An enlightening and intimate discussion on Thursday afternoon with award-winning Hamilton actress Renée Elise Goldsberry marked the start of a celebratory weekend of two sold-out performances by the star.
Goldsberry’s warmth and candor captivated students who came to hear the star discuss her life and career in the performing arts. Following the candid conversation, the Tony- and Grammy-winning performer entertained an enthusiastic audience in events sponsored by the Cooper Series.
The chance to talk shop behind the scenes offered students insight on the importance of following artistic passion, the role of ambition, and the perils of fame.
“Develop the skills and muscles to do what you’re doing where you are,” said Goldsberry, who originated the role of Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton and also starred in Broadway’s The Color Purple, Rent, and The Lion King.
“Follow your passion … it’s your best bet,” she advised. “I’m blessed with a measure of talent … but my career is a testament to grace and showing up. It’s important to remember that the sky is the limit for the amount of success you can have. Don’t say no to yourself.”
During the hour-long event in the Lang Concert Hall, Goldsberry was asked about her early experiences with failure.
It strengthened her resolve, she said: “The value of failing is that it teaches us humility and compassion.” Fully embracing the highs and lows of her career and continuing to search for the lesson of those moments was a theme that ran through her thoughtful, lively, and often funny presentation.
“What I found encouraging was that Renée repeatedly stated that she has had to overcome a lengthy series of challenges on her way to her current level of success, and, moreover, she’s not afraid of discussing her own personal difficulties,” says Ash Shukla ’22, from Fort Wayne, Ind. “Her stories about experiencing self-doubt and even failure really recontextualized her stories of opportunity and success in a way that felt much more real and impactful to me. I’m extremely grateful now to have been able to hear Renée share her wisdom and insights in such a frankly intimate environment.”
Now immersed in life of public recognition, Goldsberry is cautious about fame, calling it dangerous, fleeting, and confusing. On the streets of her hometown New York City, Goldsberry is often embraced and celebrated. “People give you free stuff and love you for no reason,” she joked.
Knowing she wanted to be a performer since age 8 has helped her direct her own career, Goldsberry said. She often focused on her résumé—“checking off boxes” and earning awards and accolades. But time and success have made her become more circumspect.
“Ambition … it’s fuel,” she said. “But just by the nature of it, it means you will always have a slight dissatisfaction. The world will always say there is never enough of anything … you need to say, ‘I’m good, I have enough.’”
Even so, Goldsberry allowed that ambition is a valuable tool.
Naja Smith ’20, a sociology & anthropology major from Gretna, La., wanted to hear about Goldsberry’s experiences working with Oprah Winfrey. “Oprah is using her blessing to be a blessing to someone else,” said Goldsberry, who admitted to “freaking out” when she first met the television and film star. The revelation inspired laughter, as did many of the celebrity’s anecdotes.
Sharing her own journey with students has been a touchstone of her success, she told the audience. “You have to tell yourself that you believe in yourself,” Goldsberry said. “We have to be the difference, and we need to tell our stories.”