Always a Panther: Tony Winner’s Love of Broadway Began in Duncanville
Chris Ketner remembers sitting in his family’s Duncanville home when he was growing up watching the Tony Awards on television.
“I thought – I want to do that,” Ketner said. “I want to be there.”
Fast-forward a decade and not only did the dream of attending the Tony’s come true for Ketner, earlier this year at the age of 33 he won his first Tony Award for producing “The Ferryman” on Broadway.
“It was wild. Really, really wild,” Ketner said. “It was one of those things that I had always dreamed of. I had grown up going to see shows at Dallas Summer Musicals. My mom used to give us $10 and drop us off at the Music Hall at Fair Park. I’d run up and buy a ticket.
“The most surreal moment was standing on stage with the producers, and the cast was up there. Looking out at Radio City Music Hall all the TV lights on you and looking down and you see Anna Wintour and Hugh Jackman and all those people are staring up at you. I thought. ‘Wow I can’t believe this is happening.’”
Ketner’s path to Broadway began at Duncanville High School. He performed in the choir and in the drama department’s stage productions. When it came time to audition for New York University, DHS choir teacher Susan Kheshtinejad learned her student had only prepared one of two songs required for his tryout.
“She pulled me out of French class and in 20 minutes taught me a brand new song,” Ketner said. “That song is what got me into NYU.”
Once he landed in New York City, Ketner made that his new home base. His path to Broadway included several years of acting and producing entertainment for sporting events like the Super Bowl and the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Several years ago, Ketner was offered a job producing for the Olympics in Rio, but he decided instead to go with his heart and seek a position in the theater.
That decision paid off.
In 2015, Ketner took a job managing a touring production of “Joseph and the Technicolor Raincoat.” His first Broadway producer credit came when he joined the team behind “The Great Comet of 1812” starring contemporary singer, Josh Groban. Ketner traveled to London to produce two shows. While there, he had an opportunity to see “The Ferryman.” When the show ended, Ketner says he was frozen in his seat.
“It was the most dramatic experience I have ever had. I didn’t stand up to applaud. I realized I was the only one in the theater. The usher came by and said, ‘Sir, you have to leave the theater,’” Ketner said.
Not long after that, “The Ferryman” began a run on Broadway, and Ketner joined the production team.
“Everything I’ve done in my life - going to NYU, juggling several productions on two continents at the same time - nothing was more difficult than Duncanville High School, Ketner said.
I was a student council officer. I was in everything the choir ever did. I was in every single theater production. Took every single AP class. When you have to read a thousand-page novel, go take pictures of the football game, go sing the national anthem, then go to solo and ensemble the next day and also figure out how to do your physics project all at the same time, it was a big lesson in time management.”
Ketner thanks three teachers in particular for shaping him during his high school career and preparing him to pursue his career: choir teacher, Susan Kheshtinejad, newspaper and yearbook teacher, Mary Pulliam, and student council sponsor, David Womack.
At this point in his career, Ketner has seen more success than many ever do. He was nominated for a Tony in 2017 for his work on “The Great Comet of 1812” and this year received two Tony nominations for “The Prom” and “The Ferryman.” In addition to his Tony win for “The Ferryman,” Ketner’s London production, “Company” won an Olivier Award, the equivalent of a Tony Award in America.
Ketner says he’s one of many successful Duncanville High School graduates. He knows those who went on to be doctors, business people and actors and actresses on Broadway. He believes the common denominator was their firm foundation in high school.
“Our teachers really loved us, but they pushed us to do our best at all times. Because of some of those wonderful teachers, that is why so many people I know from school have been successful.” Ketner said.