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MDT Major Channing Weir Reflects on Her Indirect Road to a BYU Degree

Weir will speak at the Department of Dance, School of Music and Department of Theatre and Media Arts Convocation at 3 p.m. on April 26

Channing Weir always wanted to be a performer. Her father — a now-retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who, Weir says, never expected to have a child gravitate toward theatre — took her to her first audition when she was 10 years old, solidifying her path. Though she knew she was headed toward a career as a professional performer, Weir’s road to the BYU Music Dance Theatre (MDT) program was not entirely direct. She started her college career at the University of Northern Colorado as a double major in theatre and early childhood education, but something didn’t feel quite right. “I didn’t feel like I had a community there,” Weir explained. “I loved the performing, I got some great roles and I’m grateful for the education that I did gain there, but I just felt like if something went wrong, I didn’t feel have people I could reach out to.” Weir put in her transfer paperwork and was accepted by BYU, but she arrived too late to start the MDT program that year. By the time MDT auditions came around again, Weir had been offered a contract as a performer on a cruise liner, an opportunity that would require her to put school on hold for a year. She took the job, but not before successfully landing a spot in the MDT major, which the program held for her. As Weir’s cruise ship experience drew to a close, she was offered a tempting second contract and a better position. She had to decide: “Do I even go back and finish my degree, or do I stay out here and keep performing? I’m here, I’m doing it, I have a job — why do I need to go back to school?” After weighing her options and future goals, Weir felt that she needed to return to BYU to finish her education. “I know how important school is, and I know especially that when we’re in this field, we’re never done learning,” she said. “And I wanted the unique experience that I think a BYU performance education offers. We have the ability to be free with our relationship with our Heavenly Father and our knowledge that he is the ultimate storyteller and teacher. That’s what we do as performers — we tell stories and we teach.” Weir was anxious to get the most out of her time at BYU, prompting her to take on a nearly impossible — and unprecedented — combination of MDT classes and projects. Of the many opportunities Weir juggled, three in particular stand out to her as formative experiences. First is her participation in Young Ambassadors which, while taxing, has been “life-changing” and “the closest someone will get to actual training for a national tour.” In her first semester of Young Ambassadors, Weir was also cast in a major role in BYU’s production of “Into the Woods.” “I played the Baker’s Wife, which has been a dream role of mine since I was a little kid,” said Weir. “It’s one of the first musicals my family ever learned and saw. We had an old VHS copy that we would watch with Bernadette Peters. It was incredible to live that dream.” Earlier this semester, Weir was able to feed her inner teacher as the sole student invited to join some of the MDT faculty at the Music Theatre Educators Alliance (MTEA) conference in New York. She attended lectures and classes on new techniques and approaches to teaching musical theatre on a scholarship provided to BYU by Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. “I learned so much,” said Weir. “I got to watch my professors and my mentors in action. Gayle Lockwood and Korianne Orton, their mentorship over the last two and a half years has been invaluable, and getting to spend that time with them in New York and learn from them was incredible. It changed the way I not only think about my own performing, but about possibly wanting to teach. It’s opened my eyes to how to help others be better performers.” In every trip, tour, show and class she’s taken on, Weir has been grateful to find that community she longed for in her early years of college in her BYU peers. “Music Dance Theatre students are some of the hardest-working people you will ever meet,” Weir said. “Everyone helps each other out because we know exactly how much it takes in order to be successful at what we do. We may be loud and we have a lot of energy, but we’re some of the most dedicated people that you will ever meet.”

Weir grew up all over the world — though she calls Florida home — instilling her with the independence and confidence to go where the wind takes her. The months following her graduation will take her to New York, though she recognizes that this might not be a permanent option for her. She hopes to eventually settle down and raise a family, but she sees the immediate years as a unique time to take whatever appealing opportunity comes her way. “I have to throw 10-year-old Channing — who always wanted to go to New York — a bone,” said Weir. “I’m not the person who needs to be the next Broadway star. If it happens, cool, but I just love the work. I think the cruise contract that I did taught me a lot about that. Performing is performing no matter where you are or what theatre you’re at or how much you’re getting paid.” Wherever her career takes her — whether to Broadway, a national tour, a theme park or another cruise ship — Weir will never regret her decision to turn down that second contract and finish her BYU education. “At no other university will you get the opportunity to really figure out how to incorporate that spiritual part of you into your performance and practice what you preach in what you want to do for your career,” she said. “I wanted to come to BYU to bridge that gap because I think I’m a much better performer when I have the Spirit with me and when I know how to use it.”

Q&A with Channing Weir, BFA ‘19 Theatre and Media Arts | Acting

What did you want to be when you grew up? “I wanted to be a performer. It’s changed a little bit — now I want to be a performer and a teacher — but being a performer has always been the top of the list.” Where do you find inspiration? “My mother, Yvonne Lorraine Weir. Growing up in a military environment with my father always deployed, my mom lived the life of a single parent without actually being one. Now as an adult, watching the way that she supports and holds our entire family together from all the way across continental borders and oceans is truly inspiring. She is the strongest person I have ever met, and she taught me to be a strong person, for which I am forever grateful.” What was the hardest challenge you had to overcome at BYU? “This is one of those things that crosses all lines and all borders, especially in a performance-based environment, and it’s the challenge of knowing that you’re good enough. I have an absolute fear of letting people down, and it’s been getting worse now that I’m so close to graduating and having to go and do this and be a professional and get a job and do these things I’ve been training for my whole life. I’m not just worried about letting my parents down, I’m not just worried about letting my professors down, I’m worried about letting down every person in my entire life who has ever said ‘oh my gosh, she’s going to be incredible, she’s going to be the next Broadway star, she’s going to do this and this and this and we expect so many great things from her.’ That is terrifying. So my biggest struggle has been working through that possibility and learning to accept where I’m happiest, not what will make everyone proudest.” What is your favorite snack? “Salty snacks, Cheez-Its. 100 percent. Candy, peanut M&M's — I could eat those for days.”