From Bryn Mawr to Broadway
In "Ohio State Murders," Abigail Stephenson ’16 found a role that resonated and the fulfillment of a dream.
For Abigail Stephenson ’16, the past few months have been exciting and, she says, a little surreal. Making her Broadway debut, Stephenson has been on stage at the James Earl Jones Theatre alongside a cast led by Audra McDonald in Ohio State Murders, a play by Adrienne Kennedy.
How does it feel to be making your Broadway debut?
It's really exciting. I’ve always dreamt of being on Broadway. I will say, Broadway is hard in ways you cannot foresee. You put a lot of pressure on yourself, because you’re finally doing what you really want to do and you want to do it well. Tech on Broadway is also a month long so for all of November and early December, we had rehearsals during the day and then shows at night, which is very, very tiring. And just making sure you’re taking care of yourself and your mental health, your physical health, all of it is challenging.
Tell me about Ohio State Murders and what it means to you.
When I read the play for the audition, I immediately connected with it. It tells the story of a Black woman who’s returning to her alma mater to talk about why there’s violent imagery in her work. She discusses what it’s like to be a Black woman at a predominantly white institution. I didn’t experience many of these things on Bryn Mawr’s campus, but I will say I experienced them outside of Bryn Mawr. Audra says it well in interviews, and it’s what the play conveys so well. It’s death by a thousand cuts. It’s not just the slurs, it’s the other things that break you down as a woman, as a Black woman, in these institutions, that make you question your humanity.
Your character is Iris Ann. Who is she?
She is a music major at Ohio State, or she wants to be. And we follow her journey in tandem with Suzanne’s journey. She and Suzanne go through very similar experiences on Ohio State’s campus, but in different departments. This is the story of the journey that she takes, and how she navigates through and struggles at Ohio State.
Tell us about your journey from Bryn Mawr to Broadway.
Somewhere in the middle of my Bryn Mawr education, I met my now mentor Forrest McClendon. He taught at University of the Arts and he was about to head to London for his West End run of The Scottsboro Boys. I wanted to do more musical theater, so I went to him and he tested my range and asked if I thought I could go professional. I said I’d always wanted to. He said, ‘I think you have the ability and I’ll get you there.’ He suggested I consider training in the U.K. and that’s how I ended up at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
I am a soprano and sing mostly in the top register of my voice, so once I graduated I aimed for roles that could showcase that and ended up booking something pretty quickly just to get my foot in the door. From there, I just kept working.
Did you feel ready for Broadway?
The universe knows when you’re ready. When I was working toward it, I was not ready to navigate this lifestyle. I’m not going to say I’m ready now, but I can look back on the years before and say, ‘Wow, I was really not ready.’
Are you enjoying the experience?
Someone asked me the other day if I was having fun. Fun is not the word I would use for this show, but I am enjoying it. This is a hard show to do, because of the heaviness of the piece, but I love the show and I love what we are able to create on stage for people to absorb. That to me is so important and is why I do what I do, telling stories about people who look like me in ways that haven’t necessarily been seen on stage.
Ohio State Murders is onstage at the James Earl Jones Theatre through January 15.