In the Room Where it Happens: Darnell Abraham
In this new exclusive series for THE MAGAZINE, members of the company of HAMILTON reflect on what’s it’s like to be a part of the show and performing in San Francisco. HAMILTON continues its smash run at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets start at $49. Click here for tickets.
Here Comes the General…
Bakersfield native Darnell Abraham reflects on what it’s like to play the Father of the Country, what he does to honor our history, his favorite neighborhood haunts and his special love for Luther Vandross.
Tell us about your position/role with HAMILTON. What does a typical day on the job look like for you?
I play George Washington, (aka The General). He was the Commander of the Continental Army and our nations first President. In context of the show, he takes Hamilton under his wing and becomes like a father figure to him. Some people describe the role of Washington as the ‘adult in the room’ or ‘a pillar.’
When I arrive at the theatre, I always try to make a point of connecting with my fellow cast members. Live theatre is a collaborative living artwork and can be affected by several variables (personal life, sickness, weather, etc.) – we’re all coming from somewhere physically, emotionally, and mentally. And so connecting with my cast mates is a great way to say, ‘I’m glad you’re here and that we get to do this thing together.’
I am constantly looking for ways to hone or explore new angles in my performances and so I will touch base with our resident creative team to discuss any thoughts or notes they may have for me from prior performances. Before getting into costume, I like to sit in silence and push aside distractions from the day so that I can center myself. This helps me connect with the role and feel grounded before I step onstage.
On a very personal note, I like to speak the name of an enslaved African-American from the time period so that their once shackled life, is now freely honored throughout my performance.
What inspires you most about HAMILTON? Which of the show’s themes have resonated in your life?
I am passionate about people and so the narrative that HAMILTON is ‘a story about Americans then, told by Americans now’ takes on a deep meaning for me. One of the strengths about our great nation is our diversity and we see that thoughtfully reflected on the HAMILTON stage. Although our nations history is complex, we have had the ability to overcome challenges by laying aside our differences and standing united. For me, that’s one of the many things I love about HAMILTON. The show highlights that even in the midst of disagreement or strife, ‘we the people’ have the power to tap into the better nature of ourselves in order to pursue ‘a more perfect union’. We just have to be willing to do it…together.
What HAMILTON lyric would you use as your life motto?
“History has its eyes on you.”
Are there specific moments that stand out and make you proud of the work the company is doing?
The work that the And Peggy company is doing goes beyond the stage. To be honest, there’s not a singular moment or event that stands out because whether we are onstage together or living out our independent lives, this company is filled with people that are hardworking, generous, and kind-hearted. I am proud of the work that our company is doing throughout San Francisco. Whether it’s supporting other local arts organizations, educational institutions, non-profits, or engaging with the community in other ways, this company is passionate about life.
What do you enjoy about working/performing in San Francisco?
My wife and I are native Californian’s but we have been living in Manhattan for almost 10 years now. It’s nice to be back in our home state and close to our family and friends. San Francisco is also regarded as a major hub for theatrical entertainment and so I feel a sense of excitement and privilege that comes with that.
What’s an item on your San Francisco bucket list?
Performing with the San Francisco Symphony and whale watching.
During your time in SF, have you discovered any great neighborhoods?
Hayes Valley. Tree lined streets with quaint restaurants, small businesses, and who can’t resist Smitten or Salt&Straw ice cream? Especially on a nice warm spring/summer day.
Kin Khao (Thai food), Burma Club and Burma Love, RT Rotisserie, Chantal Guillon (love the pistachio and lemon macarons), Samovar Tea Lounge, Rice & Rooster (that chicken fat rice = umnumnum) Taqueria Can Cun (those burritos!), Boba Guys, QualiTea
Hiking at the Presidio
What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter your field?
Be hungry to learn, stay humble, and surround yourself around people that will support you as a person. Everyone’s journey and trajectory in this industry is different and so focus on what’s in front of you. Working in this industry is a marathon and I can’t express the importance of the journey rather than the destination. If you constantly compare the pace of your progress to someone else, you’ll become increasingly unhappy. Have a strategy and set goals for yourself – you’ll undoubtedly make adjustments along the way.
Which leads me to my final point:
Know yourself. It takes time to get to know and embrace who you really are. I’m not talking about some false sense of ego. You have to sift through the lies that you’ve believed about yourself and that takes time, so be patient. When you arrive at that sacred place of knowing and loving your true self (without arrogance or narcissism), you can then perform from your truth without chasing someone else’s idea of who you are, what you are, or who you should be.
What’s one thing audiences would be surprised to know about you?
I love anything Luther Vandross.