Conner to perform out West

PARKERSBURG – A living history portrayer from Parkersburg will participate in two Chautauqua-style programs in Oregon and Oklahoma.

Debra Conner, locally known for her portrayals of Margaret Blennerhassett, will perform as Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon and the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor, in Enid, Okla., and as Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, in Eugene, Ore.

“I’m very excited,” Conner said. “It’s a great opportunity. I love what I do.”

The Walker performances are part of a Chautauqua series sponsored by the city of Enid, Conner said. For two weeks she will perform in schools, colleges and community events.

In Eugene, the city is participating in the Big Read, a three-day program of the National Endowment for the Arts. For this year, the city is reading “The Great Gatsby,” the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald that takes place in the Roaring ’20s.

It was her audition for the part of Zelda in a summer 2013 Chautauqua with the theme of the Roaring ’20s that led her to the upcoming performances.

The Fitzgeralds and their lifestyle were illustrative of the excesses of the era. By age 30 she started to mentally deteriorate and spent most of her remaining years in mental hospitals for schizophrenia, dying at age 48 in a fire in a hospital in Asheville, N.C.

A campaigner for women’s rights, Walker, who spent four months in a Confederate prison camp, was notorious for wearing men’s trousers, a frock and a top hat, which was scandalous at the time. She was arrested numerous times for her clothing.

A Chautauqua-style performer on stage assumes the personality of the character, Conner said. She will answer questions and converse with the audience in character.

In addition to Blennerhassett, Conner has portrayed poet Emily Dickinson and writers Margaret Mitchell and Rebecca Harding Davis. She has portrayed Blennerhassett since 1998.

She recently portrayed Edith Russell of Cincinnati, who survived the sinking of the Titanic, at a performance at the Ohio governor’s mansion sponsored by the Ohio Humanities Council.

Conner also has desires to perform more in this area and to expand such opportunities.

“They say you have to go 50 miles from where you’re from to be considered an expert,” Conner said. “There’s an irony in the fact that I have never performed at Parkersburg High School, and it’s at the end of my street.”