PUBLISHED: 11:38 AM on Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Connaro theatrically serves community

  Ryan Conarro
If life's a stage, Ryan Conarro has found his part as he balances his love for theater with a sense of community service.

Originally from Georgia, Conarro graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 2001, and decided to get away from the city. He spent a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer working for radio station KNOM as a reporter.

"I was trying to find something service oriented," Conarro said.

After spending a year in Nome, he traveled the United States with Aquila Theatre, and he later moved back to New York City to act.

"It was pretty exciting. It was what I thought in college that I was planning for and hoping for," Conarro said. "There was a sense of glamour, but in reality it's not all it's cracked up to be."

He said that while the tour was tiresome, he enjoyed the opportunity to perform in smaller communities.

"It felt very meaningful on tour because we went to towns that had more of a sense of community and appreciation for the arts," Conarro said.

Questioning being an actor, Conarro got a part in a show at Perseverance Theatre in Douglas with help from a college professor.

As the show was coming to its end, Conarro was looking for an opportunity to stay in Juneau.

He asked Juneau Douglas High School theater teacher Bethany Bereman about directing the school's musical.

"I wanted to find a place where I could stay and put down roots," he said. "I feel very grateful and fortunate for the community."

Having taught workshops while on the acting tour, Conarro said he was excited to work with high school students in 2004's "Wizard of Oz." He has directed the JDHS musical since, including this year's "Pippin."

"I feel comfortable with high school students, and they've really opened up to me," Conarro said.

"It's huge, and I appreciate how willing they are to go for it with me. The students at the high school are eager and ready and have a professional attitude."

Bereman said Conarro connects with his students, always expecting the best from them.

"His repore with kids is honest, heartfelt and full of enthusiasm, which kids respond to," Bereman said. "Kids come out of those programs loving him, loving themselves and learning what they can express."

Continuing in education Conarro got involved with the Art Is Elementary program two years ago at Glacier Valley School, where he teaches drama classes for all grades.

"I strive to connect with the regular class curriculum with all dramatized activity," Conarro said. "They do academic research and engage in the subject more."

Some projects students have done include a performance similar to "Stomp," a radio drama and role-playing about the American Revolution.

Alison Schoonover, a second-grader at Glacier Valley, said she enjoys having class with Conarro.

"He's really funny, and he's always pretending to be different people," Schoonover said.

Conarro said working with elementary-aged children is not far different from high school students.

"It's surprising to me how similar it is. The kids are really willing to rise to the challenge," Conarro said. "I treat them like adults, and I think they really see what we can get out of it if they focus."

Conarro has brought his favorite subject to teach - Shakespeare - to the classroom.

"As an actor I tend to work in a methodical way and analyze scenes and have a step-by-step way of approaching work. Shakespeare's writing works that way too. Everybody's daunted by Shakespeare, but I love teaching it because it's not that hard," Conarro said.

"As long as I'm having fun and the kids are having fun, it's working."

Conarro takes his love for Shakespeare to Ketchikan this week as he'll direct a 1940s version of "Julius Caesar."

He is spending two weeks there with a fellow actor from Aquila Theatre as part of the Alaska State Council on the Arts' Artist in Schools program.

"I'm really excited to get her because she's got a few tricks in her bag and can teach me a few things," Conarro said. "Going to another town, there are so many unknowns, but I know what I'm getting with her. Ketchikan is wonderful and generous to bring artists into the community."

Conarro continues to act and performed last fall in the Perseverance Theatre production of "Twelfth Knight." He also works at KTOO in Juneau.

"I really enjoy the opportunities I get here. It's got a really high standard of professionalism and performance. I get to act at Perseverance Theatre and meet directors from around the country," he said.

Planning to stay in Juneau, Conarro said he feels connected to the community.

"I love this town and the people here. I have access to the outdoors that I missed in New York City," he said. "I like the size of the place and there are all these organizations that have big hearts and do big things."