Nipomo residents tuning into the Tony Awards on Sunday may have been surprised to see a familiar face on their screens.
Katie Boeck, a 2006 Nipomo High School alumna, performed during the annual theater awards ceremony, reprising her role in Deaf West Theatre’s groundbreaking revival of “Spring Awakening,” which ran at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City last year.
“It was scary, and exciting, and thrilling,” Boeck said in a telephone interview from an airport Monday. “And I feel very privileged to have been a part of the night.”
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The musical portrays the story of a group of 19th century German teenagers as they struggle with their sexuality in a repressed community. It first played on Broadway in 2006, but it was revived in 2015 using deaf and hearing actors to convey the story in a new way through American Sign Language.
It’s really been a 10-year road for me; I graduated from Nipomo in 2006, and then in 2015, I was on Broadway.
Boeck was among the actors recruited to the production when it was scheduled for a run at a small 90-seat theater in Los Angeles. The show featured a combination of deaf actors playing the lead roles, with hearing actors as their speaking and singing voices, and playing instruments in the band.
At the time, she was waiting tables and working on her songwriting, as well as doing myriad other jobs like nannying and “making salads” to help pay the bills. After graduating from UCLA, Boeck said she moved away from theater and was instead focusing on her music.
But after seeing a cover she did of a Joni Mitchell song, director Michael Arden contacted Boeck via Twitter and asked her to play the speaking and singing voice of “Wendla” opposite deaf actress Sandra Mae Frank. Boeck, who learned sign language to be able to communicate with Frank, also plays guitar throughout the production.
Taking part in a small, completely new type of production was risky — actors were paid about $20 per performance when the production first started, with no guarantees that the show would move on — but ultimately it paid off, she said.
The production soon moved from Los Angeles to Beverly Hills, and then quickly to New York City, where it earned enthusiastic reviews for its innovative inclusion of a diverse cast of actors (the show also features Broadway’s first actor in a wheelchair, Ali Stroker) coupled with its “electrifying” and “transporting” performance.
“As actors, we take chances on a job like this, where you don’t know what is going to happen,” she said. “But if you are lucky like us, it works out.”
The show’s limited run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City closed in January, but there was a push to have the cast perform at the 2016 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards, and a Kickstarter was launched to pay for the $200,000 cost of performing at the ceremony.
It was just a thrilling moment — the fastest five minutes of my life.
“I think there was definitely a lot of interest because of the unique nature of our show, to have us there,” Boeck said. “It was a big journey, and we had a lot of support from so many people.”
Flash forward to last week, and the cast was working on a weeklong rehearsal to brush up on the performance and prepare for five minutes on nationally broadcast, live television.
“Knowing I would have those first 30 seconds on live TV, I was working on overcoming those nerves,” Boeck said with a laugh.
Then Sunday arrived. During the morning rehearsal, Boeck said she had noticed pictures in the front row seats showing who would be sitting there later that night.
“I could see the pictures for Oprah, Angela Lansbury, Barbra Streisand, so I knew they would all be there,” Boeck said. “But when I was doing the performance, I don’t think I took time to look out there and see any faces. It was just a thrilling moment — the fastest five minutes of my life.”
Boeck and Frank performed an excerpt from the musical’s opening number “Mama Who Bore Me,” and then transitioned to a larger ensemble number, “The B*tch of Living.”
After it ended, Boeck and her castmates went downstairs to sit in a break room and watch the rest of the telecast. From there, she got to see “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr. — whom she knows because of her friendship with his wife, Nicolette Robinson — win the award for Best Actor in a Musical (and the other 10 “Hamilton” wins from the night).
“I was just happy I got to be with my friends to see it all,” she said. “It was a great, fun night.”
Next up for Boeck is touring and promoting her new single, “All I Need,” (available on SoundCloud). Boeck also plans to return to the West Coast for a short time to teach a youth acting workshop.
“I’m happy to be heading back to California,” she said. “It’s not the Central Coast, but at least it’s California.”