How did you start dancing?
I started dancing when I was 3. My mom put me into dance, and it ended up being my escape, my home away from home. Like a lot of actors, I had a troubled childhood. My parents are divorced, and my mom has a severe mental illness. Dance was a way for me to have a natural high and get away from what was going on at home. I think the main reason why I stayed with dance was—we all have that one teacher who really speaks to you, and for me, it was Lisa Bohnert. She was my ballet instructor, and when we ran into financial trouble, ballet was the path I took. I stopped taking tap and jazz and really focused on ballet. She was an artist. For her, dance wasn’t about competitions. It was about telling a story. I chose to study acting in college, and I think that dance was my gateway into acting. I got my BFA in Acting at St Edward’s University in order to refine my craft and become a well-rounded performer and an artist. I wanted to be able to tell stories that need to be told.
How old were you when you first connected with this teacher?
I think I was 6. For a while, my grandma was taking me to San Antonio because my teacher had stopped teaching in our small town. She ended up returning a few years later and assuming the position as a permanent ballet instructor in the studio. In my opinion she really helped to bridge the gap between Fredericksburg Theater Company and the dancers. She gave us an annual run of The Nutcracker and helped us to see what else was available to us besides competing locally and how dance can tell a story through movement.
How did you decide to pursue a career in art?
For a long time, especially growing up where not many people take the leap, I was a very independent kid who craved the structure that I didn’t have at home. I felt like I had to be organized, make good grades, and go to class in order to succeed down the line. I thought maybe I’d become a teacher or something. My dad is a chiropractor, so maybe I thought I’d go into that. But then the idea of leaving dance and the theatre just felt like it would leave a void in my life. We were never been very well-off financially, so pursuing art really didn’t seem to be too much of a step backwards [laughs]. I decided that I’d rather put 14, 16, 18 hour days into something that I love rather than sitting behind a desk or in a doctor’s office, which—don’t get me wrong—are wonderful professions, but I didn’t have a passion for anything else. Performing arts was something I felt called to, and I felt like it would make me happy no matter how much I made monetarily. As cliche as it sounds, I just wanted to be happy. So far, I am. I am currently waitressing, dancing, and acting, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to cut waitressing from that list.
What are you up to now?
I just finished The Dance of Life at the New York Fringe Festival. That was a great experience. Now I am going back into the audition market and seeing what happens. I had an audition this morning—we’ll see how it plays out [laughs].
What are your aspirations?
I want to end up making art that matters. It doesn’t matter if it’s Off-Broadway, back in Texas, or touring across the country. I have this insatiable appetite that keeps me moving forward.
I really love classical theatre. Some of my favorite productions whilst studying acting in college were getting the opportunity to play roles like Isabella in Measure for Measure and Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest. I’d like to continue down that path as well. I don’t think dance will ever leave me. It’s what introduced me to theatre. I mean, I wouldn’t turn down being a chorus member in Anastasia, that too would be amazing. I just want to keep making art. It’s as simple as that.
How was your first move to New York City?
It was actually two years ago yesterday. It made me happy last night walking over to the theatre when I realized that I was performing on that anniversary—I was getting to do what I came here to do. I moved here with a really good friend, Zach Williams, and he’s been doing so well deservedly—he’s been cast in a lot of great regional theatres. For me, I found a waitressing job before I found an apartment. Then three months after I moved, right before audition season, I was ready to hit the ground running, and I broke my wrist in half while waitressing. You never break yourself as a dancer actually dancing. It’s always something as simple as walking. That took me out for all of audition season for the first year I was here. This past season was the first that I’ve was healed and able to start going to auditions regularly. When I broke my wrist, it was a moment of “Do I stick with this?” or “Is that an omen: ‘Go Home.’” I am glad I stuck with it.
I didn’t have a proper winter coat for New York winter. The arm cast they gave me—even though it was a tiny radius bone in my wrist, they cast you all the way up your arm so it sets properly within the first two weeks—so my arm couldn’t fit into my “winter coat”. I was wearing blankets to go to CVS to pick up my medicine the next day. My roommates weren’t home. I was in a lot of pain. And then there was a child lock on the pain pills. With one arm, it’s really hard to open the case. I spent an hour trying to get that open myself.
During my stay in the ER, the hospital staff kept asking me if I wanted to call anyone, but I had no one to call because I had just moved here and didn’t know anyone here yet. That sudden realization that I was so alone made me foster more relationships and connections in my life once I healed. I got involved with a yoga studio that I really enjoy working at. I went ahead and took my equity card—it made me focus on what I really wanted. I ended up reconnecting with my boyfriend back home as well. We had broken up briefly because he didn’t want to move to New York, but he randomly called me the night after I broke my wrist, and long story short, he moved to the city, and we live together in Brooklyn and are trying to be artists. He’s an actor and a musician and is my best friend.
Toughest time as an artist?
That injury break was tough. For the longest time, my goal was getting out of Texas, getting to New York, and being an artist. The problem is, once you get to New York, there are so many paths. It’s really hard to find what to focus your energy on. There is so much to choose from that it dilutes you in a way. You put your energy into so many different projects, and suddenly you have none left. Coming to New York was eye-opening. I never felt that much of a connection to home until I realized how much of a home I had made at my university and in Austin, TX. We had beautiful regional theatres and wonderful talented people. Finding that again in my life was really hard. You really start to doubt yourself and feel like you’re not good enough in many aspects.
I think my happiest moment was the first time I got cast as a supporting lead in a musical. It was very daunting. I have taken voice most of my life and it’s something that I love to do, but I didn’t think I was actually worth listening to as a soloist. The Spitfire Grill at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre ended up being one of my favorite shows I’ve ever been a part of. It fostered so many connections there that I still have today. It was such an out of body experience that made me grow as a performer. I was taking a Meisner class at the time, and our incredible acting teacher, Richard Robichaux, was teaching us about being in the moment, letting whatever happens actually happen to you, and not trying to force emotion. He stressed to us that acting isn’t lying or putting upon, but that it is living truthfully through imaginary circumstances. That was the first show that I think it actually happened for me one night. It wasn’t me, Hannah, trying to be a character. It was Shelby on stage, and she had her story to tell. It was a great feeling.
Looking back on your experience, what would be your number one advice to your younger self?
To trust. To not try to force it. To just live in the moment more. To appreciate what’s happening instead of always looking for the next thing. To start to enjoy every experience you’re having as an artist because there are going to be months where you don’t have a project to work on. I think it’s important to be always making your own work as well and going to class. I think enjoying and fostering connections with people is important, because you never know who’s going to be the next director or creating the next show. To really live in the moment and not look ten steps ahead.
What’s the number one thing you miss about home?
Breakfast tacos [laughs]. They were only two dollars and 99 cents for three tacos before 11am at Taqueria Arandas #5. My answer sounds so stupid [laughs]. I love food so much.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
Your art matters no matter what platform you’re at. We had this little girl in the audience in The Dance of Life the other day. She was just jumping up and down afterwards. She wanted to get a picture with everyone in the cast. That, I think, is enough to keep doing art. It’s enough to touch that one little soul, to show him/her that there’s beauty in the world, and to help keep their eyes open. I think it’s so easy for us to close off. It’s much harder to actually go after your dreams whether your dreams are to be a lawyer, an engineer, a stand up comedian or whatever. You should enjoy your life, live out your purpose, and not be held back by what your worst self or what other people think you should be doing.