Incoming Utah State University freshman Abigail Edwards knows the feeling of having the spotlight on her when she’s performing in front of an audience, whether its in an auditorium at Green Canyon High School or the in the Big Apple.
“That’s what every actor’s dream is,” Edwards said. “It’s also scary — you’re standing there and you’re looking out into the black void. But that’s why we do it, for opportunities like that.”
The actress graced the stage on Broadway this past week as one of two Utahns selected to go to the Jimmy Awards, an annual prestigious training program named after the late theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander that allows high school and college-age students nationwide to hone their acting skills, win awards and money.
Edwards was able to go to New York City since she won the Best Actress at the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards earlier this year for her portrayal of Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”
She said she’d always like to perform in front of an audience, but Edwards isn’t thinking about acting as a full-fledged career. Instead, she’s considering a number of majors, from math to psychology.
After a full day of freshman orientation activities at USU, Edwards sat down with The Herald Journal to talk about her experience at the Jimmy Awards and why she likes acting.
Herald Journal: What were the rehearsals for the Jimmy Awards like?
Abigail Edwards: It was a little intense. We would start really early in the morning at 7:30 and rehearse all day until 9 or 10 (at night). … We were learning all this new music and all this new choreography in a week to perform on a Broadway stage. … We had a chance to work with so many incredible people.
HJ: When you got to the end of the Jimmy Awards, did you feel like you might have the chance to win Best Actress out of all these students?
AE: Yes and no. The amount of talent that was there was incredible. … I think I had a shot but I wasn’t surprised at all that other people were finalists as well. They deserved it.
HJ: During the Jimmy Awards show, when they were about to announce Best Actress, what was going through your mind?
AE: Honestly, I wasn’t really nervous at all. The girl who won (Ekele Ukegbu) was my roommate. I just had become close with everyone there. It was a really bonding experience. Going there to win wasn’t really my purpose. So, I was fulfilled at the experience and I would have been happy for whoever won.
HJ: There are thousands of young actors and actresses performing in high schools all over the country and you’re part of this prestigious opportunity. What does this mean to you?
AE: Oh, it was just incredible. It was really fun to meet kids from all over … who had the same passion as I do … and working with the director of the whole thing, he’s directed dozens of shows on Broadway. It was really amazing to work with these people that we’ve all looked up to so much.
HJ: You won Best Actress in a Utah competition. So is it automatic that you’d advance to the Jimmy Awards? If so, did Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre sponsor you?
AE: I am so grateful for them for providing the opportunity. … I did “Sound of Music” with them when I was 9, I think. My family has known the Ballams and we’ve always loved going to their summer shows. I’ve always really looked up to them.
HJ: Was “Sound of Music” your first gig?
AE: I did my first show when I was five, down in a community theater called Rogers Memorial Theatre (now known as CenterPoint Legacy Theatre) in Centervillle. I was a kitten in “Cats,” so I got the theater bug there. … I did my first show with my dad. It’s kind of all in the family.
HJ: For your portrayal of Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” that’s a character everyone knows. So how do you make it your own?
AE: I just tried to find kind of the more humanity part of Belle. She’s a Disney princess, but she’s also a person and she works hard and loves her family, so just trying to find out about Belle on a deeper level and find her similarities to myself … and what I what I would do if I were her and had her priorities.
HJ: What’s satisfying to you about acting?
AE: That’s a good question. I love that theater tells stories and it inspires you and you get to be there when the story happens — you get to experience it yourself, which I think is wonderful for the performer and the audience. Discovering these characters that go through hard times and find a way out of it is inspiring to me.