By Susan Kirby-Smith ’06 MA,
In March of this year, Deon’te Goodman ’16 experienced the night all actors dream about – his first night on the Broadway stage.
“I was terrified,” he says, remembering the seconds before the curtain went up at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
It’s only “Hamilton” – arguably the hottest show on Broadway in the last three years, a show that set box office records in New York City and won multiple Tony awards and, in 2018, Kennedy Center Honors.
“At some point I did make a slight mistake,” confesses the perfectionist. “It happens, but after that happened it was a relief. The show continued and it kept going. And then I was able to move on with the rest of the night, and the adrenaline was rushing, and it was sort of a blur. As soon as I got out of the show, I went home and passed out – I was exhausted from one night. The amount of energy that races through your body is euphoric and exhausting.”
When Deon’te joined the cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s story of nation-building that, as he says, “changed the trajectory of the theater, theater for people of color, and representation in theater,” it was not only stepping on the Broadway stage that fulfilled his dream, but also having that moment take place within a work of art he truly believed in.
Becoming a Broadway performer is not a short path. The audition process lasted for six months, and that came to Deon’te after achieving another hard-won career goal, his New York City debut in “Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical.”
But for these opportunities, he was prepared. From ear-training to a solid audition book, his work in classical voice in UNC Greensboro’s School of Music and musical theater workshops in the School of Theatre had given him the skills, and the seasoning, to rise to the (many) occasions.
Deon’te says that as he finds where he fits into the “Hamilton” family, the cast has been very supportive, and not only the cast but the larger Broadway community.
“When I first started in theater, I placed the actors on Broadway and the inner workings of the Broadway community on a huge pedestal. These people have achieved something great, but it was surprising to me to see some people I idolize and to see how human they are. To see how human and down-to-earth and kind and nurturing the community truly is.”
Mariah Carey and Emma Watson have come to see the show.
“People I grew up idolizing,” he says. “I meet these people, and I want to do nothing but give them the utmost praise, and yet, they’re congratulating me on what I’m doing. I want to say, ‘But do you know who you are?’ I was honored to present something for them, and it teaches me that we are all providing a service to someone.”
But he’s discovered another surprise along the way: the work doesn’t stop when you meet your goals.
“It’s a different kind of hard work. It’s a different pace. We’re always asked by those around us, by friends, ‘What’s next?’ We rarely get a chance to live in what we just achieved. So that’s the first thing I did. Once I found a pace and felt comfortable with it, then it was time to create other opportunities. I still have my entire career ahead of me, and I know there are other things I want to do. But the lessons we learn in the experience are what prepare us for our next steps in life.”
Since joining the cast of “Hamilton,” his life has been even more of a whirlwind.
He performs in eight shows a week, and sometimes two a day.
“It’s a very intense schedule, which we love, but when you’re doing that, you have to find time to go grocery shopping or go to the gym, hang out with friends, have time to yourself.”
He is working on creating his solo concert debut in New York City, and he also performs at other events, such as a Feinstein’s/54 Below show about civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.
Any downtime he has, he makes sure to spend on things that feed his soul. He likes to try his hand at songwriting and playing guitar. He collects vinyl records – Whitney Houston, Gregory Porter, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, Emily King, Adele, and Amy Winehouse are a few of his favorites.
“And I love being around friends and people who feed me positive energy.”
He talks with his UNCG School of Music voice teacher Dr. Carla LeFevre often, and she and his former professor in musical theater, Dr. Justin Cowan ’14, ’16 MM, ’18 DMA, have both been to see him in “Hamilton.” He also stays connected with another former professor, co-creator of UNCG’s program in musical theater Dominick Amendum ’01.
Deon’te prizes those connections with his mentors and he’s glad to offer moral support and advice to any UNCG students or alumni who contact him as they make their own journeys to professional careers.
“The lessons we learn in the experience are what prepare us for our next steps in life.”— Deon’te Goodman ’16
“The thing I’ve definitely learned since joining ‘Hamilton’ is that this is all so much bigger than me. My role in this story, in ‘Hamilton,’ is not just to be great for myself but to tell a story and allow an audience to see the greater picture. There is something so freeing about that in your day-to-day life. I hope that something that I say or do speaks to someone else on a more personal level than it speaks to me and changes someone else more than it changes me. Being in the show with these castmates has given me a completely different perspective on how I can inspire and uplift and encourage those around me. What we do is always for a greater purpose than ourselves.”
Photo of “Galileo Galilei” courtesy of UNCG Archives; photo of “Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical” by Mia Winston; Photo of “In the Heights” courtesy of Orlando Shakes