KATY MAGAZINE l SEPTEMBER 2019
By Jennifer Miko
Savannah May, from Katy, stars in the movie The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders now available on Lifetime Television. Since moving to the West Coast, Savannah has had numerous opportunities to shine, including two seasons as Buttercup on Nickelodeon’s Knight Squad.
Photo: Amanda Elkins
Savannah stars opposite Denise Richards (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) in The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders. Savannah plays Richards’ daughter Ava who tries out for the cheer squad at her new school. Ava learns that popularity has its price, and no matter how high you climb, there’s only room for one on top of the pyramid.
Savannah learned about the movie audition while on set for Knight Squad. She wrapped shooting at 5:30 pm and got in the car to meet the casting director at 6:00 pm. Savannah looked at the script for the first time on the short ride to the audition. When she signed in, she saw a piece of paper on the desk that read: “Please prepare a 5-8 8 count dance/cheer number.”
“Since I grew up dancing, I’m used to having to improv a number and think on my feet. So that’s what I did!” Savannah recalls. “I danced first and then I read the scene with the casting director. I remember leaving the audition feeling really great about it, but you never know what they’re looking for.”
About a week later, Savannah found out the casting director was looking for her.
“It was crazy because since it had been over a week, I figured I didn't get it, I mean they didn’t even have a callback for the role,” Savannah says. “I just felt really blessed, grateful and super excited to get started! I didn’t even know Denise (Richards) was playing my mom until I got the call sheet for the first day of filming so that was a really great surprise!”
To prepare for her dramatic role, Savannah read the script multiple times to connect with her character on another level.
"Getting to play a character like Ava was definitely new and different, but that’s what you want as an actor," says Savannah. "You want those roles that are going to challenge you and make you step out of your comfort zone."
"We had two long rehearsal days to learn the dance portion of the routines for the movie," Savannah recalls. She admits the actors didn't do the cheer stunts in the film, due to the risk of them getting injured. Instead, five cheerleaders from the actual high school where the movie was shot performed the stunts.
"Watching them do the stunts for the first time was so impressive, I don’t think any of us expected it to be that amazing!" Savannah says.
Talent Runs in the Family
Savannah's mom Lori, and her sister Holly Huebner agree that Savannah got her entertainment bug from her grandfather, Clell Conner.
"He taught himself at the age of five to play the guitar and hasn’t stopped playing to this day," says Lori. "My dad has always had a one liner for everything and I think that is also where Savannah got her love for comedy."
“My sister (Lori) can definitely dance, but I would have to say all the rest of Savannah's performing talents come from my Daddy, her Grandpa,” admits Aunt Holly. “He has performed his whole life - singing, playing guitar, writing his own songs. He was also a rodeo announcer for over 45 years. You could say, a microphone was literally just an extra appendage for him.”
Watching the Star Rise
Aunt Holly has cheered for her niece, who she affectionately calls "Nanny," from the first time she took the stage.
“Our entire family went to Savannah’s first dance recital and she was only three and a half,” recalls Aunt Holly. “She did tap, ballet and jazz and didn’t miss a beat. We knew then that this was JUST the BEGINNING of many recitals to come!”
Aunt Holly was right. Savannah added more classes to build her dance repertoire. She excelled in ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop and lyrical. Many years of lessons and recitals would follow.
Training and Building Her Resume
"Whenever Savannah was in a dance class she focused all of her attention on being the best dancer she could be and always wanted to improve," recalls Lauren Brandon, who took dance classes with pre-teen Savannah. Brandon, 26, now teaches dance in Katy and says Savannah "always focused on learning as much as she could, as fast as she could."
When she was 11, Savannah enrolled at the Humphrey School of Musical Theatre with TUTS (Theatre Under the Stars). For the next five years, her mom drove her to lessons in Houston, which included dance classes, acting and voice training.
Next came the rehearsals - lots of them - because Savannah was cast in 20 TUTS productions including Annie, Hairspray, Elf, the Musical, Rent and many more.
"I saw all of the shows several times, or as many times as I could afford," Lori recalls. "I volunteered in the ticket booth several times and would then go to the shows. I enjoyed it very much."
Following Her Dream
In 2016, Savannah and her mother made the bold decision to leave their home and family in Katy and move to Burbank, CA. Savannah's dad and younger brother Conner remained in Texas, but Lori says they keep connected through phone, texts and FaceTime.
"When we moved up here Savannah started taking lots of dance classes from various professionals and started private acting lessons with an instructor that her manager set up for her," says Lori.
Breaking into the Business
Savannah worked on her craft and built up her west coast credits. She appeared in Disney’s Bizaardvark (2016) and Nickelodeon’s School of Rock (2017). After several rounds of auditions and screen tests, Savannah landed the role of Buttercup in Knight Squad (2018), for two seasons, also on Nickelodeon.
"I truly love comedy and being able to make someone laugh," says Savannah. "You never know what someone is going through in their personal life, so to help them escape reality, for even a second, is a pretty amazing feeling."
Photo: Amanda Elkins
Staying True to Her Roots
Anyone who has met the wide-eyed teenager, can see lots of similarities between Savannah and her light-hearted Knight Squad persona.
"Savannah, much like Buttercup, is so incredibly sweet, selfless, and brave," says Brandon. "She's a social butterfly, befriending everyone around her. She's always smiling and exuding happiness. But, unlike Buttercup, (Savannah) is incredibly smart."
Lori proudly notes that Savannah has kept grounded in her West Coast life. "I just strive to continue to teach her life-long values and to always remember where she came from," Lori says. "She keeps her Texas roots and her faith very close at heart and no matter where life takes her I truly believe she will never let go of either."