Owensboro resident Erin Morris may have not ventured into community theatre until later in life, but she’s shown it’s never too late to try something new.
Adopted from Seoul, South Korea at four months old, Morris, now 32, was more keen on athletics rather than the performing arts.
“I started off as a gymnast,” she said. “I did gymnastics from age 5 to 13 — so it was quite a long time. And then, I wanted to branch out and play sports and other things and that’s when I started getting into cheerleading.”
While Morris had experience in the choir during her time in Newton Parrish Elementary School, she found other areas of interest such as playing the flute from the fifth grade until she graduated Owensboro High School, making All-District Band her senior year.
She also was part of color guard and winter guard while in the marching band.
Morris said that she’s always been around music and the arts, but it wasn’t until seeing the 2002 film “Drumline” that she became fascinated with a different area of performing.
“It was about dancing and not so much cheerleading and that’s kind of when I made the switch,” she said. “I think (dance is) more expressive. …I’d rather watch the game than cheer for it. (With) dance, I had more freedom and more expression.”
Eventually, Morris joined the OHS dance team but still did not take center stage in the theatre world until her senior year, though she worked behind-the-scenes such as in set design and showed her support as a spectator.
“I would go to as many shows as possible,” she said. “I would go to every show that OHS produced all four years and (some of) the ones at the middle school, too.”
Morris continued to follow her trajectory in dance during her time at Murray State University when she joined the student dance company and became heavily involved with choreography.
The artform became something that Morris found “very healing.”
“I was in an emotionally abusive relationship in college, so dance was really my therapy,” Morris said. “Any type of expression for that was super alleviating and freeing in a way.”
Though she majored in mathematics and secondary education, Morris still offered to help students in OHS show choir while balancing her then-teaching role at the high school and being a math tutor.
Not long after, Morris choreographed her first show in the community — the Theatre Workshop of Owensboro’s production of Lynn Ahrens’ ”Seussical” in 2016.
Morris focuses on the narrative of what the productions are about when coming up with the movements.
“I really love the storytelling of it,” she said. “…Dance is all about the in-between. You can tell someone ‘move here’ and ‘move there,’ but what you do from one move to the next — that’s where the storytelling happens; that’s where the musicality happens and that’s what I feel like I try to teach.”
After years of getting casts ready for showtime, Morris finally took the chance and performed in her first community theatre production of Encore! Musicals’ ”Damn Yankees” last October as dance captain and ensemble member.
“I’ve been on the stage before for dance but not necessarily for theatre,” she said. “I did ‘High School Musical’ when I was in high school, but it’s different because at school you audition and there’s usually a part for you somewhere; whereas in the community, sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t.”
And her move towards the spotlight has seemed to be a positive experience thus far.
“... I wanted to try it myself and it’s been amazing,” she said.
Morris attributes “amazing artists” around her such as Jordan-Blake Key, Jenifer Wiggins, along with Grae Greer, director of marketing at the RiverPark Center and Carolyn Greer, OHS theatre director and director of the The Rose Curtain Players, that have kept her involved.
“Even though I wasn’t on stage, I was still on creative teams,” Morris said. “I am a sponge — I like to soak up everything I see even if it’s not meant for me. …I would use it to help teach because a lot of the acting cues you can use heavily in dance; and so thinking about what it takes to embody a character, you can display that in dance.
“That’s something I feel like I’ve learned and I’ve shaped for my craft.”
Morris continues to keep up performance chops and decided to enroll herself in vocal lessons last year and is currently in tech week for Encore’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which will begin showing July 16 in Cannon Hall at the RiverPark Center.
“The singing is a whole new level of breath support,” Morris laughed. “Trying to sing and do a really fast paced dance number is challenging to me but I love it.”
Morris also likes to keep her education roots intact by teaching the youth through opportunities like RiverPark Center’s Theatre Arts Academy and enjoys seeing how far the students come in a short amount of time.
“For the junior camp, it’s one week,” Morris said. “So in five days, to see them not know how to stretch and warm-up to putting on a performance — that is such a big accomplishment for them and I really just love that growth over the week.”
Additionally, Morris uses her platform in the arts community as a way to bring more awareness to diversity — something that has been important to her and her family since her upbringing.
“My mom really wanted (my brother and I) to have things that we can learn about our culture,” she said.
With the release of movies such as Disney’s “Mulan” and “Pocahontas,” Morris saw characters of different backgrounds and ethnicities similar to her that weren’t seen much on screen.
Morris said that inclusion locally has come a long way since growing up in Owensboro.
“Just looking at the population in general — especially at Owensboro High School — it’s so different than when I was there because I was one of the five Asian people,” she said. “...Just going to schools now and going into the programs … and seeing all of the kiddos of color — it is so nice. You can just tell a huge difference from where we started and where we’re at now.”
She wants to continue to promote its importance, especially to the younger generation.
“I try my best to inform everyone I know of what’s coming up, what they can audition for, what they can send their kids in for,” Morris said. “Anyone and everyone — it really is a community.”
And the overall education component in all facets is what keeps Morris motivated to continue.
“I’m a lifelong learner. I love to learn,” Morris said. “I hear all these talented musicians and I see all these talented dancers and I’m like, ‘I really want to learn from the best’ and I want to be able to teach that way, too.”