Morgan Spencer is a small town girl who dreamed beyond her upbringing. She grew up in Woodburn, “where everyone knows everyone,” and although she says it was a nice place to grow up, she wishes she had been exposed to more culture at a younger age.
Her parents divorced when she was in kindergarten, but her mother made sure her childhood was as normal as possible. That included playing sports.
“That’s just what you did in Woodburn,” she says. She played T-ball, lob ball and softball and then became a cheerleader for her older brother’s PAL football team and for her middle school. Later she ran track and played volleyball. “I’ve always been athletic, and I enjoyed sports for what they were,” she says, “but I never really excelled at it or loved it. That’s just what there was to do.”
Her outgoing nature and love of attention led her to express herself through entertaining.
“I had a lot of emotions, and I couldn’t help but to express them,” she says. One of her earliest ventures into the entertainment arts was while she was in preschool. “I took a chair outside to the driveway, stood on it, and sang ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ from Grease,” she says. “Even then, I loved the idea of being someone else.”
Playing characters helped her sort through her feelings.
“I have struggled with OCD and anxiety issues since I can remember,” Spencer says. “It was scary to deal with. I didn’t understand [those feelings] when I was a child. Dealing with emotional issues as an adult is also scary, but I’m realizing that I’m way stronger than I think.”
When she was seven years old, her grandmother took her to see the musical Bye Bye Birdie. “I went around singing, ‘What’s the Matter with Kids Today’ for weeks,” she says.
Around the time she entered elementary school, she began performing herself – in church plays, but she already had her sights set higher.
“I was frustrated that there weren’t more opportunities for me,” she says. “After my second church play, I asked my mom, ‘Where is this even getting me? Is this going to take me to Broadway?’ I was fed up with the lack of art!”
Even then she was beginning a plan for a life in entertainment.
She attended Woodlan High School where she started feeding her love of performing by participating in show choir and the spring musicals. As a freshman, she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to audition for the school show, Meet Me in St. Louis. She was completely unprepared and sang the first song that came to mind, “Santa Baby,” a capella. “I had no clue what I was doing,” she says, “but I got the lead role.”
She went on to perform in the school musicals the next two years as well. But when she was a senior, she was cast in the ensemble of the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre production of Cinderella. For the first time, she says, she felt a true sense of belonging.
Spencer graduated high school half a semester early and opted not to attend college. Her plan was to graduate in December, sell insurance for six months to save up money, and then move to Los Angeles to pursue film and TV work. “Then June came and I was like, ‘Ya know, I have literally no experience, and I would probably get eaten alive.’”
As it turned out, local opportunities fell into her lap, including film and voice-over work, so she has never regretted her decision.
“I’ve learned a lot here in Fort Wayne,” she says. “I’m glad I’ve stayed. I love this theater community so much, and I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with excellent actors and directors.”
She is currently working on an audio drama/podcast called “Geek by Night,” available on iTunes. The series is about a group of late-twenty-somethings who run a comic book store and mysteriously find themselves with superpowers and become crime fighters. Spencer plays Mindy, “the cool college sorority chick” who won’t admit to being a “super nerd” at heart and who develops the power of teleportation.
Voice acting presents a different set of challenges, she says.
“I’m used to being able to use my face and body to express myself,” she says, “but when it’s just your voice, it feels like a whole new ballgame.”
Spencer has also completed several short films shot in Fort Wayne, a few commercials and the first season of a web series called “Lizzie Shea,” in which she plays the title character. “The first season has received a lot of positive feedback,” she says. This production is also unique in that it’s not entirely scripted.
“It’s guided improv,” she says. “The basic concepts and important points are written but not the specific lines. It’s very challenging but interesting to explore a character in a way to really just know what they would say in the situation that’s presented.”
She also recently added modeling to her resumé.
But her current role is the stage comedy Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, now running at First Presbyterian Theater.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever done,” she says. “I get to explore physical comedy. I play nine different characters and have 22 costume changes.”
At times, she has 15 seconds to change from one character to another, and as it’s live theatre, she says anything can happen (and has).
“On opening night I had to run out onstage holding my dress together in the front with a rose in my mouth and my wig half on my head,” she says. “I totally broke [character] and was laughing along with the audience.”
The show was written by Ken Ludwig, a prolific writer of farcical stage comedies, so moments like this play right along in the spirit of the show.
Although Spencer has opted to stay in Fort Wayne (for the time being), the wide range of opportunities the city has offered her have helped her to grow in her craft, and she is quickly becoming one of the city’s most sought-after talents. She has absorbed every new experience and project, drawing from her emotional reserves and learning by watching everyone around her – not just other actors.
“I’m always observing and taking mental notes,” she says. “Every person has something to offer.”