Chris Rasor was born blessed with a vivid imagination, a flair for drama and the ability to entertain himself for hours on end. This served him well as an only child for the first eight years of his life until the first of his two brothers was born.
Not content to live inside his own head, he was also a very social child.
“I had a teacher say once that it took me 20 minutes to turn in my homework,” he says, “because I had to stop by and talk to the other students in class.”
As he grew, his imagination and social skills continued to inform his career path.
He played trumpet in middle school but in 7th grade decided to give choir a try.
“I fell in love with it intensely,” he says.
Although not the first in his family with an interest in performing choral music, his bigger influence was his grandfather, who played harmonica in church.
“He would take me to concerts and always encouraged me,” he says.
The middle schooler branched out onto a new path when a friend took him to see a Fort Wayne Civic Theatre production.
“That was my first community production, and I was just in awe,” he says. “I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to be up on that stage.”
He went on to North Side High School, where he “did and tried it all.” He was a four-year member of the school’s show choir, Wave of Distinction, as well as the jazz choir and concert choir. He participated in all the school’s musicals and plays during his high school career and performed in his first community theatre production (Cinderella at the Civic).
Already musically and theatrically accomplished, Rasor went to IPFW after graduating North Side, earning his bachelor’s degree in music education with a concentration in voice. At IPFW he performed with the University and Chamber Choirs and participated in the music department’s opera workshops. He was also proud to work with the IPFW Department of Theatre in their production of A Chorus Line under the direction of Larry Life.
Despite the classical vocal training he received at IPFW, he never strayed far from his theatrical roots.
“I was steered toward opera and classical music, but the love for musical theater was too great,” he says. “I always had that passion deep down.”
Although he studied voice and, to a lesser extent, acting, he has never taken a formal dance class. Nevertheless, he has extensive experience dancing in shows, even winning Anthony Awards for his dance performances.
“Dance has just come naturally to me,” he says. “I surrounded myself with the right people in the theater community. Watching them and absorbing everything they did was my training.”
Soon after graduation Rasor landed his first leading role in a community theatre production: the 2004 production of Dames at Sea at Arena Dinner Theatre.
“It was my opportunity to prove to myself that I could be the leading man,” he says.
Whether a leading or a supporting player, Rasor says he takes a philosophical approach to performing.
“All of us have different gifts that we bring in life, whether it’s being a doctor, teacher, athlete, or performer,” he says. “To me, performing is the gift that I share with others. When the audience comes to a show, they want to be entertained. They want to escape from their day of work and forget about life. That’s my job as a performer. For that short amount of time, I want them not to have to worry about life, but just sit back and let the show entertain them.”
He considers it not just a privilege to give the gift of entertainment to audiences, but he believes in sharing in the fun while doing it.
“When I go see a show, I want to escape from reality,” he says. “There has to be fun and enjoyment in the performing. I approach every show that way; I want to have fun. Why would you spend all that time rehearsing if you are not going to have fun?”
Rasor isn’t just all about fun, however.
“I also want to take something away from every show,” he says. “Something that I have learned about myself or someone I’ve been working with.”
One of the roles he had the most fun playing was Will Parker in the IPFW production of Oklahoma! that was performed at the Embassy Theatre. “It was in conjunction with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic,” he says, “so that made it very special to not only perform on the Embassy stage but also perform with The Phil.”
Performing the lead in in a big musical can also present special challenges.
“I played Bobby Child in Crazy for You at the Civic Theatre,” he says. “That character doesn’t get a chance to breathe. He’s a character playing another character – one who has a Hungarian accent – and you’re constantly making sure you have the right costume and facial hair for the right character, trying to remember if you have your tap shoes on and trying to remember all your songs, lines, and dances. Pretty easy right? Gary Lanier was my dresser, and I would have been lost without him during that show.”
Without a certain degree of concentration and cooperation, acting can also be downright dangerous.
“During a production of Guys and Dolls, I was supposed to get hit over the head with a tray,” he says. “The person who was to hit me just swung it too hard and knocked me out cold onstage.”
Rasor is currently co-starring in his 35th production, Mary Poppins at the Civic Theatre. One of the challenges of this role has been taking place before he makes it onto the stage.
“When you tell people that you are playing Bert in Mary Poppins” he explains, “they say, ‘Oh, you’re playing the Dick Van Dyke role. Are you dancing with penguins?’”
He has to explain that the stage production differs slightly than the Disney film classic. For one thing, no penguins. The songs are (mostly) all there, he says, but may be in a slightly different order or even sung by other characters.
“But the moral is the same and has that Disney magic that we all love,” he says.
The most exciting aspect of the role for Rasor is discovering the inner workings of his character.
“Our director Jane Lanier and I have had fun talking about ‘who is Bert?’” he says. “We all know he is Mary’s friend and they go way back, but there is so much more depth to the character and the role he plays in the show.”
Actually, the most exciting aspect of this show doesn’t have anything to do with character discovery. “I am going to have the opportunity to fly,” he says. “I have never flown in a show and probably will never get this opportunity again, so I am super-excited.”
On second thought, he says, “You might want to ask me again after they hoist me up in the air for the first time.”
Excitement or terror aside, Rasor is happy to be back “home” at the Civic.
“It’s where I did my first community show,” he says, “so every time I walk on that stage it feels comfortable and feels like I never left.”
When he’s not singing and flying for audiences, Rasor is an elementary music teacher for Fort Wayne Community Schools. He is also the resident choreographer for the Northrop show choirs, Charisma and Allure, and along with Leslie Beauchamp, he choreographs for Homestead’s show choir, Elite.
But he never strays far from his theatrical roots.
“Even though I teach general elementary music, I am already exposing them to musical theater,” he says. “Each grade level watches a different musical, and we talk about characters, plot, setting, music and how it relates to the culture of that time. With my high school kids, I am always drawing upon my experiences in theatre when I’m choreographing.”
With such a hectic schedule, Rasor sometimes finds it difficult to squeeze in family time. “My wife Stacey doesn’t perform,” he says, “but she was a swimmer in high school and college, so she understands all the hard work that I put into the rehearsal process.”
Nevertheless, there are sacrifices the entire Rasor family must make.
“There are times it is difficult to leave my family in the evening,” he admits, “and my wife has to play mother and father to our two little girls. It’s very difficult, especially when I don’t get to say good night and help tuck them in. But she is very supportive because she knows how much I love it and how much it means to me. I’m very lucky.”
He is excited to see what his five-year-old thinks about Mary Poppins. It will be her first stage production (the Rasors don’t think their two-year-old is quite ready yet). But the girls are no strangers to live entertainment.
“They love coming to show choir competitions and watching all the dancing and singing,” he says. “They’ve even set up a stage in our living room. They watch the DVD of the show choir performance and perform along with them. My five-year-old even has to do a costume change [in the living room] when the choir does one [on the DVD].”
The girls are interested in a variety of activities, he says, including swimming and T-ball. But this fall, they will have the opportunity to follow in their father’s footsteps when they start taking dance classes.
“I do hope they have an interest in performing, although I am keeping an open mind,” he says. “I just think it would be wonderful if we could have the chance to perform together one day.”