Q&A: Lynne Conner
After getting your B.A. in English, how did you transition into theater?
At Oberlin the rule was that, in order to be a major in theater, you had to take a full range of theater courses, which included technical theater, including doing work on ladders and on the cherry picker, which is the crane. To be honest with you, I was really afraid of that. That, coupled with the fact that I loved literature, made me decide to be an English major and a theater minor, although I spent all of my time in the theater.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue your Ph.D. in theater history and performance studies?
I finished my bachelor’s in 1980, and I sang in bands for five years. And, somewhere along the line, probably at two-thirty in the morning, as I was loading amplifiers into the back of a van, I thought, “I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.” I realized that I still had a great passion for theater. I thought, “I need to go back to school.” And I did.
First and foremost because I have always wanted to teach in a small liberal arts environment. But I ended up in a research university with 25,000 undergraduates and 5,000 faculty members. And that was great—I really enjoyed it. But I decided, last year, that it was time to see what opportunities were out there. Colby was there, and here I am.
What is unique about teaching undergrads?
Undergrads are more open to a variety of ideas. They’re looking around. They’re testing the waters. To be part of that process, that’s very exciting. It’s intellectually exciting, but it’s also exciting on a human scale.
And Colby is small enough that you’ll have the opportunity to get to know your students quite well.
That’s exactly right. Also, students from a variety of different departments. I find as a teacher that there are two kinds of gratifying work. One is to work specifically with theater-minded students … but the other is to work with students who have all kinds of different career goals and interests and to show them the ways in which theater can help them achieve their goals.
What do you think is the most valuable skill that non-theater majors can learn from an intro class with you?
Collaboration. Collaboration and critical analysis. In the theater we don’t accomplish anything without the ability to bring our individual artistry and ideas in collaboration with other individuals and ideas. We fall apart if we don’t collaborate.
Can you tell me more about your research in audience behavior studies?
I work as an arts consultant and as a scholar investigating contemporary audience behavior and basically what audiences want out of their arts experiences these days. … I’m really trying to help arts organizations reach out to their audiences and invite them into the process of making meaning and interpreting the work.
What influence do audience behavior studies have on your political theater class?
The audience’s ability to stand up and say, “This is what this means. This is how I’m going to use it in my life,” informs the history of political theater, because it’s all rooted in changing society and social change. The artist has to be in service to the community.
What did you take away from the Salzburg Global Seminar that you attended?
Salzburg was an amazing experience. … I was there with about seventy artists and scholars and arts producers from twenty-six different countries. I went into it all ready to bring my ideas and tell everyone about the work I’m doing … but I realized that I had an awful lot to learn about the international stage, the international community. One thing I bring back to my life and that I bring to Colby is the realization that listening is learning. I have a lot of listening to do in order to be able to formulate plans and ideas in a way that is rooted in the community. You know, I don’t believe in popping in and saying, “Here’s what’s good for you.”
Have you had any particularly rewarding experiences at Colby in these first few weeks?
My very first class here at Colby was just yesterday morning—the introductory course. … I walked out of that class on a cloud, because every person talked—a lot. People were articulate and thoughtful, listening hard, processing the information. It was a teacher’s dream come true. And I came back to my office and got on Google chat with my husband and I said, “I just had my first class … it couldn’t have been better. The students are smart, articulate, and engaged. I’m so happy. I made the right decision.” That’s a true story.