When Erika Henningsen was 14, she was cast in a regional production of Grey Gardens in California. She realized, then, that she wanted to make a career of acting.
“I loved being surrounded by such innovative music and unique storytelling,” she said. “It was during this process that I realized being an actor doesn’t mean just singing and dancing, but getting to communicate ideas, concepts and stories that the world needs to hear.”
Henningsen, who earned her B.F.A. in musical theatre from the University of Michigan this year, has been selected the 2014 recipient of the Actors' Equity/Alan Eisenberg Award Scholarship. She is the eighth graduating student to receive the award, which was created by former Actors' Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg, an alumnus of the school. The award, in the amount of $5,000, is given to a graduating senior in the University’s musical theatre program to recognize her outstanding talent and career potential.
The San Francisco native, who is now residing on the east coast, said that she was truly bit by the theatre bug when she was 7 and participated in a dramatic reading of the poem “The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven” at arts camp. After she heard the audience laugh for the first time, she was hooked.
The first time that Henningsen performed professionally (and was paid) was when she was 17 years old performing in Hairspray as Penny Pingleton. She remembers that on the day they staged “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” it reached 90 degrees.
“The stage was scorching and we danced for about four hours,” she said. “I loved every minute of it.”
For the actor, her favorite role so far has been in a workshop licensed by Disney Theatricals, which took place at her alma mater. She played Eglantine Price (a role made famous by Angela Lansbury) from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Henningsen said that she had an amazing learning experience being a part of early stages of production and collaborating with the writers.
“Being one of the first actors to speak the dialogue aloud, having input on character development – all of this innovation and freedom was new territory for me.”
Her dream role, however, would be to play Clara in The Light in the Piazza. Not only does she think the show itself is perfection, she thoroughly enjoys all of its imperfections as well. For her, it’s the many flaws of each character that makes the show so memorizing.
Now, in New York City, Henningsen is ready to continue with her career; the Eisenberg Award helped confirm that she is on the right path.
“Winning this award reminds me how lucky I am to have attended the University of Michigan and reminds me that no matter where I go, I will uphold the values and morals I learned there,” Henningsen said. “It is a legacy I hope to represent positively in the many years to come.”