Summit Right Brain: Abbey Austin is a Breckenridge dancer, choreographer, actor and teacher
Special to the Daily
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It is often assumed that the creative life is a struggle — to develop one’s talent, to be recognized, to pay the bills. And for someone in the performing arts, the big city seems a more likely arena than a small mountain community.
Actress, dancer and choreographer Abbey Austin has turned those assumptions upside down. At 26, Austin is juggling multiple projects and making her creative dreams come true. She was recently featured in the role of Ilona in the romantic comedy “She Loves Me” at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, where she also works as a choreographer. Additionally, she teaches dance to teens at the Alpine Studio in Frisco — and manages to fit in a position as youth coordinator at the Breckenridge Recreation Center.
Summit Daily News: You are a Tennessee native. How did you make your way to Summit County?
Abbey Austin: I grew up in east Tennessee where my family owns the largest dance studio in the state. My mom is a dancer and choreographer and so is my sister.
My mom realized how much I loved theater and there was a regional theater about an hour away from where I grew up. She encouraged me to get involved, and so I started performing and even getting paid when I was 14.
The day before I graduated from college I wondered, “Do I move to Colorado or move to New York?” Initially, I moved to New York City.
My grandparents have a house in Summit, and in May of 2013 I came out for a vacation. I never went back to New York. Instead, I realized, “I can check that off my list,” and I have no regrets about it. I honestly feel that I do more creative things, more things with my college degree, in Summit than I ever did in New York. There is so much opportunity for creativity here. In New York, everyone struggles to be noticed — here I am a big fish in a small pond. I love this community and I love giving back.
SDN: You teach, you act, you choreograph — that’s a lot. What’s your favorite thing to do?
AA: I really do love to teach dance. That is probably my number one passion. And I love working with teenagers and being a mentor to these young, creative people.
Dance and theater are crafts that I have spent many hours studying, trying to learn and understand, and it is so fulfilling when you connect with a kid who wants to understand and learn everything too, and you can help them on their journey.
I want to be the one who helps these kids sing the notes they didn’t think they could sing.
SDN: What character did you most enjoy portraying?
AA: My dream role was Elle Wood in “Legally Blonde,” and I also enjoyed playing Ilona in “She Loves Me.” What I liked about both of those characters is that they change.
As an actor it is a really fun challenge to figure out how you are going to take the audience on the journey of that character, how you are going to connect with them through the story. Ilona, in Act I, is not the sharpest tool in the shed. She is defeated. And she has a lot of boy problems — which is very relatable, especially in Summit County. When she comes back in Act II, she changes her approach. She goes to the library and meets a new boy there.
I can relate to this because I have definitely transformed from who I first was when I got here and who I am now. I never would have guessed that I would have lived here, that I would be doing what I am doing.
SDN: As I was reading about Alpine Studios and Breckenridge Backstage Theatre I felt my “inner actress” awakening: Are there ways for average people with minimal talent to get involved in the theater? Would you encourage that?
AA: Absolutely! At Alpine Dance Academy we have an adult program that’s hopping. We do tap and jazz. And in the summer the Backstage Theatre does a big show that’s full of community members. For the “Jungle Book,” in which I played Kaa, there were three professional actors and 60 volunteers from the community.
SDN: What about those with real talent, who may be considering performing as a career: What are the opportunities like?
AA: The Backstage Theatre is doing “School of Rock”; it’s a youth production and all those positions are paid. Then of course there is the Dillon theater as well. On both sides of this county there are great theaters. And there are training opportunities too; it is very important to be well trained and have technique to stand on.
SDN: These days, many people are feeling pretty depressed about the state of the world. Is creativity irrelevant? Or do you think creativity, the theater in particular, has something to offer us that might change our perspective, give us hope?
AA: If you look back on the history of the theater, during the Great Depression for example, there was vaudeville and that was huge. People needed a way to escape and theater provided that.
Today, look at the play “Hamilton” — the whole point of that story is standing up for something you believe in, and that’s inspiring. When the world is down, theater can be a great inspiration.
SDN: Imagine yourself in 10 years’ time. What will you be doing?
AA: I see myself in Summit County and I’d like to be even more immersed in the arts community and still doing things with kids. I want to grow, and play; I’d like to be a mom and teach dance, maybe perform more too.
Where will I be 10 years from now? I don’t like to think about tomorrow — I just want to make it to 6 p.m. today!
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