Four years ago, the landscape of musical theater began to change when a ‘little’ show called Hamilton became a must-see event that took the nation by storm. Not only has this phenomenon changed the life of its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, it has also given actors across the nation the opportunity to play roles so very different from what they’ve experienced in other productions. One of those actors is 28-year-old Charnette Batey from New Albany, Indiana. Charnette joined the ‘Angelica’ cast of the touring ensemble last August, visiting cities throughout the east to perform in Washington, D.C., Boston, Pittsburg, Detroit, and eventually returning home to the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in Louisville. Let’s bring down the lights and raise the curtain as we turn our attention towards this week’s FACE of Louisville, Charnette Batey.
How did you get started in acting?
I began when I was about five years old appearing in patriotic plays and singing in church. I also attended New Albany High School which is well known for its theater department. That’s where I had my first lead role in a production of Aida. It was life-changing for me. After high school, I auditioned for a musical theater program at Indiana University in Bloomington, but I didn’t actually realize that it could be a career option. I was accepted into the program. It was cool because I got to go to a Big 10 school, take my classes and go to the football games, tailgate and have that big college experience, but also truly hone my craft there. I graduated with my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
What was it like performing in college and what shows did you perform in?
I did a show called Wild Party, and I was in Hair. I was cast in the ensemble for the majority of my college shows. Since I was the only black student in the musical theater department, if there was a role for a black girl, I would probably get it. Or, I’d get a small role like the ‘sassy best friend.’ Thinking about it now, if I could go back to those days, I would say, “Hey guys, I can do more than just those roles.”
What did you do after college?
I booked a summer play in Bloomington and I stayed there for a couple of months, then I came back home and started thinking about moving to someplace bigger. I decided to move to New York. When I got to New York, I printed off my headshots and just started showing up for auditions. Even if they weren’t casting for someone who looked just like me or sounded just like me, I’d still go into those rooms. I would show my heart and would sing my songs. It eventually paid off.
What were your first plays?
I got booked for a production of Dream Girls where I played Deena. I toured with Seussical, and auditioned for Book of Mormon and went on tour for two years with that production.
How long did it take before you were cast in Hamilton?
After the tour with Book of Mormon ended, I returned to New York, and that’s when I started hearing about the show. It took about a year and a half of auditioning before I was hired for Hamilton. I was involved in other productions while I was auditioning for it, so it wasn’t like I was going to auditions and then going home and waiting for a year and a half.
What part or parts do you play in Hamilton?
I’m in the ensemble, and I also cover all of the Schuyler sisters. One is Eliza who married Alexander Hamilton, the other is Angela Schuyler who actually had a very close relationship with Hamilton, and Peggy the youngest sister. And I play Maria Reynolds with whom Hamilton had an affair.
What part do you enjoy playing the most?
Eliza. She really is a fundamental character in the show. Not only is she Hamilton’s wife, but she plays this really strong support system for him. There are some really beautiful moments in the show where you get to see Eliza’s strength and her heart.
Do you have a favorite scene or song that you perform in the show?
I really like “Burn,” which is a song Eliza sings after she has discovered Hamilton’s affair. In “Burn,” Eliza is kind of reminiscing about the joy his letters brought her and all the love he showed her, and also how his words really hurt her and broke her heart. It’s a really cool song and it has a dramatic heart.
Have you ever experienced any mistakes or incidents during the show?
I was in rehearsal for four hours one day as Eliza, and when it was time for the show, I was told I was going to go on as Angelica. So, when I went on in the show I had a little “brain fart” and kind of forgot which sister I was playing. I literally had to look down at my dress and see what color I’m wearing, and then kept repeating to myself, “I’m Angelica, I’m Angelica.”
What does landing this play mean for your career?
I know that when people see Hamilton on my résumé it’s going to be really cool. I feel really honored that I get to not only be in it, but I get to play four roles in it. I’m just speechless when I think about my opportunity to do this.
What do you like most about performing in Hamilton?
What I love about being a part of Hamilton is that they’ve taken the initiative to cast people that don’t look exactly like how these characters looked historically: all white founding fathers and women. It’s really cool to be cast as an African-American woman and to step into these shoes to tell this story about how we formed our country.
What do you like to do when you’re not acting?
I love doing yoga. I became a yoga instructor and was hired at a studio in New York. Yoga allows me to be really open and learn how to love myself and know my body.
Is there any advice you would like to share?
The best advice anyone gave me is to use every experience and opportunity to grow and to learn. And I really do that. Everything I go through I think, “What is the universe trying to teach me?”
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My yoga mat, my essential oils and avocados
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