H-F grad Kayla Robertson makes her Broadway debut

Following her college graduation this spring, Kayla Robertson planned to tour Switzerland and France with her university’s jazz band and be part of the ensemble for “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre. 

  Kayla Robertson takes a
  photo at the vanity table
  where she gets into
  character before stepping
  on stage in the New
  York production of
  “Waitress.”
(Provided photo)
 

Instead, Robertson — a 2013 Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate — was on her way to Broadway as a cast member in the hit musical “Waitress” about Jenna, a waitress at Joe’s Dinner who is in an unhappy marriage. She believes winning the grand prize in a pie-baking contest can be her ticket out. 

On very short notice, Robertson, of Homewood, was hired  for the New York production as an ensemble member and understudy to the character Dawn, an anxious yet lovable waitress, and began her eight-performance-a -week schedule on May 30.

Robertson explained when she found out about the role, she only had a few days to find living arrangements, say her goodbyes and pack for the next chapter of her life.

“I grabbed my clothes, not even all my clothes, stuffed them in two suitcases and I left for New York,” she said.

 Robertson is the first person in the history of Ball State University’s theater and dance program to go straight to Broadway following graduation.

“It was very overwhelming because I thought ‘Wow! They are taking a risk on someone who just graduated college,’” she said. “People don’t start out on Broadway this young and I didn’t want to mess up.”

Robertson said she discovered her love for theater toward the end of her high school career.

H-F fine arts teacher J.R. Rose said he saw Robertson’s talent when he directed her in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and other productions.

“Kayla has an energy and a confidence that transcends the stage,” Rose said. “She knows who she is as a person, she knows who she is as a performer and she’s an extremely hard worker,” Rose said.

“She’s a very kind person. I always tell my students that humility will take you much further in life than your talents,” he said.

This past summer Rose traveled to New York to see Robertson center stage and said it was a very special moment. 

Rose also worked with Robertson during the summer before her senior year of high school. She participated in an all-state theater program and was in the play, “Memphis.” She said that was the moment she realized she wanted to be on stage. 

“For the first time, I saw a black woman in a lead role and it was my first time realizing I can sing and act in a lead role one day, just like her,” she said. 

So Robertson began auditioning for college theatre programs. She said she still wasn’t confident when she auditioned and got into the theatre and dance program at Ball State in Muncie, Ind.  

“Luckily they saw past my acting and saw potential,” she said. “Singing came naturally, but I didn’t know what acting was.” 

She felt like she was the only person in the program who hadn’t studied theatre their entire life and it was discouraging.

After the first two weeks of classes, she called her mother because she was almost certain she’d made a mistake.
 
“I remember crying to my mom and saying I don’t know why I chose this major,” she said. “I felt like everyone was so well-equipped and I was just a girl who sang at church.”

Her mom told her “God has a plan for you.” From that moment, Robertson said she put her best foot forward and had faith. 

By her junior year, after dozens of classes in acting, dancing and singing, Robertson said she finally felt confident as an actor.

“No matter what you experience, you’ll experience obstacles,” she said. “I’ve learned if you continue to have faith, be positive and get past those obstacles, there’s a greater end.”

While at Ball State, Robertson was involved in the Association of Collegiate A Cappella and performed as a vocalist for the university’s jazz band. During summers she sang and performed at King’s Island Amusement Park in Ohio. 

Robertson kept busy in improving her craft, but said her journey was tough. However, she stressed she wants to inspire and motivate others to go after what they believe in.
“My whole goal in life is to make a positive impact on the world,” she said.

Robertson plans to perform in “Waitress” until the show closes. Looking ahead, she said she still has big dreams but is taking it all one day at a time.

“It would be lovely to book a lead role, but I am young,” she said. “At the end of the day, I just want to motivate more girls and more people to follow their dreams.”
 

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