Broadway Actor Performs As First Guest In Foxcroft Series


(Tuesday, May 15, 2007 2:30 PM EDT)

Most people who want to see a Broadway actor have to take a trip to New York City, but not the young women at Foxcroft School.

As part of a new lecture series, the Big Apple came to Middleburg through Broadway actor Chan Harris.

The Helen Cudahy Niblack '42 Lecture Series recently was established by Niblack's daughter, Austi Brown (1973), to bring a variety of literary, performing and fine artists to Foxcroft, and Harris was invited as its inaugural guest.

“For Austi Brown, the important thing wasn't getting a prominent name, but someone to interact, relate and connect with students in a way that shows them new opportunity,” said Foxcroft director of development Marion Couzens.

Harris fit the bill perfectly.

The actor and director boasts a prestigious resume - winning “Best Actor” at the Korean Theatre Awards for his performance (in Korean) as Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” performing in Broadway productions of Huckleberry Finn and directing numerous Off-Broadway shows. His humor and approachable personality are what connect him with the students, school staff said.

In his two-day stay, the East Texan, who now lives in New York City, kept a packed schedule. He performed his brand-new solo-show “Strange Voyage,” a multi-media work based on his journals that takes audiences on his journey as an actor.

Harris sat in with the school's chorus and worked with them on “Into the Woods.” He also held a question/answer session with one of the drama classes.

“The best thing I can do for [students] is to give advice,” he said in a recent interview. “I can answer what it's like to be in the acting business and what I look for as a director in auditions.”

Students responded well to his stay, attending his show, enjoying his workshops and even wanting to sit with him at lunch and sing him the Foxcroft song.

“He wasn't a diva, which was really nice,” said senior Savannah Guernsey, who recently wrote, directed and starred in an adaptation of “Mona Lisa Smile.” “I'm usually very awkward, but around him, I was only semi-awkward.”

“It was really nice working with him because I've been auditioning for conservatories,” said senior Jessica Mirshak, who will be studying theater and voice at the University of Tennessee in the fall. “It's nice to meet someone who's in the business, someone who's up-to-date.”

Harris said he believes acting is beneficial to young people because it helps them deal with self-consciousness, but he did not witness a lack of confidence among the students at Foxcroft, and was very impressed with their poise.

“If you can learn to get up in front of an audience and to be un-self-conscious, you can use it for the rest of your life,” he said. At Foxcroft, “there's real empowerment. They're really being trained to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Although the aim of the Niblack Series is to expose Foxcroft students to many kinds of artists, from writers to basket weavers to poets, Harris and the school hope to continue their relationship.

“I hope this is the beginning of some kind of collaboration,” Harris said.

Head of Foxcroft School Mary Louise Leipheimer and Austi Brown, who endowed Foxcroft's Helen C. Cudahy Niblack Arts Series, welcomed guest artist Chan Harris after his solo show "Strange Voyage"
(Photo by Jim Poston).

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