Hannah Johns

North Carolina


Woman's portrait.

Hannah Johns. Photo courtesy of artist

It’s a big, black room with floor to ceiling mirrors. In this room I can be anything, even Lola from Kinky Boots or Roxie from Chicago. Some days I believe I’m the best performer in the room. Other days I’m not sure of the choreography or of my line or of the note I should be hitting. But none of that matters because I know that everyone else in the big, black room is supporting me. I can have my time in the spotlight or I can encourage and applaud my friends from the chorus. Here, in this beautiful black room, I have the opportunity to explore and grow as a performer and as a person without any judgment or criticism.

Two years ago I moved from a small Appalachian town to Raleigh, North Carolina. The small town was a very difficult place to grow up. There were few opportunities, especially for someone with an interest in the performing arts. There was, however, one small ballet studio. While I’ve never wanted to be a ballerina, I took classes for nine years. Although I loved performing, I never felt comfortable around my peers. I felt like an alien next to the typical “ballerina/traditional college-bound” mold that the girls seemed to represent. I have known from a young age that I am different: I am intelligent, but have to work extremely hard in school due to diagnosed reading and writing disabilities. I’m well spoken, but I never felt like gossiping or competing with the other girls. I like to be active, but would rather be performing on stage than playing sports. Mostly, while all my peers spoke of going to college and returning home to begin safe jobs as a pharmacists or teachers, I wanted nothing less than moving to New York and pursuing a career on stage.

Because of these differences, I was often bullied. I didn’t have close friends and the only thing I wanted was to find a place where I could be myself and not be outcast for it. When we relocated to Raleigh, I was hopeful at the prospect of being able to start over somewhere new; however, it wasn’t until I discovered the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory that I truly felt at home.

The Conservatory is the education and training wing of the North Carolina Theatre. Here I found the high-quality, professional training that I always desired. The instructors not only make me a better performer, but have also succeeded in helping me feel more confident in my abilities, and my uniqueness. I am learning from superior trainers with professional experiences and talents, many of whom have become mentors to me. I have performance and training opportunities that I could only dream of before. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the welcoming, supportive, and nonjudgmental atmosphere that I find at the Conservatory each and every time I enter its doors. Fellow students actively encourage and support each other to do their best. Without the constant fear of judgment, I’m no longer afraid to try new things and take risks. I no longer feel that my differences are parts of me to be hidden; instead, I can be creative and have fun, all while learning and expanding my abilities. I can be myself and no one judges me, wants me to change, or thinks I’m odd. I have many friends there, not just acquaintances, but close friends who are appreciative and accepting of me. For the first time, I am liked because of, and not in spite of, my individualism.

The Conservatory is so meaningful to me because it provides me with experiences that I’ve longed to have for so long: excellent training, close friends, and an environment where I can be myself without worrying about judgment. I continue to be so grateful for the Conservatory for all that it teaches me, both professionally and personally.