by Jason Forbach
Boca Raton native Abby Jaros recently returned to her alma mater, The University of Central Florida, to be named one of its top ‘30 Under 30’, an award honoring distinctive alumni who exemplify excellence at the beginning of their careers. So, how did she make such an impact in just a few years? Jaros recently completed a prestigious run in the ensemble of both the National Tours of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Hamilton, yet it is her commitment to helping fellow alumni that makes her one of the school’s best.
Like many dancers, Jaros began dancing at a young age. Jaros’ Grandmother was the first to put her in dance class at the age of 5.
“I hated it, “ Jaros says with a laugh. “I eventually found a love for it unlike anything in my life. My parents and my Grandma fully supported my love for dance and, once I entered high school, I started studying musical theatre. There was not a dance competition or show my parents did not attend. For that, I am forever grateful for their love and support of my passion.”
She continued her studies at UCF where she credits the success of their program for its emphasis on a well rounded liberal arts philosophy. “I received my BFA in Musical Theatre with a Dance Minor from UCF. It’s a 4 year program with many classes in Acting, Singing, Dance, History, Business and Theory,” Jaros said. "Looking back, I really am grateful I was able to learn so much more outside of my theatre degree…but I’m a nerd like that. After our third year, we are required to complete an internship in order to graduate. It was a really amazing way to jump into the field in which you were studying to get experience before graduating. That is a huge aspect of UCF that keeps it on the map.”
Jaros graduated a semester early and quickly left an incredibly talented pool of performers in Florida to immediately make “a go” of it in New York City. It wasn’t long before she joined the National Tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, re-conceived by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler.
“Getting to learn and perform Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography first hand was my biggest dream come true. Listening to him describe the story, the intention behind each movement reminded me of why dance was my passion. I love story and so does he. So, naturally, it was one of the best experiences of my life at that point.”
She credits this first big job as shaping what would lead her toward her next big opportunity, booking the National Tour of Hamilton.
“During rehearsals (for Joseph), we all got to go and see Hamilton a week after it opened. Watching Andy’s style on the stage, after working with him in the studio that same day, made me feel like I was in his head. While watching the dancers dance on that stage, I could see every intention in each moment.”
Performing in one of the most popular shows in the world while on the road for thousands of people every night can present its own particular set of challenges. “Pace is the name of the game with that show. And, really, it is with any show you have to do eight times a week,” Jaros said.
“I often had to train outside of the show to keep up my body’s strength, especially after my body started to plateau doing the same thing over and over after 6 months. I had to strengthen the parts of my body that no longer were being challenged after getting used to the movement, to help prevent injury. I also had to be careful how I used my voice during the day, or after the show, because the material was also very vocally demanding. I used whatever I was feeling to give the best performance I could. If I was tired, I learned to lean into the breath of the show, or if I was excited I learned to embrace the feeling of having the jitters. Hamilton taught me a lot of how to be efficient in personal care of my body to be able to perform as much as the show demands.”
This idea of personal care for any performer is paramount for survival over the long haul, especially for such a demanding show as Hamilton which runs almost 3 hours. Many performers can learn the hard, unexpected way what their limits might be.
“I learned that sometimes my body and my mind are going to have days where I am not at 100%, and that’s ok. I am human, I was bound to learn it eventually. Sometimes when you push through the body not being up to par to be able to perform, it actually does more damage. I found that out the hard way. I ended up doing vocal damage from a sickness I had where I was coughing all night and doing the show the next day. Why did I do that? I don’t know. Ego, maybe. But in the end I ended up hurting myself and I learned that it’s okay to listen to your body when it’s screaming at you to take a second. Same goes for a mental health day. Often being on the road I dealt with missing family and friends. Or, once in a while, I struggled with not being in a place that was familiar. There were days that got to me and it was hard to take my mind off of it, even at work. It’s ok to feel that way and take a mental health day to recover the mind.”
One restorative way Jaros found to rejuvenate not only her mind, but her soul, was her work in the Hamilton Education Program #EduHam.
“To tell you that those experiences were inspiring would be an understatement. I found myself tearing up in awe of the Hamilton related pieces the kids would put together to perform for hundreds, sometimes thousands of their peers to watch. I would have been terrified, but they all brought confidence and artistry to a new level. After the EduHam student performances, we would perform Hamilton for them. Kids surrounded by other kids their age brought a different energy and understanding of the material being presented to them. They laughed, gasped and clapped in places we weren’t used to. This reminded me to listen to the show in a different way every once in a while.”
Since completing her run with Hamilton and returning to New York City, she has discovered a love for on camera work. She even danced on an episode of Saturday Night Live.
“SNL was the most last-minute and incredible experiences I have had in NYC. Watching that incredible and historic show be put together in such a short amount of time was both inspiring and motivating. That world is so last minute, quick changes right and left, and you’ve got to be ready and malleable to make it all work. But that’s what I love about it!”
Now, that Jaros is back in New York, she is ready for her next adventure. She often serves as a contact and mentor for fellow students wanting to follow in her footsteps, regularly hosting current students visiting the city, organizing mentor meetings and workshops which help fellow UCF alumni network within the theater industry.
“Abby moved to the city before me,” Jerusha Cavazos, current ensemble member of The Prom, friend and fellow UCF alum said. “I wasn’t ready yet. When I would visit, I would stay with her and she helped give me the low down on what the city was like. She was definitely incredibly helpful to me when I was nervous about making the transition to New York City from Florida.”
But was there anything else that she wished she would have learned while she was in school? Now that she is guiding fellow students who are about to embark on a journey similar to hers, what is the one bit of advice she wishes she had received while training?
“I do believe I was given the tools to accomplish all that I was asked of, but I wish, as a student, I embraced the challenge more, and that is creativity. Instead of being afraid to think outside the box, I wish I enjoyed it more. I work on that more and more, every time I am given the opportunity.”
"She is a fierce dancer,” Cavazos said. “I watched her at UCF, the way she dances, the way she articulates, her musicality. It’s insane. She has been a big help to me believing in myself as a dancer because I didn’t dance much in college. I just sang. And now, in my first Broadway show, I am a dancer. And that is not something I ever considered for myself. Getting the courage to walk into a room and dance in an audition was something I got from her. I’m thankful to her for that.”