Interview: Broadway's Cheerleader-in-Chief Abby DePhillips on Pageants, Princess Parties, and Her Passion for Theatre
Abby DePhillips' passion for theatre has been a life-long affair, fueled by frequent trips to see shows and the strong connections that she's developed with the artists, both on and off the stage. As Broadway's cheerleader-in-chief, she's continued to spread that love far and wide, particularly with her work as a member of the Gagged Girl Gang. Read below to hear more about her background in pageants as Miss Teen United States, and the relationships she's built on stage, behind-the-scenes, and in the audience as one of Broadway's biggest fans.
How did you fall in love with the arts?
Oh my gosh, my mom has been taking me to shows since I was a baby. My earliest memory is actually a dress rehearsal of a high school production of Into the Woods that my mom was directing. I had to have been four years old. I remember loving the girl who played Little Red so much that years later my school was doing the show and I HAD to be Little Red Riding Hood. Theater has just always been all I’ve known and all I’ve wanted to be part of.
What did you study in college?
I went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy for acting for a year, and then actually had to leave due to some crazy health stuff happening. But I had fun while I wasn’t sick, haha!
How did you get your start competing in pageants?
I babysat for this amazing woman who knew a ton about pageants coming from a big pageant state. She insisted I competed, so when I was 17 I competed in my first state pageant. It was crazy and wonderful and exciting, and an absolute whirlwind. I mean, two years after that I found myself competing against girls from all over the world representing the United States. Definitely wouldn’t have expected that two years earlier.
What kind of work do you do professionally?
I do a bunch of random jobs! I work with The X Magazine, I’ll do hair and makeup for concerts or weddings, I work on Gagged Chokers, I work on the Broadway Princess Party, I just started producing shows, the list goes on! Getting to do things that make you super happy is the most fulfilling thing in the world, and when those things are your JOB it’s a literal dream.
How would you define collaboration?
Collaborations to me are so exciting. Getting to work with someone who is passionate about growing their business and sees something in your work that makes them excited is so wonderful.
What qualities do you look for in a collaborator?
I’m pretty open to any collaboration that seems like it’ll be a supportive environment. I want to work with people who are excited about their work AND excited about mine. I’m big on doing what you can to help other people out, and it’s great when it’s not only beneficial to your work but also fulfilling as well.
How did you meet the Gagged Girl Gang?
I met Courtney [Reed] working on the Broadway Princess Party, and met LJ [Wright] and Teale [Dvornik] hanging out in Courtney’s dressing room one day.
Which choker collection has been your favorite?
Oh goodness. My favorite collections were probably Broadway and Princess... two of my favorite things! Getting to pick out trim and cast our friends [for photo shoots] was so much fun.
What are the qualities of a Gagged Chokers fan?
Oh my gosh, the greatest humans ever. Gagged fans are smart girls who believe in empowering each other and supporting your fellow lady. They’re bold and brave and beautiful with abundant generosity, and I’m grateful for them every single day.
If you had any choice in the world, who would be your collaboration dream team? What kind of project would you work on?
I don’t know how or what the purpose would be, but I would love to collaborate with Lauren Conrad, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere, or Lauren Bushnell. I love the content they all create and I find myself so inspired by their blogs and books, especially Lauren Conrad’s “Celebrate”. Or if Kate Middleton wanted to do literally anything, I would most definitely be game, haha.
How would you describe a typical workday?
Nonexistent! I’ve never had a typical work day, which I think is so fun. I had a work day a few months ago that consisted of working on Gagged in the morning, heading to Chelsea for photo shoots with Bradley Gibson and Ramin Karimloo for The X, and then hopped in a car and rushed to Carnegie Hall to do Ali Ewoldt’s hair and makeup. There is just no consistency at all, haha.
What role does rapidly changing technology play in the arts?
I think the fact that we can hop on our phones, open the TodayTix app and buy tickets for a Broadway show an hour before curtain is insane. Or rush to see a favorite cover go on in a show after seeing a tweet from @Understudies. That is so crazy and wonderful to me. The accessibility of Instagram Live is pretty remarkable, too. You can watch Adam Kaplan hang out in his Bronx Tale dressing room before he goes onstage, or Christy Altomare during her Act 2 break at Anastasia. That kind of intimacy with Broadway stars just didn’t exist a few years ago.
How has the business of theatre changed over time?
There are so many jobs that didn’t exist before! Look at TodayTix— that’s an entire company there wasn’t a need for before smartphones. And without TodayTix, there wouldn’t be The X Magazine. I think as technology continues to evolve, the business of theatre is going to have to keep up!
What advice would you give artists starting out in the business?
Keep an open mind! I thought I wanted to be an actor and one day realized that was not the path I wanted. I didn’t give up on my dream or fail, I just realized my actual dream was bigger than I had initially realized. And my dream of being an actor led me to the dreams I have now. I think it’s just important to remember you are going to grow, and you don’t need to carve your plans in stone.
What's your most memorable moment as a member of Gagged Chokers?
Our first Broadway Flea Market. We wanted to go as a group, just for fun. We had launched Gagged two months before and figured there was a small chance we’d run into some Gagged fans so we brought along a few chokers just in case. Sure enough, we get there in the morning and were MOBBED. It was so crazy and magical and amazing, and we had no idea how many girls were supporting us. It was just the most special day.
Have you had any interesting or funny experiences on Broadway so far?
People think I’m in shows all the time, which is a hoot. People have thought I’ve been in Miss Saigon, which is pretty funny because all the women in that show (with the exception of two) are Asian. During Bandstand, a crazy amount of people thought I was Carleigh Bettiol which was the biggest compliment. I get told my performances are really special, although they’re entirely nonexistent, [laughs].
What would you say is your biggest achievement?
It sounds cliche but winning Miss Teen United States was definitely my biggest achievement. I felt like I was the cheerleader of my friends for so long, and it was the first time I kind of allowed myself to step into the spotlight for a minute to see what I was capable of. It just paid off in such a huge way. I was just getting out of a dark place when I was preparing for the National pageant. I just felt alone and useless for so long before that and to finally get to a good place and then have people who don’t know you at all basically say, “We see you. You’re a good role model, you’re a good girl, and this is your moment,” it was just huge for me. You definitely don’t need strangers to tell you your worth, and obviously the opinions of others don’t define you; but it felt really good to hear.
What's a piece of inspirational advice that you would give to other artists starting out in the business? And what's a piece of practical advice?
“Stay strong and humble and patient and trusting.” Laura Osnes gave me that advice when I was in high school. She couldn’t have been more right. Strength in yourself and trusting that what’s meant to be will always be is half the battle.
If you weren't involved with Broadway, what would you be doing?
Wishing I was involved with Broadway! Hehe, maybe something along the lines of event planning or baking? Or maybe hosting or writing or having a lifestyle blog? I have a million and one random interests, but all paths kind of end up back at Broadway.
Follow Abby on her adventures on Instagram at @abbydephilips. And read more about Courtney, LJ, Teale, and Caitlin as they continue to expand the Gagged Girl Gang! Thanks for tuning in to our #gaggedgirlstakeover this month, and keep an eye out for more features of fantastic artists in different disciplines from all over the world! #connectcollabcreate #artistssupportartists
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.