LOUISVILLE — Actress Charnette Batey has come full circle.
More than 10 years ago, she was a student in New Albany High School's theater program. Today, she is back in the area to perform in the touring Broadway production of a hit musical.
Batey is on tour with "Hamilton," the Tony Award-winning musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton. She is both an ensemble member and an understudy in the production, which started Tuesday and runs until June 23 at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in Louisville.
From a young age, she loved singing, dancing and performing onstage, and she eventually cultivated her passion for musical theater in high school. The 2008 NAHS graduate was involved with many shows through the school's theater program, including the title role in NAHS's and Floyd Central High School's joint production of "Aida" in 2007.
She continues to feel a strong connection with that production of "Aida," which was a formative experience for her as a high school student.
"I feel like that formed not only my love for musical theater, but helped me to love myself," Batey said. "When I can see myself in a character and learn and expand through that experience, I'm just drawn to that. Having the opportunity at a young age in high school is just like, OK, this is what I want to do. I want to be this present, I want to share stories, I want to make people feel things. This role, this job, this is it."
In high school, Batey attended the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Neb., and she successfully auditioned for Indiana University's musical theater department. When she was accepted into the program, she knew she would dive into a career in musical theater.
Batey graduated from IU with a BFA in musical theater, and after a couple of months, she made the decision to move to New York City. She went to every audition she could. She performed in a production of "Dreamgirls" about three years after moving to the city, and she toured with Broadway casts of "The Book of Mormon" and "Seussical."
She got the role in "Hamilton" after about a year of auditioning. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show's creator, eventually watched her audition tape, and he approved the casting of Batey in the touring Broadway cast.
"I was just jumping up and down screaming — it was me and my dog in my apartment by myself," she said. "I told my mom — I was just so excited. I felt really proud of myself that I had made this happen, and I knew it was my time. It just felt really good. I felt very satisfied."
While she is in the ensemble most nights, Batey is also the understudy for the leading women roles in the production, including the Schuyler sisters. On Thursday night, she got to perform as Eliza Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton's wife, in front of family and friends. Her mother had seen her in the role of Angelica Schuyler, another leading role, at a previous performance, but Thursday was the first night she watched her as Eliza.
She said she was emotional and overjoyed to play the role in Louisville.
"It was really awesome," she said. "I could not believe that I was taking that final bow as Eliza in my hometown at the Kentucky Center. It was a really beautiful full-circle moment for me."
Although being on the road can be tough, Batey enjoys being able to have new experiences and meet new people as she travels to various cities on tour, and she likes being able to bring the show to audiences around the country. She is also a yoga teacher, so she finds a yoga studio in each city to feel at home.
"Hamilton" is also one of the most challenging jobs she's ever had, and as an understudy, she is typically in rehearsal one to three times a week in addition to performing on a nightly basis. It's worth all of the time and hard work, she said, and she likes being able to say that she plays all of the Schuyler sisters in "Hamilton."
Batey loves being able to share a story and "to make people feel something" as a performer. She said the story of "Hamilton" resonates with her, since it is about someone who defies the odds to pursue his dream.
"Coming from the small town of New Albany and really having to fight for my dream and work hard, it's just so rewarding and such a huge payoff for me to be able to come back home and share my dream and inspire people with all that I've been able to make happen," she said.
As an actress and singer, learning to trust herself has been important to Batey throughout the years, and she hopes to send that message to others.
"It's really easy to doubt yourself, but the thing that was a game changer for me was just trusting in my abilities, trusting my worth and trusting that I am enough," she said.