Broadway Star’s Top Three Tips for Future Thespians
If anyone can help students visualize the path to success as an actor on the stage, it’s Tony Award winner and UNC Greensboro alumna Beth Leavel. She chose to pursue a Master’s of Fine Arts in Acting at UNC Greensboro, a place she’s since said validated her passion for acting by providing an environment of like-minded individuals and supportive instructors.
Leavel’s decision to attend UNCG for graduate school had an undeniable effect on her career. After completing her master’s degree in 1980, she went on to star in Broadway productions of 42nd Street, Young Frankenstein, Mamma Mia! and Elf the Musical. Leavel won the 2006 Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in The Drowsy Chaperone, and she was nominated for Lead Actress in a Musical both in 2011 for her role in Baby It’s You! and in 2019 for her role in The Prom.
Choosing the right acting program isn’t the only piece of advice that Leavel, who regularly visits the UNCG College of Visual and Performing Arts, has for aspiring thespians. As someone who at times felt intimidated by the challenges of breaking into such a competitive industry, Leavel has given back to the theater community — and to UNCG — by inspiring, encouraging and mentoring young artists. To help others achieve their dream of stepping out from behind the curtain and into the spotlight, Leavel has offered three main pieces of advice:
1. Know Your Strengths
Leavel encourages all performers to recognize their own strengths, as well as their weaknesses. “Are you a strong singer? A great dancer?” It is important to know which areas you excel in and which could use work. Like all lessons Leavel passes on, this is one that came from experience. “I’m not a dancer. I can sing really well,” she explained, recalling an audition for the musical Cats early in her career where Leavel walked out.
2. Make the Role Your Own
If you have the choice, Leavel recommends originating a role versus taking one over from a star. Leavel herself replaced Andrea Martin in Young Frankenstein, and she found it challenging to step into a role that had been shaped around another actress. “You have less leeway in finding your character,” Leavel explains of the experience. In the case of Young Frankenstein, it wasn’t just a question of creative fit, but there was a true physical manifestation of the downfall of taking over for another artist: the set was literally not constructed for someone of Leavel’s height, and she had to bend when coming through the doors. In contrast, the roles Leavel has originated have offered greater freedom to explore different ways of acting and interpreting the character…as well as the opportunity to work with set designers and stage managers to ensure that she didn’t hit her head on a door frame.
3. Be Ready for Whatever’s Next
In an industry as competitive as acting, Leavel emphasizes the value of perseverance. “Keep going. You see the path. It’d be a shame not to explore,” she tells students who may be concerned with the viability of a career in theater and unsure of their chance of success. “Just do it. Even if it doesn’t work out, what’s the worst? You’ll have amazing experiences,” Leavel tells aspiring thespians of the path ahead. There may be audition mishaps and cutthroat competition, but Leavel knows it’s all worth it for the chance to turn your passion into a career. And with a little luck and a lot of persistence, Leavel insists that others can find the same success she has found as a theater actress.
The single most important piece of advice Leavel has for those considering an education or career in acting? “Just go for it,” she says.
Read more stories like this at alumnimagazine.uncg.edu