with trying something new. I give them a ton of support and encouragement in the best way that I can, I really want them to thrive in what they enjoy doing.”

Megan Conner, instrumental music directors Lesley Bannister and David Casuga anticipate collaborating on the Newsies musical. Bannister will be in charge of vocal instructing. Casuga plans to lead the band and Conner will oversee production and choreography. Newsies will be held in the SMC, Feb. 28-29.

“God gave me a vision and desire 20 years ago to do what he is now allowing me to fulfill at FCS,” Conner said. “He is bringing about even more than I could have ever imagined in my life.” 

As Conner incorporates previous experiences into her new work, she enforces a creative vision for the FCS drama program that goes beyond the spotlight.

For more articles, read College Corner: College Fairs, NACCAP benefits  and COLUMN: International student strives to improve English skills, communication

Jewel Chandler can be reached via email and Twitter.

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