This week Playbill catches up with Phoebe Koyabe, who is currently making her Broadway debut as Alana Beck in the Tony-winning Dear Evan Hansen at the Music Box Theatre. The actor previously played the same role in the national tour of the Benj Pasek-Justin Paul-Steven Levenson musical. Born in France and raised in the U.S., Koyabe has been seen in regional productions of Bring It On The Musical, Sister Act, and Hairspray.
Following the theatre shutdown, Dear Evan Hansen reopened December 11, 2021, with Jordan Fisher in the title role, joined by Koyabe, Gabrielle Carrubba as Zoe Murphy, Jessica Phillips as Heidi Hansen, Christiane Noll as Cynthia Murphy, David Jeffery as Connor Murphy, Ivan Hernandez as Larry Murphy, Jared Goldsmith as Jared Kleinman, and Zachary Noah Piser as the Evan alternate.
What is your typical day like now?
After I have gotten up and gotten ready, I’ll usually walk my dog, respond to any emails that I need to respond to, run any errands I have (yay, adulthood), grab some dinner, then head to the show. On some days I have to get my hair done for the show (which takes a full 24 hours, not including sleep/breaks) or have lessons/class. Once I am home, I walk my dog, immediately pass out in my bed. Then start all over again!
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room on the first day you and the Dear Evan Hansen cast assembled?
Surreal. Literally. I honestly had a second where I thought I was dreaming! Coming back after two years and seeing everyone again... it almost felt impossible. The wait was so long and tiring, and then suddenly there we all were again. Laughing, singing, and doing what we all do best. It was unbelievable.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past 18 months?
Oof. Of course! That feeling of emptiness? That gut-crushing loneliness? I hadn't experienced it so intensely since I was a teenager. Being totally and completely isolated really brought me back into that very negative headspace. As silly as it is (considering the show), it took me several months before I realized I really wasn't alone. We were all in the same boat. It's so easy to forget when you're feeling hopeless, but so many people out there feel the same. It's not hopeless. It never is.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
We have been waiting for this for two whole years! We got the shots (get boosted!), we did the testing, we socially distanced, we stayed home, we wore the masks, and every other precaution we could take. We did it. All so we can be here now.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Breathe, ground yourself, don’t forget to reach out for help (resources available at DearEvanHansen.com), and don’t forget to remind yourself that so many others feel the same way you do. It's very easy to feel like you're "floating" through the days—as if there isn't even a point anymore. Splash some water on your face, touch something soft, put on your favorite outfit, and remind yourself that you are here. You are living through a global pandemic. Of course, it's hard! Your feelings are justified! But you are here! So many people cannot say the same. So push on. For them.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Just how far does your internal bias go? It's a question I like to ask myself when seeing something new. Why do I think he's edgy? Is it because of his piercings? Why do I think she's sassy? Is it her color? Type casting is something I absolutely despise. Always have, of course, but my hatred for it has really grown these past couple of years. We are all our own individual, eccentric, unique selves. Underneath the surface appearance. Who is this person? Who is this character? And, why does the way they look change what I think of them? At the end of the day, we all bleed red. The assumption that a BIPOC is either funny or angry with no depth whatsoever is a stereotype we have been fighting since the start. We are human beings with feelings, stories, and experiences that are worth telling. So why is it that I have never walked into an audition room, auditioned for the ingenue, and actually thought I had a shot? We are more than just the surface. Tale as old as time. Don't judge a book by its cover.
Do you have any other stage/screen projects in the works?
I have a screenplay in the works. It’s still a little tiny baby, so I really can’t say much. But I am so excited to be able to put my experiences as a biracial BIPOC down on paper, and hopefully one day…on a screen.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
I’m a pretty rad person! Don’t get me wrong, I have my flaws, of course. But the past few years have really taught me to appreciate who I am. I am valuable, my time is valuable, and my life is valuable. We spend so much time trying to cater to others for their approval. And, for what? Their approval doesn’t pay the bills, give any form of long-term happiness, or keep anyone safe from COVID. Live for yourself and no one else. Easier said than done, I know. But man is it worth it.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders are doing some amazing work overseas. We tend to take our access to the vaccine for granted, and they’re trying their best to bridge that privilege gap. Coalition for the Homeless is keeping our fellow New Yorkers safe and housed during these times (another thing I tend to take for granted). Lastly, The BIPOC Project is working within our own communities themselves.