Alison Whitehurst Lands National Tour

From TCU’s stage to Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the alumna shares advice.

Courtesy of Alison Whitehurst

Courtesy of Alison Whitehurst

Alison Whitehurst Lands National Tour

From TCU’s stage to Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the alumna shares advice.

With a pianist for a father, Alison Hodgson Whitehurst ’12 sometimes crashed weddings and parties growing up and watched live bands from sound booths. “I remember thinking, ‘How do I get to do that?’ ”

She began taking piano lessons at 6 and decided to focus on singing a few years later. In eighth grade she enrolled in a theater class, thinking she would make friends at her new school. Instead, she found her future.

“I found out there was this beautiful hybrid of music and storytelling,” she said. “Since then, it’s just been what I’ve been about.”

The Sugar Land, Texas, native studied musical theatre at TCU. “I was surrounded by professors who were invested in me not only as a performer but as a person and who understood that my growth as a human mattered just as much as whatever I achieved.”

She played Skater Girl in The Fortress of Solitude at the Dallas Theater Center and was invited to join the cast at The Public Theater in New York City. “That changed the game.”

At the time, she and fellow Frog Gabriel Whitehurst ’13 — they met in TCU’s theatre department — were three weeks from their wedding day. “Instead of freaking out, he said, ‘Well, I guess we’re going to get married and move to New York.’ He’s a ride-or-die type of gentleman.”

Now based in the New York City borough of Queens, Whitehurst made her first TV appearance in November 2019 on FBI (season 2, episode 9), and in June she completed her first national tour, playing the role of Cynthia Weil in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

“I was challenged in so many ways,” she said of the role that took her across the U.S. and Canada. “Learning how to maintain a true, heartfelt, consistent performance eight times a week for a year and a half is really something. It’s a different muscle.”

Long term, Whitehurst said she would love to be on Broadway, write and record music, and pursue film.

“I want to use my creative gifts in whatever way is allowed. The longer I’m doing this, the more I realize how little control I have over my life and the outcome of my life. The only thing I can do is love what I do, work hard and be gracious with my process.”

She shared other lessons learned on her journey as an artist and performer.

In the words of Anne Lamott, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.” I’m a recovering perfectionist. When I meet my standard, I’m on top of the world; when I miss the mark, I’m crushed. I’ve come to terms with the fact that in order to do anything well, you have to do it really poorly the first time. And getting caught up in being too afraid to make a mistake can keep you from doing anything worthwhile.

Growth is slow. No one sees a tree grow or its roots expand. This only happens slowly. And it’s the same with us. The deadline that we have in our head has to be continually surrendered again and again.

Fame is a lousy motivator. There are too many nos to be ruled by the rising and falling of public opinion. “What goes up must come down” applies to popularity too it seems, so we can’t tie our anchor to it. To write, sing, dance, speak, create in and of itself has to be the motivator and the prize.

The best friends are the ones willing to disagree with you. My growth and joy and thinking have been most enriched by those willing to show me my blind spots and then sit there with me. In college my idea of being loved was being affirmed no matter what. Since then I’ve found that the people I’ve benefited the most from are the people who are not content in letting me settle for what is comfortable.

You don’t have to sacrifice personal conviction for advancement.

You’d be amazed at the faithfulness of God. Do what you know is right even when you are unsure how it will be received.

Self-sufficiency is a fallacy. Barbra Streisand sings it well: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Needy — what a dirty word. If you find out you are really super, so embarrassingly needy, welcome to the club. Every person in the room with you is needy. And if you embrace your needs and start working on letting pretending go, admitting your need can show others they can need as well. And who knows — you each might have something the other needs.

“Check your check” is something a friend told me and it’s such good advice. Particularly as artists, when we first start, we are just so happy to get any kind of money to do what we love. Artists don’t see their work as just a pipe dream waiting to implode — it’s their trade. They make their living by their trade and that has to pay their electric bills. So, check your check.

Courtesy of Alison Whitehurst

Alison Whitehurst, on the red carpet for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, traveled all over the U.S. and Canada on tour. Courtesy of Alison Whitehurst

Send cards in the mail. It’s a gesture that goes a thousand miles literally and figuratively. I live really far away from many friends and family now, and every time I check the mail and have a letter that’s handwritten to me, it’s the best feeling. Receiving a letter means someone carved out this sacred space in their busy lives to manually write a sentiment that they mean especially for you. They seal it with their own saliva (how gross!), choose a stamp and walk to the mailbox to send it. So, you go out of your way to send a letter, and what a great way to show someone you care.

Do not weigh and measure people based on the value you think they have. You have no idea who people will turn out to be and what giants hide inside the unassuming. Some of the richest wisdom I’ve received in my life has come from people who seemingly have achieved “the least.”

Beauty comes from within. What a cliché, but I’ve learned this since college. Take it from the girl who has spent a lot of her postgrad life figuratively chained to a treadmill: If you do not have joy or hope because you’re constantly consumed with the endless maintenance of your wrapping paper, you might be in danger of wrapping an empty box.

Do something you’re not good at — regularly. I wish I had done more of this in college. It’s helped push against my pride that says be perfect or quit. It has strengthened my character by giving me the opportunity to marvel at others’ gifts and kill my sense of competition. Plus, you may end up getting better in the process.

Learn to tell the truth to yourself and others.

Journaling has been great for me. In my life there have been many things I was too afraid to share with others or even acknowledge to myself. Knowing yourself is hard business and takes time and courage. A journal has become this incredible space where I can be totally honest about my feelings, my doubts, my joys, my prayers. Sometimes seeing your own thoughts down on paper can take the teeth out of the scary things that roll around in your head and give you the perspective you need to see others more clearly. It’s just a safe space to work things out and it’s important to do so.

How do we adjust sails when the universe disrupts plans? This is a big question. We’re in a time that challenges our control and the comforts of “normal.” We’re worried for the wellbeing of our loved ones, wondering “how long?” and yes, we’re without a doubt mourning the loss of our plans, too. The drive for forward motion is deep. Thinking on the sails/boat metaphor, it made me wonder what actionable tools a fisherman caught in a storm would use.

Boating Safety Magazine says this: “Although you need to get to the dock as quickly as possible, once waves reach a certain height, safety dictates that you match the speed of the vessel to the speed of the waves. That means slowing down a lot. The more you reduce speed, the less strain will be put on the hull and superstructure… meaning less risk that portholes and windows will pop out or break… make slow but steady progress to the nearest port.”

Slow down the pace. Slow down the pressure. Relinquish the fight to make plans happen in an environment that requires stillness for our recovery. Be open to landing in a different port if it increases the promise of getting us all safely through it. The storm won’t last forever.