Director of Faulkner Academy of Arts stays busy expanding programs

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published January 12, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Eilish Palmer/Contributing Photographer

Joan Hanna not only directs the Conway Women’s Chorus and is the musical director of the Conway Dinner Theater, but she also teaches piano and has recently been hired as a substitute teacher for the Greenbrier School District.

If there is one word to describe Joan Hanna, it would not be “idle.” In fact, it would be just the opposite — “busy.”

As director of the Faulkner Academy of Arts in Conway, Hanna not only teaches piano; she also directs the Conway Women’s Chorus and is the musical director of the Conway Dinner Theater. Both the chorus and the dinner theater operate under the umbrella of the Faulkner Academy of Arts, which Hanna founded eight years ago.

As if that were not enough, Hanna most recently has been hired as a substitute teacher for the Greenbrier School District.

Hanna, who now lives in Wooster, was born in Tyler, Texas.

“I was born there, but that was the extent of my time there,” Hanna said with a laugh. “My dad (the late Arthur H. Carter) followed the pipeline. He was a pipe fitter and a welder. By the time I entered school at age 5, we had lived in 15 states.

“We lived in a trailer, so all we had to do was secure the doors, and away we went. When I was ready to go to school, my mother (Edith Carter) said it was time to settle down. We lived in Scotland, Ark., up in the hills, until I was in the fourth grade, and then we moved to Wooster.”

Hanna graduated from Greenbrier High School in 1971.

“I started at [State College of Arkansas, now the University of Central Arkansas] and graduated from UCA in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in music education,” she said. “I got a job teaching music in the Alma Public Schools and was there from 1975 to 1979. I taught elementary music in grades one through six. I also taught seventh-grade boys choir, seventh-grade girls choir, a junior-high mixed choir and a senior-high mixed choir. I also had a pop ensemble that met before school.

“I was very young. I can’t even imagine all that work now.”

During the summers of 1975-79, Hanna worked on her master’s degree in music education at UCA and completed that in 1979.

With her master’s degree in hand, Hanna began a 26-year teaching career at Central Baptist College. She left there in 2005 to open the Faulkner Academy of Arts. She also began working at UCA as a staff accompanist; she did that until 2009.

“It was time for a change,” she said when asked why she left CBC.

“I ran a preparatory department, sort of a community school, at CBC. When I told my student teachers I was leaving, they asked me what I was going to do. I said I was going to teach a few students, and they said, ‘We’ll just come with you.’

“That was not what I was expecting,” she said with a laugh. “About 10 people came with me. Suddenly, I had a lot more going on. So I started to look for a place for a studio. My church, Mustard Seed Church, helped me out. They let me use space in the church during the times church was not in session. So they completely paid for my rent until I could get going on my own.

“This academy would not exist without this church. Over the years, we have taken less from them. All of the church members support the arts.”

Mustard Seed Church had met in different locations over the years and today meets in the same building that houses the Faulkner Academy of Arts.

The academy met in several places before moving in the summer of 2012 to its current location at 2201 Washington Ave. The academy now has space for a permanent stage and several rows of seats.

“We can seat 84 people,” she said.

Prior to this, the academy’s performances were presented at various locations throughout the community.

“You have to make do with what you have,” Hanna said, explaining that the elevated seats in the new theater were made from pallets left over when the former business moved out of the space. “Making do with what you have — that’s a hallmark of the theater.”

The Faulkner Academy of Arts includes three entities — a studio that offers classes in both music and drama, the Conway Women’s Chorus and the Conway Dinner Theater.

“We average 60 to 80 students,” Hanna said, noting that registration is currently underway for new classes. “We need more students.”

Hanna said the Women’s Chorus began in 2005 as a result of Earth Day.

“One of the organizers asked me to get a group of women together to sing,” she said. “Following that performance, she told me I should do a Conway Women’s Chorus, and I did.

“The idea for a dinner theater came from a group of kids that sat around my dining room and said, ‘We need to do a play.’

“Our first production in 2006 was You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. We used Barbara Sanders’ workshop. It was an empty shell. Shanna [Rae] and I co-directed it. We got cardboard and cutout buses. Of course, that was perfect for Charlie Brown. We literally did everything ourselves.

“We couldn’t afford to buy tablecloths for the tables where we would serve the dinner. I made them, and we are still using them today. We even had to borrow a stage.

“You find a way. I was able to loan the academy enough money to pay for the rights to do the play. We didn’t even think about making money. All we wanted to do was break even.”

Hanna has big plans for the Faulkner Academy of Arts in the coming year.

“The Women’s Chorus just received a $2,000 grant from the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission to continue the group’s program of songs and stories from the war years,” she said. “This will allow us to do more performances throughout the state. We will continue these performances until 2015, when the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War ends. We are hoping to do something really special then.”

Hanna said open rehearsals for the Conway Women’s Chorus will begin Jan. 28.

“We are always looking for new people,” she said.

“Studio-wise, we hope to offer another showcase of our students,” she said. “We did this last October, and it was very well received. It’s a free evening of entertainment, and we hope more people from the community will attend.”

The exact date for this production will be announced later.

“As far as the Conway Dinner Theater, oh, my word,” she said. “We are trying to get more events planned because we now have our own stage.”

Hanna said a Valentine’s Date Night is planned for February.

The musical Into the Woods will be presented the first two weekends in May.

“It’s the hottest show on Broadway,” Hanna said.

And during the summer, the Conway Dinner Theater will “attempt” three weekends of theater with Arsenic and Old Lace, set for the end of July and the first of August.

“We are looking for something for the fall,” Hanna said. “We just need to get our directors secured.

“It’s just one thing after another, and in between, I call people asking for their help and support.”

While directing the Faulkner Academy of Arts, Hanna also taught at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. From 2009 until 2013, she taught music theory and class piano, and accompanied the college choir.

“My goal is to have one job — Faulkner Academy of Arts,” she said. “I did that for a short time, from the fall of 2013 when I left UACCM until now, when I applied for this substitute teaching job in Greenbrier. I wrote a grant during that time, and I’ve been spending three or four hours a day on the computer. So I don’t see myself going into retirement anytime soon.

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve been very fortunate in my life. Somebody has always come to me and asked me to apply for the jobs I have had, except for this new job in the Greenbrier schools. This was the first time I applied for a job, and I am 60 years old.

“It’s been the people I’ve worked with or former students who have recommended me for jobs. That’s a blessing, and it is very gratifying.”

Joan and her husband, Ross Hanna, have been married since 1982. Ross has a degree in philosophy and has been employed by Walmart since 1982. He teaches a weekly Bible class at the Faulkner County Jail and Detention Center.

“I’m very excited about that,” Joan said. “He is an excellent teacher.”

For more information on the Faulkner Academy of Arts and its programs, call (501) 339-7401.

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