Barry McNamara  |   Published October 27, 2022

‘Indy Shakes,’ NYC and Juliet

Gabriela Madu ’23 is well-prepared for next step in her acting and singing career.

GABRIELA MADU: Veteran actress called role of Juliet the hardest she's ever played. GABRIELA MADU: Veteran actress called role of Juliet the hardest she's ever played.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College senior Gabriela Madu has already compiled an impressive résumé of acting and singing credits. She added to it in early October when she played one of the leads in the theatre department’s production of Romeo and Juliet,

One gets the feeling, though, that she’s only just begun.

Since completing her junior year last May, Madu has had a summer internship with the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company, participated in one of the Open Jar Institute’s week-long “Broadway Intensives” in New York City, and received a professional contract offer after submitting an award-winning monologue.

And then came her role as Juliet, which she called “the hardest role I’ve ever played.”


From Indy to Vegas to Broadway

For most of the summer, Madu was the assistant stage manager for “Indy Shakes,” where she “essentially did all the things you’d think an intern would do – doing call lines, cleaning up and doing setup and tear down.”

The program ended on July 31, giving Madu one week to prepare for taking a bite out of The Big Apple. She visited her mother in Las Vegas and, while there, made sure everything was in order for her Open Jar opportunity – her dancing shoes, her sheet music and, especially, her résumé, which she was touching up just hours before her flight to New York City.

Joining her at the institute, which is Broadway’s premier actor training program, was Monmouth classmate Andrew Cliffel ’23 of Lakewood, Ohio. After the two met up at the airport and made their way downtown, “We literally went right into it,” said Madu. “They asked when I got in, and I said, ‘Fifteen minutes ago.’”

“I was checking my bank account to see if I could afford an early flight home. Imposter syndrome is so real.” Gabriela Madu


Her day went from 9 a.m. to getting home after 10 p.m. from seeing a Broadway show. One of the shows Madu and the 50 or so other aspiring actors saw was a revival of the musical Funny Girl, and they received training from one of the show’s actors, Mariah Reives. It was Reives who led a fast-paced dancing master class that Madu called “insanely terrifying.”

“I was checking my bank account to see if I could afford an early flight home,” she said. “Imposter syndrome is so real.”

Another dance class was led by Timothy Hughes, who’s played The Strongman in the musical The Greatest Showman. Madu was also impressed by another Broadway show, MJ the Musical, which tells the story of Michael Jackson.

“It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “If I didn’t know he was dead, I would’ve told you that was Michael Jackson up on the stage.”

Her Open Jar experience concluded with a special cabaret performance.

“They claimed they’d be picking 20 names (out of, appropriately, an open jar) at random, but my opinion was that it would really be based on merit,” she said. “I kept thinking ‘Please pick my name. Please pick my name.’ After the seventh name, they picked me, and I went insane. I was like, ‘Yes!’ Part of me really wanted that validation.”

“It was humbling and ego-building at the same time. It changed my perspective. It changed the direction I thought I needed to be going in.” Gabriela Madu


Her week in New York City was everything she thought it would be, and more.

“It was humbling and ego-building at the same time,” said Madu. “It changed my perspective. It changed the direction I thought I needed to be going in.”

As an example, Madu said, she learned more about how singing is not simply having a good voice.

“What is the story you’re telling with the song?” she said. “That’s what helps you stand out from everybody else. I figured out that’s a strength of mine. I can sing, but I’m not a singer. But I was one of the strongest storytellers there. And the song I chose to sing (“You Don’t Know This Man” from Parade) was a story I could really tell, as opposed to something that would just sound pretty.”


Back on campus

A few days after Open Jar ended, Madu was headed to Monmouth to begin her senior year as a theatre and computer science double major – and it wasn’t long before auditions were held for Romeo and Juliet.

“Juliet was very challenging,” she said. “Initially, I was reluctant to try out for the part because Juliet is an ingénue who wants the boy, and I didn’t feel like an ingénue.”

“That was a monster of a show to memorize. For a few weeks, I had the script in my bag and nothing else. It was the hardest role I’ve played, but I had so much fun with it. It went by too fast.” Gabriela Madu


Eventually, Madu put her hesitations about the role behind her, but there were still some challenges.

“That was a monster of a show to memorize,” she said. “For a few weeks, I had the script in my bag and nothing else. It was the hardest role I’ve played, but I had so much fun with it. It went by too fast.”

Madu, who is serving as one of the student directors for the College’s Nov. 18-20 production of David Auburn’s Proof, also did the sound design for Romeo and Juliet, which she will submit to the annual regional Kennedy Center festival in January.


A world of possibilities

Speaking of submissions, Madu also entered a monologue into a competition she learned about while in Indianapolis. A few weeks later, while sitting in the College’s Einstein’s Bros. Bagels shop, she received a message that her entry had taken third place. With it, should she choose, is a contract for the 2023-24 season at The Naptown African American Theatre Collective, the first Black equity theatre in Indianapolis.

AWARD-WINNER: If Madu chooses, a professional theatre contract awaits in Indiana thanks to a mono... AWARD-WINNER: If Madu chooses, a professional theatre contract awaits in Indiana thanks to a monologue she submitted earlier this year. Which leads to an interesting question: Where will Madu head next after she graduates from Monmouth?

The short answer is, if Madu gets an acting opportunity that’s too good to pass up, she could find herself with a theatre company, such as Naptown. But she also hopes that graduate school is in her future.

Other opportunities might arise in February in Memphis, where Madu and Cliffel will attend the United Professional Theatre Auditions, also known as UPTA. On the other side, she has already received interest in a graduate program offered by the University of Houston.

Grad schools and theatre companies alike can learn more about her at her website, gabrielamadu.com.

“I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it,” said Madu, who bills herself on the site as an actor/singer/musician.

Included on the home page is her philosophy about performance: “Performance is not only an art, but an outlet for every individual to express their desires in a way that normal conversations cannot.”

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