by Keaton Whittaker
“Do you want to be an actor when you grow up?”
“I am an actor.” – A quote from an 11 year old me in the Seattle Times, while doing a long run of To Kill A Mockingbird. I feel as though I’ve been my 20-something year old self stuck in a tiny body since I was about nine, which is accurately depicted in this slightly embarrassing quote.
When I started working in regional theatre, I was eight years old. I had no plans of becoming anything bigger or doing anything outside of the city of Seattle. I was perfectly settled and content. I was just a barefoot-running, lake-swimming, boat-riding, tree-climbing twelve-year-old when my whole life got flipped on it’s head. After doing the pre-Broadway run of Shrek The Musical at the 5th Avenue Theatre, I made my way to New York to sign with an agency, expecting nothing to come of it. Six months later, I was moving to play Fredrika in the Broadway Revival of A Little Night Music. Everything happened so fast that no one really even had time to process what was happening, and how drastically mine and my family’s life was going to change.
Really long story short, I ended up doing the whole twenty two month run of ALNM, my mom came out to live with me for most of the time, and sometimes she would go back and be with my brother and my dad in Seattle. After we closed in 2011, I did two short off-Broadway runs and decided to move back home and finish high school like a normal person.
To many people this seemed like a crazy idea. "Why wouldn’t you just want to stay and keep working? What are you going to do when you go home? Won’t you be bored? Aren’t you going to miss your friends? Do you think you’ll ever work again?" All I could reply was I knew it was time to go home. I missed my family, the trees, my dog, and all my friends.
So I went home and went to a normal high school… for a year. It turns out I did get bored and when I craved more than just a typical high school career. I thought it was fun and all, but the second an opportunity came my way I snatched it as quickly as I possibly could. I ended my high school career with a production of Carrie, starring Alice Ripley, Kendra Kassebaum, and me. I'm not kidding, this still feels like it could’ve been the peak of my career. Getting to work with them was transcendent.
Finishing school and going to college was always a non-negotiable point for my parents. No matter what shows I did or where we were moving to, the goal was always a college degree. Which I am proud to say I just earned in April from The Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. But don’t let me get ahead of myself: a BFA in Musical Theater is no walk in the park. I chose CCM because of its outstanding reputation, incredible faculty, and its hoards of wildly successful alumni. That being said, it was the most challenging venture of my life thus far.
Having a Broadway credit before coming into school, to some people may seem like a leg up. But in some ways I felt the opposite. It is easy for people to assume things about you. I found this to be the case with a few, and it took me a long time to prove those people wrong. The reality was that I was just blessed to have been in the right place at the right time. Those preconceived notions were a valuable lesson, because no matter who you are people will always assume things before getting to know you. It’s your job to prove them wrong.
One of the biggest reasons I decided to go to school in the first place was to have a consistent education. For four years I was in the same place with the same people. The most valuable training came from my peers and classmates. I learned to be self aware through them. I learned how to be incredibly positive through them. I also learned how easy it is to be incredibly negative and jaded through them. I don’t think I ever could've understood what we learned in class without my classmates teaching me what they did outside of class. I became a human being who is now capable of absorbing all of the knowledge I can, from everywhere I can, because college taught me to be open.
As actors I don’t think we never stop learning, but it is up to each individual as to whether you will be open to receiving. This is not always an easy lesson, but It is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from anywhere - Broadway included.
Since I moving in New York in April, it has been a different experience. The only way I know New York is going to school during the day and doing a Broadway show at night. That’s… not my current schedule. I was lucky to have signed with a great agency out of showcase, and am getting to audition a lot which is great. Ive worked a few different day jobs, trying to make sure I’ve got something steady with the freedom to audition. The one thing I’ve found the most difficult that I didn’t anticipate is the rejection. For the first week after every audition I had to call my boyfriend crying because nothing came of it. To which he replied (lovingly of course) “Get used to it.” I’ve since gotten a little bit better about walking out of a room and letting it go, but that is something that I’m hoping will come with more time.
The reality is, New York is hard. Most people don’t just walk into a Broadway show. I was lucky to have an experience like that, and to make those amazing connections. Now, I get to experience New York through a new, older set of eyes. I don’t know if I would have even been open to experience that if it weren’t for my time at school. My classmates and my teachers taught me to treat this like an adventure, because we are the few lucky enough to get to pursue our dreams.