SHOSHANA BEAN made her Broadway debut in the original cast of Hairspray in 2002 and has since starred as both Elphaba in Wicked and Jenna in Waitress. But one gig she looks forward to each year is returning to her alma mater, Beaverton High School, to perform onstage with members of Thespian Troupe 1634 and other students from across the Beaverton School District to support the school’s performing arts program.

This annual concert has raised more than $50,000 for BHS performing arts. Although the 2020 event was canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dramatics reached out to Bean to learn more about her love for theatre, her experiences on Broadway, and why theatre education is so important to her.

“Kids deal with a lot of input these days — from media, from social media — there’s a lot coming at them all day, every day,” said Bean. “Theatre in schools gives community and connection but also a place to put all those feelings and be seen and heard. Not every kid is left-brained and adept at science and numbers, and not every kid is interested in sports. It’s important they have something they’re passionate about that gets them to come to school every day.”

Bean was a theatre kid through and through. She said, “I just loved to sing and dance and perform and put on costumes by nature. It was the way I entertained myself.”

Her grandmother introduced her to movie musicals, and soon she started dancing, followed by musical theatre in a local children’s group. One of her favorite memories was putting on a Christmas show each year in a restaurant on the top floor of Macy’s department store, then called Myra and Frank. From Thanksgiving until showtime, she said, “We were so involved in the making of the costumes and the sets, and we would go down there every weekend and just do show after show after show. It was intense, and it meant a lot of time with each other, and it was just really, really fun.”

Shoshana Bean (front) with the student performers at her alma mater, Beaverton High School.
Shoshana Bean (front) with the student performers at her alma mater, Beaverton High School. Photo courtesy of Beaverton High School.

Bean enjoys witnessing similar student collaboration and reliving that fun onstage with Beaverton High School Thespians each spring. Above all, she says she wants to give back to what helped her grow. “I know the qualities theatre education breeds will make them better people in the world and in the workplace, from discipline and responsibility to speaking in public and shoring up confidence. These are qualities you take through the rest of your life.”

For Bean, those qualities helped her score a dream job as Elphaba on Broadway. Last year, she returned to the Great White Way to play Jenna in Waitress. Asked to compare the two roles, Bean said, “It’s apples to oranges. One hides her insecurity with strength and bravado and a hardened outer shell, and one just escapes into her fantasy and hopes people don’t see her.”

The two characters presented different challenges. “Jenna gave me the opportunity to practice simplicity and stillness and vulnerability,” Bean said, “and Elphaba gave me the opportunity to just take the lid off and open up and be ferocious. … One similarity is that, like most lead characters, they are on a journey to figure out who they are and really own their power. Both women feel unseen and misunderstood, and I think a lot of people relate to that.”

Bean’s creative range is also represented on her albums, produced on her independent label, Shotime Records. Her discography runs the gamut from rock (Superhero, 2008) to blues (Shadows to Light, 2014) to her 2018 release, Spectrum, an orchestral jazz-R&B hybrid. Bean has arranged vocals for Jennifer Lopez, sung with Postmodern Jukebox, and performed alongside artists such as Ariana Grande, Brian McKnight, and Michael Jackson.

Broadway performer Shoshana Bean has helped raise more than $50,000 for the Beaverton High School performing arts department.
Broadway performer Shoshana Bean has helped raise more than $50,000 for the Beaverton High School performing arts department. Photo by Bradford Rogne.

Bean’s annual benefit concert also helps Beaverton students continue their studies in performing arts through college scholarships. “My scholarship took a lot of pressure off my family, and it felt like recognition for the years I put into my high school drama department,” said Thespian alum Kassi Savage, now enrolled at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Hollywood, California.

“It was also the best vote of confidence my teacher, Mr. Dery, and a performer as talented as Shoshana Bean could have given me going into a career in the performing arts,” Savage said, adding that “meeting [Bean] and helping her set up her concert on a high school stage I had performed on for four years was amazing and inspiring, and it made me feel really confident in my decision to pursue the arts.”

Bean looks forward to sharing that stage again with Troupe 1634 and other Beaverton student talent in years to come. In the meantime, she encourages Thespians everywhere to shine on.

“The advice I always give is just hard work and perseverance,” she said. “Continually educate yourself, look for inspiration to grow. Push your own limits and comfort zones, and then bounce back quick. You just gotta be resilient, keep plugging forward, and know above all else that who you are is enough.”

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