By B. Scott Mohr
Conner Chamberlin is a triple threat: He can sing, dance and act. And he relies on those talents when playing Pinocchio in Footlite Musicals’ production of “Shrek The Musical.”
For Chamberlin, this is his return to the stage for the first time since taking a curtain call at Perry Meridian High School in 2012.
“I really liked being in musicals and plays at Perry Meridian,” said Chamberlin, who was also in the concert choir. “I missed acting, and when I saw what Pinocchio’s role entailed, I knew it was for me.”
Rehearsals started in mid-May and continued until the July 11 opening. He said the time commitment wasn’t overbearing as the director worked around everyone’s schedules. “That was nice, but it got a little more demanding as opening night neared. We usually rehearsed later in the evening.
“It’s been an amazing experience; I am the lead vocalist for two songs and do a lot of dancing. I plan on doing more shows here (“Hairspray,” for one, in 2015). We have played before a full house almost every night, and I know that two of this weekend’s shows are sold-out.” Call 926-6630 for ticket availability.
Produced by Tim Alan Thompson and Amy Douglas and directed by Kathleen Clarke Horrigan, the musical is based on the Oscar-winning film “Shrek” and takes place in a faraway kingdom that’s turned upside down. Things get ugly when an unseeming ogre shows up to rescue a feisty princess. Throw in a donkey that won’t shut up, a bad guy with a short temper, a wooden puppet that dreams of becoming a real boy and more than a dozen fairy tale misfits, and you have the makings of fun for the entire family.
When the musical, which features the theater’s 18- to 25-year-old actors, closes Sunday, all of Chamberlin’s family, extended family and friends will have seen it at least once. His mom, Lori, will be a three-time patron.
Chamberlin said his mom and dad, Jim, who are employed by Franciscan St. Francis Diabetes & Endocrinology and Ingredion, respectively, were impressed by his performance. “They were really surprised. They didn’t think I would amount to this so quickly. They said I have really come out of my shell with this high-energy role.”
His sister, Cassidy, a freshman at Perry Meridian, was equally impressed. He said her talents mirror his and will allow her to follow in big brother’s footsteps.
While Chamberlin said he enjoys all aspects of theater, he’s particularly fond of the camaraderie found among the troupe. “The cast has become a family. It’s nice to know that you’re not the only one who enjoys putting in so much time and effort into a production. I also like that I get to act, sing and dance at the same time.”
He donned his dancing shoes at age 8 at Stage 1 Dance Academy before enrolling at Indy Arts Xchange five years later. He frequently won gold honors in competitions around the state.
Chamberlin has enjoyed his brief stint at Footlite Musicals – one of the city’s oldest community theaters – so much that he applied to be on the junior board of directors and was accepted. “We call ourselves Entre’actre,” he said. In addition to serving on the projects and educational committees, his duties include fundraising and promoting the theater, which stages its productions at Hedback Theatre, 1847 N. Alabama St.
He said it would be a dream come to have a role in “Newsies,” a touring Broadway musical loosely based on the Newsboys Strike of 1899 to force changes in how big newspapers compensated their child labor force.
Some might even say Chamberlin is a quintuple threat as he also writes music and plays the guitar. “I’ve been writing songs since I was 14, and I recently picked up a guitar. I learned a few cords (on my own), and it has just progressed from there.
Chamberlin has posted his performances on YouTube, where he has hundreds of followers. His voice caught the ears of producers from “America’s Got Talent,” and he was invited to the Indianapolis auditions. He didn’t make the cut, but it was a memorable experience and furthered his drive to do some acoustic shows.
When not on the stage or writing songs, Chamberlin can be found attending classes at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. The junior communication studies major works part time in the university’s Center for Service & Learning and sings the national anthem at some of the school’s sporting event. “I think I am the only non-theater major in the cast.”
He attended Butler as a freshman and studied music but thought his educational needs would be better met at IUPUI based on the type of career he intends to pursue. “I want to work in the performing arts, but I’m not sure which area. There’s teaching, marketing, directing, producing and acting. “I want to see how far I can go in acting.”