Roxanna Conner, an experienced theater professional with a background in education, administration, production and as a community builder and mentor, has been selected as the director of the NIU School of Theatre and Dance. Conner will begin her new role at NIU on July 1.
Conner is currently serving as interim director of education at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, following two years as acting managing director and producing director of engagement of Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago, where she had previously worked as director of education. She has also served as education director at Congo Square Theatre and audience education director for the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois.
She said she was intrigued by the opportunity at NIU, and her interest was only heightened by the students, faculty and staff she met during the search process.
“It’s just a remarkable community, with really talented, driven and sincere people who believe in the work,” Conner said. “They want to encourage this next generation of artists and give them the support that they need. That’s at the core of who I am.”
Paul Kassel, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts said that Conner’s wide-range of experience in theater and education make her the right person to continue to take the program forward.
“We are all extremely excited about Roxanna Conner joining NIU and leading the School of Theatre and Dance,” Kassel said. “Ms. Conner brings to the position deep theatre expertise and professional savvy along with remarkable wisdom and compassion. We were all impressed and inspired by the clarity of her vision for the future of the theater and dance fields, and how the school will be a necessary and important part of creating that future. I look forward to working with her to elevate the visibility of the school and to build upon its strong and vibrant program, accomplished faculty, and wonderfully talented students.”
Conner’s education experience includes working with students from every age from preschool to college. Over the last nine years, the theater programs she has led have focused on high school students and college internship programs. “I understand what it means to be in a place of learning,” she said. “I know that no one who chooses that field path does so because it is easy. They do it because they are dedicated people, and those are the kinds of people that I want to be around and work with.”
Conner said that her nearly two decades of experience in Chicago theater and her contacts with artists, and with executive and managing directors of large and small theaters, will be an asset as she works to build partnerships that will provide NIU theater and dance students with more hands-on opportunities and to work with visiting artists and attend masterclasses.
“I’m very excited about the possibilities of partnerships and creating opportunities for the students and faculty with organizations in places like Chicago, Milwaukee or Madison, that will not just elevate the School of Theatre and Dance, but NIU, while giving each individual exposure and experience that will be life-changing for them.”
“There is a sea change in this industry with regards to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Conner said, “I’m really interested in the ways we as a community can embrace that on campus and in the School of Theatre and Dance. Not only embracing it in a way that we are living up to what folks are expecting professionally, but preparing students, with transparency, for what that looks like in the real world. So that they enter the workforce with a perspective of understanding how those decisions are made.”
She said she understands the challenges that the pandemic has had on getting audiences back to theaters of all kinds.
“I’m interested in taking on the challenge of how we get more people in seats because that’s who the performances are for,” she said. “Figuring out how we develop that community in DeKalb and the surrounding area is really of interest to me.”