She Magazine APRIL 2016 | Page 80

Story by Ashley Elvington • Red Door Portrait Photography The Art & Soul of Music feature Dawn Larsen WITH A SINGER AND ACTOR FOR A FATHER, an actress and musician for a mother, and a poet for a grandfather, Dawn Larsen is no stranger to the field of arts. “Music and performance surrounded me. I have always been a performer.” At the young age of nine, Dawn studied the flute and piano classically, yet she grew up in The Ozarks, an area prominent for mountain music. “I really seemed to resonate more with that, maybe to my parents’ dismay.” It wasn’t just the music of the area that “spoke” to Dawn, but the storytelling atmosphere. “My parents were very connected with people at The Shepherd of the Hills (an outdoor drama) and Silver Dollar City (an 1880’s craft/ theme park). I spent a lot of time at Silver Dollar City. The park emphasized traditional mountain music and storytelling. As well, I was very close to my grandfather on my mother’s side. He was a part of a sort of Mayberry-like culture that was my hometown. He was sort of the Andy Gr iffith. He was one of the best storytellers I have ever known.” When she was two years old, Dawn starred in her first play. At age eleven, Dawn’s father directed a traditional melodrama in which she was also cast. “My father was my drama teacher in high school. I always seemed to play character roles: older women, villains, and especially comediennes throughout my career. Those characters, like the Wicked Witch, are so much more interesting to play and explore than the princess.” Once she enrolled in college, Dawn majored in music performance for a year and a half, but ultimately switched to theatre. Her specialty was “Toby” shows (a type of hillbilly tent show). “I was fortunate to live in an area with the last Toby show in America. When I graduated from college, I came back to the Ozarks to perform in it for two seasons as Sally, Toby’s girlfriend. Toby shows were the precursor to comedy, like what you would find on The Grand Ole Opry or The Andy Griffith Show.” While obtaining her PhD, she directed a children’s tour with an abbreviated Toby show around Nashville, Tennessee. During this time, a lady from Michigan, who owned one of the last tent companies, asked Dawn if she wanted it for her own. “It was a complete tent show with a dramatic end tent, four 1942 stake trucks, 400 wooden chairs, props, costumes, 150 scripts, painted drops… Everything you would need to pull into a town and put on a show.” In 1997, she brought the show to Tennessee and partnered with a college for which she would later teach. During the summer, Dawn and the college students would put on shows. “It was some of the best times of my life, as well as some of the best training a young actor could experience.” After ten years of owning the show, Dawn said goodbye as she moved to South Carolina. “I donated the show to a small town, Parsons, Tennessee which was on a popular historic Toby show circuit. The elderly people in the town remembered seeing those shows as children. I could not have found it a better home.” Dawn, being a natural at directing, progressed into pursuing a teaching career. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Francis Marion University. 80 APRIL 2016 SHEMAGAZINE.COM