BWW Interview: Courtnee Carter of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at AT&T Performing Arts Center
Building a better community with Courtnee Carter
It wasn't long after moving to New York City before actress Courtnee Carter made her Broadway debut understudying the lead character Ti Moune in the highly celebrated revival of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. This week, we caught up with Ms. Carter while on tour with the show from Charleston, North Carolina, where she now performs the role full time. She spoke about breaking down barriers and building a better community through love and hope. Read our full conversation below.
Courtnee Carter: My grandmother introduced me to the arts; her late fiancé was an opera singer and he would always take me to different musicals. I remember the first musical I saw was THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA national tour in Jacksonville, Florida and, from then, I just kind of fell in love with it. I would always go over to my grandmother's house and she had a piano. I didn't know how to play piano at the time and I would just plunk on the keys. Then, I started taking piano lessons and dancing and singing and totally started to fall in love with it. I went to arts school my whole life; I went to arts middle school for piano and acting and then I did acting in high school. I eventually went to North Carolina School of the Arts and graduated in 2016 with a BFA in acting.
Kyle: It sounds like you kind of walked out of school and, not long after, made your Broadway debut in ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, right?
Cournee: Yeah, it's totally crazy. I graduated in 2016 and then I joined the Broadway cast [of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND] in 2018. When I moved to New York, I literally had that typical story of $500 and a suitcase and was subletting and didn't know where my career was going to go. I was just so eager to get to New York and at least try and see what would happen. I worked hard and did lots and lots of lots of auditions. I got lots of nos and got a couple yesses [laughs] and here I am!
Kyle: As a replacement in the revival of the show, what was it like working on that original production in such a unique space with so many interesting onstage elements?
Courtnee: Oh my gosh, it was a really well oiled machine when I joined. So having to dive right into the sand and the water with the fire and all the elements was a really cool experience. It really did feel like an island, but I had never done a show in-the-round before so that was super different. It was definitely challenging because dancing in the sand is not something we do ever [laughs]. Having to really get those muscles strong took a lot of hard work but it made it such a cool experience.
Kyle: Can you tell me about the process of restaging the show [for the tour] for a proscenium-style production?
Courtnee: Well, a lot of the blocking did change. Circle In The Square is a smaller theater, but every theater we've gone to is so different. We have [some of] the audience onstage, which is really exciting and kind of makes it still feel in-the-round even though it is more proscenium style and [performed] toward the audience. But all of the original elements are there: we still have the sand and the fire and the water. It's just a little bit different!
Kyle: Both of [director] Michael Arden's Broadway musicals, SPRING AWAKENING and ONCE ON THIS ISLAND have been so detailed and imitate. How has the storytelling in ONCE ON THIS ISLAND translated to the larger venues across the country?
Courtnee: It's so interesting because you do have people on stage, so it does feel intimate, but I think people [in larger venues] are still equally affected by [the show]. The story is so simple but it so beautifully told. I think the storytelling works just as well as it did in Circle In The Square.
Kyle: Can you tell me a little bit about your character Ti Moune and how she fits into the story of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND?
Courtnee: Yes. So, I feel that Ti Moune is the backbone of the story. She doesn't take no for an answer and, from the very beginning, is always questioning the obvious and asking those big questions that people around here are so afraid of. She goes on this beautiful journey that really teaches people how to follow your dreams, knowing that you have a purpose. She's strong and she's powerful - and I want to be more like her! She fights for what's right and I think that's one of the best messages of the story. She spreads love and compassion and understanding and she doesn't believe that there's a difference between black and white or yellow or green. She just believes in people and doing good things.
Kyle: What do you hope audiences take away from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND?
Courtnee: The story is just so beautiful. I hope everyone will take away the message of love and hope and are able to spread that feeling around to everyone across the world...to differently generations, ethnicities, different genders and socioeconomic levels. It's such an important show for today's climate; I think people need this. It's a story of rebuilding our community and coming together to fight through the pain, to keep going and finding the simple things in life that make life great.
Kyle: I think that's a great note to end on. Thank you so much for your time today. We're looking forward to seeing you in Dallas soon!
Countree: Thank you. I hope people read this and want to come see the show!
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND arrives at AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House December 17 and performs through December 22. Tickets and more information are available at www.attpac.org.