Strong and clear. Unwavering and emotional. From the quiet first notes, to the swelling crescendos, senior Abby Cramer’s voice has always been true to herself and to her characters, no matter what role she is playing.
That powerful voice has taken her far. It carried her through years of musical productions to her award-winning performance in East’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” After two years, she climbed up another tier: Cramer recently attended the highly selective Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Michigan, with 2,500 up-and-coming artists from across the globe. There, she won a Joseph Maddy Summer Artist Award for music theater. Only 22 campers won the prestigious award this year.
It’s a genuine reward for all the effort she has put in over the years.
“[Singing is] just kind of all I do, like all-encompassing,” Cramer said. “It’s kind of just all I’ve got. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s just become a part of who I am.”
Musical theater is now part of her daily life as well. Beginning in fifth grade, Cramer gradually spent more time rehearsing and training. After a day of school, Cramer typically has five to six hours of rehearsal and lessons. She often has performances over the weekends as well. Even in her free time, she enjoys listening to modern Broadway music by singers like Lindsay Mendez and Jeremy Jordan. For Cramer, music is a 24/7 occupation.
“She has just really made it a point to take it on herself to improve,” East theater director Brian Cappello said. “She wants to improve, that’s half the battle.”
Cramer’s infatuation, and thirst for improvement, began when she was four-years-old and went to watch her mother, Amy Cramer, rehearse as a pianist for the musical “Annie” at Theater in the Park.
“I wouldn’t say a word or move a muscle, but just watched,” Cramer said. “My dad would come pick me up, but I refused to leave. I was so mesmerized, just by the rehearsal. That was kind of the first sign that I loved theater.”
She still considers her mother her biggest musical influence. Some days she devotes hours to just sitting down with her mother and singing a duet from “Wicked” or “Little Women.”
Since her childhood days, Cramer has stepped up from the audience into her own place on the stage. She performs at East and in various theater programs and camps, but her first major role was as the Chaperone in East’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” in 2013. Cramer’s performance earned her a Blue Star Award for Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role, one of the greatest musical theater honors given in the KC area.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” also gave Cramer her greatest moment on stage.
“I just remember being on stage with the lights and being so happy, and feeling so loved and supported,” Cramer said. “I looked over backstage, and I saw everyone singing into the microphone and it was just so amazing.”
Cramer’s sophomore year closed with her Blue Star triumph, but then her hectic junior year arrived. It became even more difficult to balance her commitments. Some nights she gets home at ten o’clock from rehearsals and just ignores her homework in surrender to exhaustion. With rehearsal and school always in mind, she often misses out on opportunities to hang out with her friends.
Still, she’s thankful that her friends have been very supportive and understanding over the years.
“Even though she’s really busy, she still tries hard to make time for us,” said Cramer’s friend Rachel Barnett.
They make time for her too in return. Cramer can spot her friends cheering her on in the audience of every show, even if they’re not in musical theater, and even if they don’t go to East.
“There’re a lot of times that [I use] that common phrase ‘sorry I can’t, I have rehearsal,’” Cramer said. “School is always what makes it overwhelming. My busiest days are tough when I have to go to school.”
So this year, she has devoted most of her schedule to theater or music-based classes, like Dramatic Literature and Choir. Cramer wants to put forth her best work in her last year as a Lancer thespian.
Cramer doesn’t need to question her decisions as much as her fellow graduates this year. She already knows. She’s known for a long time that music will be her future, no matter what, whether it be further musical education or a professional contract.
“I’d love to go see her on Broadway someday,” choir director Ken Foley said.
Cramer too aspires to be a professional musical actress someday, starring in her favorite musical “Dogfight”, standing on a Broadway stage: spotlight shining, music rising, audience roaring.
“She knows her talent is only going to take her so far, [but] she’s not afraid of hard work and I see nothing bothering her success in the future,” Cappello said. “She wants it and she knows she’s going to have to work for it.”