2021 Sutter Scholar Abigail Anderson
Abigail Anderson

Abigail Anderson was recently announced as the 2021 recipient of the Sutter Family Shakespeare Scholarship for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. The Sutter Scholarship is awarded to a first-year student with a high level of acting talent. The scholarship recipient receives an acting internship for one season with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival as well as an academic scholarship award of $500 per semester for three years. We were able to interview Anderson to learn more about her, her experience with theatre, and her thoughts on receiving the Sutter Family Shakespeare Scholarship.

What are your name, pronouns, year, major, and hometown?

My name is Abigail Anderson, and I use the pronouns she/her. I am a freshman here at ISU currently majoring in acting, though hopeful to change to a musical theatre major in the coming year. I was born and raised here in Illinois, about two hours away from campus in Elgin, so I’m conveniently not too far from home!

What drew you to study at Illinois State University’s School of Theatre and Dance?

What really introduced me to Illinois State was the fact that my parents, Paul Anderson and Susan Payne Anderson, met through studying acting in the same buildings that I now soon hope to be wandering through. This personal connection really made the campus already feel like a second home, even before I started attending, and I knew how important that would be to my ability to comfortably learn and grow as a person.

What has been your experience with theatre so far?

Theatre has always been, and always will be, a huge part of my life. I’ve been acting for almost 10 years now, starting with the Children’s Theatre of Elgin until high school, where I was a part of the Larkin High School Visual and Performing Arts Academy as a drama student.

What inspired you to audition for the Sutter Scholarship for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival?

What initially inspired me to audition for this scholarship was my friend’s interest, and as they talked about it, I became increasingly interested myself. What really drove me, however, was my personal appreciation and connection to Shakespeare. So often, the poetry and artistry of Shakespeare’s work can elicit deep, insightful interpretation, but its impact is not exclusive to scholars and thespians. Shakespeare is integrated into our society at all levels of understanding and retains the spark of creativity and expression through all of it.

What was your reaction when you first found out you received the Sutter Scholarship?

I was at home for the first time since leaving for college, eating dinner with my parents, when I got the phone call. My initial reaction was a huge amount of gratitude and excitement, and I felt my heart jump a little in my chest! I asked if I could tell my parents, and when I found out I could, I faked them out by acting heartbroken and somber, only to then surprise them with the great news. I’m so thankful that I had them to do a little celebration with.

What are you most excited about regarding this opportunity to work with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival?

I’m very excited to work with other great actors, all collaborating to create something wonderful. It’s almost daunting to jump into such a great company headfirst, but I’m still very excited to see what comes from this opportunity.

What do you hope to get out of this opportunity?

Honestly? I’m just hoping to learn as much as I can from the talented cast and crew I will be working with. I really hope to grow not just as an actor, but as an appreciator of Shakespeare as well.

How do you plan to keep pursuing theatre in the future (both at ISU and after graduation)?

There’s no stopping this artistic train as it barrels its way through the world of professional theatre! I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon, and hope to continue pursuing acting in Chicago and New York through working my way up the good old-fashioned way. Auditions, casting calls, and all the works await me, but I hope to grow into as great an actor as I can be in order to help this train along. Part of that growth comes through hopefully participating in future ISU productions, trying my hardest to get as much experience as I can.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your parents’ experience doing theatre? What are their thoughts on you receiving the Sutter Scholarship?

As I mentioned, both of my parents met through acting, and continued to work in Chicago for many years before having my brother and I. Even still, they continued to do shows once we got older, and have gotten involved with the management of Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles. Their involvement and support have helped me tremendously in my development as not only an actor, but an artist in general, and I can’t thank them enough.

What has been your experience doing theatre with your family?

Though I sadly haven’t had the opportunity to do any shows with my mother, I have been in two different productions with my father. The first was through William Street Rep. in It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Show, where I got my first taste of professional theatre. He acted as a strong mentor to me throughout the process, and was the only thing keeping my head on my shoulders most days. More recently, I was in Circle Mirror Transformation with him as a part of Janus Theatre in Elgin, IL. Doing a different production with him after years of improvement was a great experience, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have someone like him to do it with. It definitely helped us learn our lines a lot quicker, that’s for sure! Knowing that I can send my mom a video of my monologues and get critiques, or go over lines with my father, is something that I definitely don’t take for granted.

This interview was conducted by Maria Amenabar Farias, a first-year M.F.A. directing student at Illinois State University. Born and raised in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Maria came to the United States at first to get her bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in both economics and film, television, and theatre with a concentration in theatre. Through her time at Notre Dame, Maria found a passion for directing and after directing multiple productions (including musicals and new works), Maria decided to pursue directing as a career. She is extremely excited to work for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and looks forward to helping out in future projects for the company.