Pioneer Spotlight: Connie SaLoutos Furlan
Whether doing choreography, performing, or teaching, Connie SaLoutos Furlan has a passion for bringing theatre to new audiences. Since 2008, she has taught drama at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, specializing in musical theatre and speech communications. An awardee of the UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education’s Excellence in Teaching Award, Furlan has choreographed 20 productions for the Pioneer Players and the Heartland Festival as well as productions at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque, Iowa, including “Little Shop of Horrors,” for which she won Iowa Theatre Association’s Award of Excellence. A three-time Carbonell Award recipient for her portrayals of Charity in “Sweet Charity,” Anita in “West Side Story,” and Maria in “Lend Me a Tenor,” she has garnered 10 acting nominations for leading and supporting roles. She appeared in the 25th anniversary production of “Dames at Sea” in New York City, New York, and has been a guest soloist with the Florida Symphonic Pops.
Furlan believes that in order to be a successful choreographer, performer or director of theatre, a person must have the following qualities: discipline, a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, a willingness to collaborate and the understanding that it is each person’s responsibility to serve the story he or she is to tell.
What do you enjoy most about teaching theatre and speech communications courses? How do the two areas complement each other?
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching both speech and theatre is seeing the individual growth at the end of the semester. My speech students usually start the class very afraid to speak publicly. After helping them learn to creatively organize speech materials, their fear subsides because they are proud of, and focused on, the material to be presented. What I love about teaching dance classes at UW-Platteville is introducing my students to a variety of styles of dance. Once again, the growth I see from the first class to the last is always inspiring. As for why I enjoy teaching my other theatre classes, I’ve always believed that the arts hold up a mirror to the human condition. There isn’t a better tool for teaching compassion than theatre.
You have performed, choreographed and assisted in directing in professional theatres across the country. What do you enjoy most about this work?
I have always felt incredibly lucky that I had the opportunity to work with a vast number of directors, choreographers, actors and designers. There was always something new to be learned from each artist. No two directors I worked with were ever alike. In some ways, each new production was like starting a new class.
Your award-winning, one-woman cabaret act has taken you around the world three times aboard the vessels of Royal Viking and Seabourne Cruise Lines. Can you describe your act and explain what is most rewarding and challenging about this work?
I still can’t believe that at a very young age, I ended up with a show on a cruise ship. I was incredibly lucky to have been offered this opportunity. I started off in a production show and then was asked to work with a creative team to develop my own show, which centered on material found in the musical theatre repertoire.
Victor Borge was a mentor on the project, so of course, there was comedy. I was just out of college when I got this job, and the most challenging part was conducting my own orchestra rehearsals. Many times, the musicians didn’t speak English, and I felt that I had to act out what needed to be played in the arrangements. It was also a challenge to travel alone with all of my costumes and orchestral arrangements when transferring from ship to ship.
You are a three-time Carbonell Award recipient and have garnered a total of 10 acting nominations. What performances are you most proud of and why?
I’m probably most proud of playing Charity in “Sweet Charity. She’s a funny character who can break your heart with sadness. The Fosse choreography was something for which I had trained for most of my career. Each performance was an emotional roller coaster ride. The “If They Could See Me Now” number was the mountain that needed to be climbed every night – it was a one-woman production number.
You have choreographed a number of productions for the university's Pioneer Players. What do you enjoy about this work and what productions are you looking forward to choreographing?
Productions are built step by step. The students who dedicate themselves to the work inspire me. I watch them juggle schoolwork, jobs and rehearsals. Most of our actors start choreography rehearsals without any dance training. I tell them we can do it, and then we just start dancing – one step at a time. There is nothing better than hearing a crowd cheer for their performance.
This summer, I am looking forward to choreographing a production of “The Wizard of Oz” for the Rising Star Theatre Co. at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque. This will be my second season with this company.
Interview conducted by Laurie A. Hamer, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email firstname.lastname@example.org.