Eboni Booker graduates in musical theater, waits to hear from “Hamilton”

Booker is not going to miss her shot. She wants to perform now and is planning a move to New York to pursue her theater career, then train in a medical profession later.

BookerJoomlaEboni BookerEboni Booker is waiting on an invitation to “Hamilton.” Not to see the performance, though — to be in the performance.

Booker, of Toney, Alabama, will graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham on April 27 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater, and a course of study in pre-medicine through the UAB Honors College’s University Honors Program, which provides a uniquely engaging arts and sciences curriculum.

In March, Booker went to New York for the senior showcase through the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Theatre, and while there she auditioned for the show “Waitress.” Booker arrived at the crack of dawn and waited all day, as more than 200 Equity Union actresses were seen first. As a non-Equity actress, her chances of getting in were “very small,” she said. Still, she was determined to stay, and was granted a chance to audition. The required 32 measures she had prepped to sing were cut to 16, then to eight. She did what she thought would best showcase her voice and felt good about her performance.

The day after she returned home, she received a thrilling email. The casting agency had made her an appointment that Thursday to audition for “Hamilton,” for future replacements for shows in New York, Chicago and on tour.

Booker was in rehearsals for Theatre UAB’s original musical “Savage,” which was set to have its world premiere April 10. But Professor Karla Koskinen, who was co-directing “Savage,” told her to “go, definitely go!” and excused her from two rehearsals to go to the auditions.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I was so thankful that, with the help of my family, I was able to make the trip,” Booker said.

“The advisers I have in Honors and in Theatre, they have never once said pick one, theater or pre-med. They said, ‘If anyone can do it, you can do it,’” Booker said.

She arrived for the audition early since it was pouring rain. She was given a packet of music that included two songs, and they called her into a room with a pianist to perform. Once done, she chose to wait a while in the lobby, just in case, and to her surprise Jessica Vosk, starring as Elphaba in “Wicked,” walked in, and she was able to meet her and grab a photo with her.

Some people hear back very quickly from auditions, and some hear back in a couple of months, Booker says. Now she anxiously waits to hear if she will get the “lifechanging” position.

“They’ve seen you, they’ve heard you, you are in their brain, you know?” Booker said.  

Valerie Accetta, head of Musical Theatre at UAB, says Booker is a rare and remarkable young woman who astonishes with her commitment, strength and talent.

“It has been thrilling to see theater professionals respond to her work with such enthusiasm, and I am excited for her future as an artist,” Accetta said.

BookerJoomla2Eboni Booker as Elima and Royzell D. Walker as Ota Benga in Theatre UAB's "Savage," 2019.Balancing art and science

Booker’s diverse interests make sense, since she comes from a family skilled in both arts and sciences. Her grandmother played piano and strongly encouraged all of her children and grandchildren to play an instrument. Booker herself started practicing violin at 4 and piano at 6.

She was interested in medicine all through school. Her mom is a doctor, her uncle a dentist, one aunt is a nurse, and another aunt is an eye doctor.

Although pursuing a BFA in musical theater and being on the pre-med track seems like a strange combination, for Booker, these disparate career paths serve a similar purpose: helping others, Accetta says.

“In theater, she can be a ‘voice for people who are voiceless,’ and with medicine, she can help others do things they cannot do themselves,” Accetta said. “She has inspired all of us during her time at UAB.”

Booker was introduced to UAB while in high school, with a letter from the Department of Theatre after faculty saw her performance at the Walter Trumbauer Secondary Theatre Festival. She was invited to audition, was accepted and was granted a scholarship. She did not know if theater would be her career, but knew after the first year of college she would have to balance both interests and graduate without spending years to earn both degrees. So, she approached advisors in the University Honors Program.

“I told them, this is what I am interested in,” Booker said. “It was the best plan for me, to get the education I needed for medical school but not be here for so long. I didn’t want to give up either of the things I was really passionate about. The advisers I have in Honors and in Theatre, they have never once said pick one, theater or pre-med. They said, ‘If anyone can do it, you can do it.’”

Kelly Allison, MFA, chair of the Department of Theatre, says he has no doubt she will excel in both and become a shining example of what can be accomplished with support and encouragement from her family, peers and professors. 

“Eboni is an incredibly talented young lady with enormous potential in the arts and the sciences, two things that distinguish UAB from many other institutions of higher learning,” Allison said. “We are extremely proud of her.”

Booker’s plan now is to perform first, then pursue training in a medical profession later. Her goal is to move to New York City and pursue her theater career. She has weighed the pros and cons, made the lists. She says when she first started college, she was in such a rush; but once she realized how much theater meant to her, she knew she wanted to perform, right now, for as long as she can, and take her time.

“It is something I love so much,” Booker said. “I want to perform now, while my voice is in the best shape and my training is fresh. Either way, I don’t want to not give my all because I am tired. Things will work out, you know.”