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Interview: Elizabeth A. Davis on Why Her Journey With 1776 is Something She Will Never Take for Granted

Interview: Elizabeth A. Davis on Why Her Journey With 1776 is Something She Will Never Take for Granted

Yes, she is actually playing the violin and yes, she is actually pregnant.

Tony nominee Elizabeth A. Davis is currently starring as Thomas Jefferson in Roundabout Theatre Company and the American Repertory Theater's new Broadway production of 1776, directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus.

Davis, who is seven-and-a-half months pregnant and jokes that she should have put "Yes, I'm actually playing the violin" and "Yes, I'm actually pregnant" in her bio, stars alongside a cast comprised of entirely women, transgender and nonbinary performers.

BroadwayWorld spoke with Elizabeth A. Davis on how being pregnant has shaped her journey with the show, the support and love she's experienced from the company, and much more.


1776 is officially open on Broadway after a long developmental journey. How does it feel to be on Broadway right now with the show?

It is always a pleasure, it is a privilege, it is an opportunity I will never take for granted. It is a story, and a way of telling the story, that I think is very important. I'm just very thankful.

This revival features a company of entirely women, trans, and nonbinary actors. You're performing a musical about a time in history in which the actors on stage were not represented in the room where the musical takes place. How does that influence your performance every night?

My process has been this: I've done a lot of research about the person, Thomas Jefferson, about the history around his life, about the Declaration, all of this. I've done a lot of research around Sally Hemings, I've visited Monticello several times, but when it comes down to the process of simply being on stage and embodying the moment, I have to forget all of that research, and I simply have to be alive, and present in the moment with the people on stage with me, who happen to look the way they look, who happen to come from the walks of life they come from. And so, what I find onstage, and what I hope people in the audience find, is that it's a deepening of a story we know, it's honoring to a certain moment in time, and simultaneously, it's an indictment and a celebration. What I'm saying is, there are so many layers when you put these specific people on that stage to tell this specific story, and I think it speaks to the complexity, and the beauty, of who we are as a theater community, and as a country right now.

Having that experience of starring in a show entirely comprised of women, nonbinary, and trans actors is not something that happens every day, what has it meant to you offstage to have experienced that?

It's an extraordinarily unique company, and you're correct, I've never had the privilege of having this exact makeup of support. It is a unique experience, and there is a familial quality to how I will walk away from this experience and remember these people. We care for each other in a very specific way. I'm personally walking through a really unique journey, I'm pregnant, and the way that I have been cared for and loved by this cast, and crew, and creatives, it is so specific and unique. I will never take for granted that this moment in my life, while growing this child, has been amongst these women, and these trans and nonbinary artists. I will never take that for granted. It has been very specific.

1776It's so incredible that you're doing this show seven months pregnant. How has being pregnant shifted your perspective on this experience, and character, and show? You're bringing new life into the world while starring in a show that's about the creation of the circumstances that you're bringing that new life into.

Yes, I've never had a moment quite like this to embody life imitating art imitating life. I did not discover that I was pregnant until 15 weeks into the process, which means that, unbeknownst to me- and for a variety of health reasons, which have been painful, and difficult, and that's another conversation- in essence, I have never not been pregnant while in rehearsal for this performance. I have been growing and developing this musical almost the exact amount of time that I have been growing and developing this child, which is astonishing to me. Which means that the people in this cast have literally held my hand, sung to me, supported me throughout the entirety of this development.

Further, I knew during the pandemic when we were on hold, that conceptually it worked. You have Jefferson, who was the famous lover, reluctant to join in because his wife, Martha, was historically having a miscarriage at home. So, there is a moment in the show where Diane, and Jeffrey, Eryn LeCroy, who plays Martha Jefferson, and I, were very aware of that history, were very aware that we were two women, portraying Thomas and Martha, and wanted to pay homage to that history.

Martha Jefferson, along with many, many women and people of that time, lost children. It was just par for the course. Martha Jefferson ultimately died because of complications from childbirth, but I believe they had two of their four children die. So, there is a layered moment in 'He Plays the Violin' where we are paying homage to that whole world that we often look over, we keep it secret, it's not very often talked about. And certainly not in the theatre. When was the last time you saw a seven-and-a-half-month pregnant woman on stage during a musical? So, it means an enormous amount, and the metaphor is so clear, to the point that, and Diane and Jeffrey and I laugh about this, people are coming to the show now and they think it's conceptual and a prosthetic belly. I told Diane and Jeffrey I should have put 'Yes, I'm actually playing the violin' and 'Yes, I'm actually pregnant' in my bio!

The cast recently threw you baby shower, what does it mean to you to be supported1776 by your company in that way?

It shakes me to my core, the amount of support and love I'm experiencing. I have to give a shoutout to Shawna Hamic, who plays Richard Henry Lee, and Lulu Picart who plays Samuel Chase. Shawna went with me to my first doctor's appointment where I thought I was going to be told I was having a miscarriage, and instead I heard a heartbeat. And she has been with me throughout the course of this entire experience, and supported me. The baby shower, we had company management come, we had dressers, we had music department, we had creatives, and cast. It was a moment, I think, for our entire company, the entire building, to celebrate. And we all need reasons to celebrate. So, for me to be in the midst of offering a reason to do that, it's a gift. I consider this moment not necessarily about me, this is an us moment, because it has taken all of us to get here.

You spoke earlier about studying everything there is to know about Jefferson. Shannon LaNier, who is a descendent of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings visited the show recently, what was that experience like?

I showed up to do an interview at Cheddar News, and Shannon walked in and said, "Hi, I'm going to be interviewing you today." He said, "I think they may have chosen me to do your interview because I'm Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings' ninth great grandson." And I was in shock and could not believe what I was actually experiencing.

I called, immediately, the woman in my cast, Jill Vallery, who's playing the representation of Robert Hemings, and then I immediately called Diane and she was like, "Oh my goodness, we have to get him at opening." And because there has been so much discussion in the room about the unspoken presence of Robert Hemings, there has been a lot of back and forth about what it meant for these two families, the Jeffersons and the Hemings, to be so deeply familial, to be so closely connected, but also to be trapped in this scourge of slavery. What did that mean interpersonally? So, for Shannon to come into my life in that moment really put a face to the ideas that we have been talking about for so long. I've hugged the neck of a person who is the very embodiment of all of these dichotomies and intersections of confusion. It means more than I can say.

1776Do you have anything else you'd like to share?

I'll say this, it's such an important time for people to be back at the theater. We are stuck behind screens so much, we are disjointed and discombobulated by the insanity of the pandemic, and divisive political climate, and this is an essential time for people to be in the same room together, to cellularly be experiencing life together. And I encourage anyone who's reading this, to come to the theater. Come to any Broadway theater, but we would especially love to have you at 1776.


1776 is a limited engagement through Sunday, January 8, 2023 at Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre on Broadway (227 West 42nd Street).

Upcoming for Elizabeth A. Davis, is a concept album entitled The Apple Tree. You can find Davis' music HERE!

Photo credit: JD Urban, Grace Stockdale of Songbird Studios, Joan Marcus


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