Interviews From Another Zero

Originally from El Paso Texas, Shelby Acosta made her Broadway debut in 1776. Now she is touring the country with the same show in the role of Charles Thomson

1776 is the next touring production up for Broadway San Diego with performances at the San Diego Civic Theatre. Featuring music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, based on a concept by Sherman Edwards.   

We definitely called this interview to order with the lovely Shelby Acosta who is a fronteriza like me with a great love for her city and art. In this conversation From Another Zero, Shelby shares her story, theatre, and Broadway debut, as well as a couple of dates that have played an important role in her journey...

You made your debut on Broadway in 1776, before we get to that, I want to go back a little bit and talk about you, you have a description that says "soy una mezcla" (I am a mix). Tell me about that mezcla.

Shelby Acosta
Of course! I grew up in El Paso, Texas, which borders Juárez, Mexico, and my dad and my dad's side of the family they're all from Juárez, and my mom is from Georgia. They met, one thing led to another, and here I am! I grew up in El Paso. There wasn't a lot of theater. So, while it was culturally rich in other areas, just like the theater aspect never was something El Paso was known for or had a lot of interest in, so my best friend's mom decided to make a theater group in El Paso, and I did many plays there, many musicals, and then decided, this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, so I went to school for it. In high school at a performing Arts boarding School in Michigan, which was completely different from El Paso, a kind of a culture shock... and I went to Texas State University for Musical Theater, and then I worked on a cruise ship where I went to Buenos Aires, Brazil, Greece, and Croatia and I got to see the world, basically which was incredible, and then I moved to New York, was auditioning, and one thing led to another, and I got 1776!

Wow! And what did you do on that cruise ship?

I was a singer. So I got to sing and get paid and see the world, which was kind of a dream job.

Of course! While performing! It's amazing. So for 1776, when did you debut on Broadway?
I got hired at the end of August, and the first preview was September sixteenth, which was Mexican Independence Day.


The first time I went on was October ninth, which was my dad's birthday, which I think was really fitting and really great. And then I went on for 67 performances out of like a hundred. I went on a lot which was crazy and amazing. I covered 4 different roles on Broadway.

So numbers and dates are important here. I think they've done something in your life.

Those are just the most two important dates that stick out to me because obviously Mexican Independence Day...Yes, and my dad, my dad passed a year or so ago, and so the fact that I got to have my Broadway debut on what would have been his birthday is very special, and I think just meant a lot to me because I wasn't originally supposed to go on that day.


That was just really important. So I loved it. It was really special.

Of course! I bet... Regarding Charles Thompson, for people that don't know, tell me a little bit about your character and how does it look for people also that are not familiar with the show, I know it has been advertised a lot like "Before Hamilton". Right? So what does your role entail? How does that look? The show. What can people expect?

I play Secretary Charles Thompson, who was very crucial to Congress at the time because he took all the notes, he was like the one that had all the information and would transcribe it and write it, and send messages, and in the show, he's the one that you hear because George Washington is a character in the show, but you never see him. You just hear him through the dispatches he sends from being on the battlefield, and I'm the one who delivers all those messages. So I like to think that I'm like George Washington's voice in this.

It's basically the story of the founding fathers, and the tough discussions, how they got to creating the Declaration of Independence, and the sacrifices that they had to make in order to achieve it. But it's being told through the lens of a female trans nonbinary cast, which I think is the most important thing about this show, because there are so many different bodies on the stage, and that includes Black bodies, Mexican bodies, and Indigenous bodies, saying these words that were originally intended for white men too, and I think when it comes down to it, there are certain things in the show like when we are going to pass the Declaration but one of the founding fathers wants to cut out slavery, freeing slaves from the Declaration of Independence, and the audience is sitting there hearing someone say, "we need to keep slaves" like they're our property, and then you hear those words and you see the Black body's on stage and you have to come to terms with the fact that, we were not included in this piece of history: women, Mexican people, gender queer people were not thought about, and to see us on the stage talking about it and saying those words, it's very important for the audience to see because the history was made with not everyone in mind, and I think it's just a really important piece. and I hope it makes people think and second guess, that they made sacrifices to build America, and now those sacrifices are still having to be made by the people who are not majority in this country. Black people, Mexican people, trans people. We're still fighting for these rights today and America is not perfect. We're still fighting.

Totally! Far from it at times right? It's hard. If it entails a white man, it's not good for the rest of us.

Absolutely, absolutely! And we're still fighting for our bodies.

Exactly. It is an amazing experience for you to have been on the Broadway stage and now touring the country with the same show. But there are always differences because theater spaces are different. What are the changes? Because sometimes they add or do a little switcheroo so it can function while on the road right?

I think for me, the biggest change would be the fact that I'm on every night in the show. On Broadway, I was a Standby, but here I actually have a nightly role which is incredible, because I get to play around and every audience we go to in every city is so different. They react so differently to certain things like we previewed in Utica, New York, (semi spoiler alert!) and there's a little joke in the show about how the New York legislation doesn't give any instructions on anything, they just yell, and they talk fast. And that audience loved that they were screaming and cheering and laughing, whereas sometimes in Denver, it kind of went over people's heads because they're like, "Okay, yeah, that's true, New York is New York great..." It's so fun to see what lands in different cities and I think ultimately the shell of the show is the same but it's so great to see what different quirks are brought to the characters because ultimately we're ourselves playing these founding fathers, playing these men. And so depending on how I'm feeling that day,  I can have my nails painted and still be Secretary Charles Thompson, and bring myself in that way, and maybe the way I tell a joke is different from the person on Broadway and it's just great to see these little quirks. It's not all the same show all the time, and I think audiences are really responding to it across the States, and I'm actually kind of excited and a little nervous to see how they react in the South and to see what things they cheer for and how loud they get about the Southern State lines.

That's gonna be interesting. Have you ever been to San Diego? From one border to the next?

I've never been to San Diego. I'm so excited. I'm so ready to eat while I'm there, I'm ready!

The food is pretty good here. Ok, I am going to ask a 180 question or more like a 360...People say "Oh, my God! 360! You're in the same spot!" and I'm like, "No because you did the whole lap. You know you're not the same! You're not the same as when you started.


Have you thought of what would have happened if your mom's friend had not done that theater group?

Wow...I feel like, I would absolutely not be where I am today. I think that theatre shaped me and changed me, made me who I am, made me strong and confident and outspoken, and going to school in Michigan and branching out from my hometown, shaped my mind and introduced me to a lot of different cultures. Just mainly confident in who I am, and I've got to learn a lot about myself at 15 years old, which is crazy because 15 years old, is so young but I was in a boarding school, surrounded by people from all over the world, in the globe, from different countries, and just learning how to interact, and seeing how passionate everyone is about the arts. I am so grateful that that happened for me, and I'm so grateful that theater in El Paso is growing, and they are viewing arts as something so rich and culturally important. I hope that someone who is in El Paso like me can have those same opportunities.

The National Tour Cast of 1776. Credit Joan Marcus.

Yes, hopefully, I think that San Diego is very rich in theater as well and many people don't know that. Then, the border town of Tijuana, where I'm proudly from, is the same thing! It's really rich. There are a lot of companies trying to do their art, get it out there, and people just are like, "No, there's no theater there" People are not aware. It is not necessarily a battle, but sometimes it is frustrating. It's really cool that you come from El Paso and you see it growing. That's what the arts do. Mind, heart soul, everything. You are a totally different person after you see a show that inspires you, and touches you.


So from one fronteriza to another, I am proud and happy that I get to talk to people like you that really make a difference, and you are proof that it can happen.

I feel so lucky. And if there ever comes a time when I can go back to El Paso and have the opportunity to maybe teach theater I would. I love El Paso. I love my home, and I would do it in a second.

It totally makes a difference when they see one of their own come from New York and then learn from them, it's a whole different experience. What is your favorite part of the show?

Okay. So the longest scene I think, in musical theater history, is, in 1776. It's scene 3 and we're in the Congress, and we're all debating, listening to John Adams and John Dickinson go head to head about independence and I think a lot of people feel when they watch it, they're like, "Oh, my gosh! This scene is so long!", but on stage, it's my absolute favorite, because everyone is in their character, and they're talking lines that aren't written, they're just improving and bouncing off each other really reacting to the debate going on in front of you and every night it's different and every night is just so fun because you can tell we're all having fun talking to each other, and -excuse my language-, shooting the shit on in the middle of the scene, and that's the one time we're all really connected, together, and just go and head to head with each other. That's my favorite part. I love the community and the cast.

How many of you are there?

Oh, my gosh! I think there are 26! It's definitely an important piece and needs to be reflected upon. Come see it with an open mind. I would love for audiences to just come in and view it. As these people who weren't included in this important document.

Exactly another history lesson. There.


1776 will have performances at the San Diego Civic Theatre from May 9th to the 14th. For ticket prices and show times please click HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment