The teenager from Tyler, Texas, wasn’t looking for just any theatre program, however. The quality it produced and opportunities it offered mattered to her, of course. But Savannah, an actor since age 6, also wanted something deeper.
“It was very important for me to know the people I would be studying under – the people who would be vital in crafting me as an artist – were also people who are following Christ,” she said.
She visited during Homecoming 2013 at the encouragement of then-theatre student Joel Edwards (’16) and saw the program’s production of Les Miserables. She was amazed, and had the opportunity to meet with more students and with faculty.
Very soon, moving out west didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.
“I thought, ‘Oh, these aren’t people who are obsessed with their ego and wrapped up in their talent,’ ” she said. “They approach their work by asking, ‘How can we use this to impact the world?’ It’s about something greater than just putting on a show.”
“Faculty talk about what it means to be a Christian artist and how you balance your purpose with your position in the world,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be in a place where that was important.”
Now a senior, Savannah has spent the past three years discovering who she is as an artist and digging into roles that stretched her as a performer in productions such as To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and The Tempest.
One role in particular, of a mother who loses a son in The Dream of the Burning Boy, seemed too unrelatable to play. But her director and the chair of the department Dawne Swearingen-Meeks (’95) wasn’t about to throw her into the deep end.
“Before we even touched the script, Dawne helped me explore all these feelings of compassion and hope,” Savannah said. “It opened my eyes and made me realize I am equipped to tell this story. God is with me.”
Scholarships have helped make her time at ACU possible, and she said she is appreciative of those who give to the arts.
“I’ve been able to pursue in college what I believe I am called to pursue,” she said. “The fact that I’m doing that – and that so many of my friends are doing that because of the generosity of others – is such a blessing.”
In September 2017, Savannah will star in a production of August: Osage County at The Paramount Theatre in Abilene before taking on the lead role in Wit, ACU Theatre’s Cornerstone production, in November. In Wit, she will portray Dr. Vivian Bearing, a university professor of English who is dying of ovarian cancer. She thinks that’s a fitting end to her college career before she heads to New York City to find work before pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting.
“Vivian has come to this place where she’s accomplished everything she ever wanted to in her career,” Savannah said of her role in Wit. “But she gets to the end and realizes it can’t save her.”
“I relate to it because theatre is great and wonderful, and God has given us this,” she said. “But it’s not our end-all. It’s not ultimately what my life is about. That’s why I came here – it brings me peace to know that I am studying with people who are at peace as well.”