by Marialena Rago
“Going to Broadway has mattered to me, of course, because it has been the dream, but it has been a dream for the entire village of people who have looked after me. It was a win for way more people than just me.”
This month, The Ensemblist named Dodson on their “Ones to Watch” list for 2018. “Earlier this month, we celebrated some of Broadway’s most venerated ensemble actors with the 5th Annual Ensemblist Awards,” says The Ensemblist creator Mo Brady. “However, we wanted to find a way to celebrate and champion the exciting new talent hitting Broadway stages this year as well. That’s how our new ‘Ones to Watch’ list was born.”
Kimberly Dodson made her Broadway debut this year in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Her reaction to finding out she would be living her dream was calmer than one would expect. “I just kept saying ‘Wow’ a lot to my agent,” she says. “No crying. No excitement. Just like alright it's happening. A lifetime of work and we’ve reached milestone one.”
And she’s right about the lifetime of work. Dodson worked hard to survive as an actress when she first got to New York from Baltimore, Maryland. She worked in the box office at The Pearl Theatre Company, as a server, a hostess, a temp and even the front desk at a mental health clinic in the Bronx. Her journey to Broadway was filled with trials and tribulations, especially on “the ship that shall not be named…” as she calls it.
“I moved to New York right after college and was in the city for four months before booking the ship. I had a really bad feeling about it to start but felt like I couldn’t say no.”
Her gut feeling about the ship was right. She recalls being made unwelcome and unsafe by her superiors and talked down a lot by the creative team. “I was the young, black girl so I was an easy target for microaggressions. I was told I wasn’t smiling enough. Told I needed to ask questions in a more positive tone… and also to smile when I asked them. I was talked to in a ‘black accent’ often as a form of connecting. It didn’t work because that’s racist.”
Once her contract was up, she went right back to hustling in the city. Then, after a lot of crying and juggling, Dodson had, what she calls “One of those, ‘Oh damn that was fun’ auditions.” She booked A Bronx Tale at Paper Mill Playhouse, continued with some labs and even a commercial. Then she had another “fun” audition and booked Summer at La Jolla Playhouse.
When news broke that the show would be moving to Broadway after its run at La Jolla, Dodson was skeptical if she would be moving with it. “What a lot of people don't know is that just because you do an out of town version of a show does not mean you are guaranteed to move with it to Broadway… So once we all found out the show was moving, we then had to deal with the possibility that maybe we all won't be asked to go with it. But luckily, we were all asked to move to Broadway.”
She didn’t have that magical ‘wow’ moment when she first stepped on the stage. Instead, it was when the people that mattered most were there with her. “The first time I had my ‘Wow Broadway’ moment was actually the invited dress rehearsal. I invited my two best girl friends, and after the show, I ran to see them in the house. And to my surprise, all we could do was hold each other and cry. These women have had to endure a lot of my senseless and valid tears, so to experience this milestone with them first meant way more than I realized it would. It was perfect and made me so excited to share the show with more people who were on my team.”
Dodson is a major team player. Back in March, she wrote a piece for The Ensemblist about inclusion on Broadway and what it means to her. After more than six months after she wrote the article, she says that she has evolved on the issue. “What I want from everyone is to read their Playbills, sit down to your show, watch the first act, and during intermission and when you leave, do a bit of research.”
She hopes that young women of color will feel seen when they are in the audience of any show with a woman of color in it. “I want you to feel welcome and that you have a place in the Broadway stage. I want you to feel proud and excited, and I want you to feel ready to join us. But then I want you to do some research.”
Besides inclusion, Dodson wants women of color to feel as though they belong everywhere and in every aspect of theatre. “Black women realize we can and deserve to create our own stories. Don’t be fooled by this idea that you need to be wealthy to be a producer. Don’t be fooled that you need to have a Master’s in directing from Yale in order to tell stories. Don’t be fooled. You belong here. In every corner. Not just in the lights, but in the curtains, calling the show from the booth, designing the set or sound, creating the costumes, bringing the movement to life, producing, directing… write the damn thing and make all these theaters drool for your work! I want to see us everywhere. That’s my new hope. When you see me on stage, I want you to say, ‘We should be everywhere.’”
Next up for Dodson is joining the year two cast of Broadway’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Whether it is on stage or off, Dodson is making herself one to watch. She has “some things brewing” for the new year and has plans to explore writing and directing more seriously. “I’m excited to see how much I challenge myself to practice what I’m preaching and think more about creating. I may never do it, but I’m excited to say, I’m trying.”