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Elizabeth Gilbert '07 spent her first month in New York City last summer auditioning by day and bartending by night. She had prepared—even expected—to do this for months. But one night, as she approached the subway on her way to work, she received a phone call that changed everything. "My agent called and she said, 'Your first show in New York is a Broadway show,'" Gilbert says.
Gilbert had been cast in the ensemble of A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt's Tony Award-winning play about historical figure Sir Thomas More. The Roundabout Theatre Company planned a four-month run for the revival, which would star Tony winner Frank Langella; Gilbert would act as an attendant in the More household.
Despite her initial jitters, the cast's inclusiveness put her at ease immediately. "People were not trying to prove themselves in any way," she recalls, noting their professionalism and good humor. (The stage manager once ran the show naked.)
Gilbert began acting as a junior in high school. She eased her way into the local theater scene by auditioning at a surefire venue: a local all-boys' school that needed females for its performances.
In 2003, the Writing Seminars attracted her to Johns Hopkins, where a fledgling acting program had begun. Gilbert decided to audition for a show or two purely as a way to make friends. Soon, though, she had acted with Witness Theater, the Barnstormers, the Dunbar Baldwin Hughes Theatre Company, and the Buttered Niblets, among other groups, performing in a total of 10 shows. And that was just her freshman year.
That's when she began giving serious thought to theater as a career. Not long after, she headed off for a semester abroad to study Shakespeare at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Gilbert believes now that Hopkins afforded her acting opportunities that she wouldn't have gotten elsewhere. She also appreciated the breadth of her theater training—through the Writing Seminars she took courses in prose, poetry, playwriting, directing, acting, and stage management—and credits professor John Astin with providing her inspiration. "He maintains this joie de vivre, this vivacity, this love of life," she says of Astin, who traveled to New York to see her Broadway performance.
The highlight of her run with A Man for All Seasons came in mid-December, on closing night. During the curtain call, as the theater's audience stood and applauded Frank Langella, he called on the actors making their Broadway debut to step forward. Gilbert recalls growing teary as he pulled her into his spot in the front row, led her and her colleagues in 10 bows, and tapped each new actor on the head "as if blessing us in the church of theater." The audience gave them, too, a standing ovation.
Gilbert is currently in rehearsal with the Arizona Theatre Company, where she has a lead role in Jane Martin's new play, Somebody/Nobody. When the show ends its run, she'll head back to New York to start a new round of auditions.