WARREN - As Debra Conner stepped onto the stage under the lights of the Ohio Chautauqua Friday night, a quiet hush came over the sea of people awaiting her portrayal of Titanic survivor Edith Rosenbaum Russell.
"I was a bit rattled by the crowd, it was so large," Conner said after her show closed with a thunderous ovation from the record crowd of 828 onlookers. "That is the biggest crowd Ohio Chautauqua has ever had anywhere. When you look out there and see people beyond the reaches of the tent, it is a little daunting, but also very exciting."
The performance recounted Russell's life in the lead-up to the April 14, 1912, sinking of the Titanic, her rescue and how the event shaped the rest of the Cincinnati native's years.
Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
Debra Conner takes questions and signs autographs following her performance in Friday’s Ohio Chautauqua in downtown Warren. Through first-person re-enactment, Conner told the story of Edith Rosenbaum Russell who survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
Russell boarded the Titanic April 10, 1912, in Cherbourg, France, and described the ship as a "floating city" in later years.
In re-telling of the fateful night when an iceberg brought down the ship, Russell described the scene as quickly shifting from a beautiful night on the North Atlantic Ocean to a scene "straight out of Dante's Inferno."
Of the 2,224 passengers on board, Russell was one of just 710 survivors. She often spoke publicly about her experience on the Titanic until her death in 1975 at the age of 97.
Conner, who has played other characters in Ohio Chautauqua, was making her third appearance on the Warren stage.
"It is a summer job for me," Conner said. "I will usually have to invest at least a year of research into the character."
Conner holds a degree in English from the University of Virginia and she works as a writer and teacher. She conducts workshops and residencies through the West Virginia Arts Commission and the Ohio Arts Council.
She complimented Warren for embracing Ohio Chautauqua with open arms.
"It says that this town loves Chautauqua and shows that this community knows how to do a great job in hosting it," Conner said. "They are extremely organized and efficient."
Ohio Chautauqua is sponsored and presented by Ohio Humanities. It is hosted locally by the Tribune Chronicle and the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library and is in partnership with Trumbull 100 and the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, with support from the Warren Library Association.