Student Blog: Sharing Their Stories: An Interview With Edima Essien



How do you shift from GPAs, grades, and dorm rooms to living as a working actor in the professional world? Well, for Edima Essien, everything starts with connection...

Hello Broadway lovers, creators, and theatre students around the world! Welcome back to the blog, and to my favorite segment: Sharing Their Stories. Over the last year, I've shared the journeys and artistic discoveries of notable artists in my DC area, and around the world. Every person I've had the honor to speak with carries unique experiences and perspectives about the constantly changing world of the arts. I hope their stories serve as inspiration, demystification of the road to artistic success, and as fuel to keep creating.

Since beginning Sharing Their Stories, I've gotten the opportunity to interview scores of incredible theatre creators, all established and highly successful in their chosen career paths. Whether it's ½ of BroadwayHusbands (shoutout to Bret Shuford!) or Rattlestick's Artistic Director (Daniella Topol!), these artists' work brightens the theatrical community every single day. Their success inspires others to keep chasing the dream. But in a world of unemployment, student debt, and general pandemonium, how can today's newest graduates find their own paths to success? I've been majoring in theatre for three years yet imagining next year's graduation terrifies me. The journey post-diploma feels incredibly overwhelming. How do you shift from GPAs, grades, and dorm rooms to living as a working actor in the professional world? Well, for Edima Essien, everything starts with connection. Professional connections with other artists, emotional connections with friends and family, and inner connections to your own strength and authenticity.

"Know your worth. If you are doing your job as an actor which is to audition for everything, make connections, go to workshops, talkbacks, going to see shows...then everything else will follow" - Edima

Edima Essien is making waves. Since graduating from University of Maryland in May 2021, she's already worked with Baltimore Center Stage, Imagination Stage, Theatre Washington, The Kennedy Center, and many more. She proves daily that the power of networking, persistence, and kindness will take you far in the post-undergraduate journey. Her commitment to both herself and her craft inspires me to continue pushing forward...and maybe fear graduation a little less. Here's the story of Edima's first year since graduating, starting with...

SUMMER: "I think the biggest thing I've learned in my year post-graduation is the power of connection, the power of making a great first impression and leaving a project with someone wanting to work with you again." Every project Edima embarked in her year post-grad started with the connections she made during her time in college. "In school, because it was still a pandemic, I had garnered a lot of experience doing admin work/internships with local arts organizations," making relationships that would help her in the year to come. She began using those connections in her summer jobs, working administrative positions with arts organizations like Imagination Stage and Young Artists of America. As the summer continued, Edima knew she had choices to make. "All throughout the summer, I was trying to I want to apply for more full-time, artistic administrative roles? Or go for more part-time jobs that allow me the chance to audition?"

Throughout this interview, Edima emphasized the power of external connections in propelling her theatrical career. However, I think this decision spoke to the importance of Edima's internal connections, that deep self-bond in which you look inward to decide what makes you the happiest. In this case, Edima knew her passion lied with performance- and she pursued it. "This is where I feel like my journey of auditioning for projects started." Using the insight and influences of college mentors and teachers, Edima attended several open calls in the area, including for theatres like The Kennedy Center, Olney, and Adventure Theatre. She also performed in Overtures, the musical theatre intensive at Signature Theatre. "It instilled a lot of confidence in my artistry in a post-college setting, teaching me what I can apply to my process as an actor going forward." Armed with part-time work, past training, and a new audition song from Overtures, Edima headed into...

FALL: As the summer waned and fall began, Edima left her position with Imagination Stage to seek work closer to her home in Ellicott City. She was starting to receive offers for full-time positions while balancing audition requests for shows in the area. Edima followed her talent and initial instincts. "Even though that audition request wasn't a guarantee, I still thought, 'okay I need to instill more confidence in myself and what I want as a performer. And that's the flexibility to act.'" Edima turned down the full-time offers and continued auditioning. She took classes at Theatre Lab DC, learning both vital audition and self-promotion skills. "There are so many audition services in this area that aren't talked about. Keep doing that research...because training and networking must continue to propel your career forward." While auditioning, training, and promoting herself as an actor...Edima also worked three part-time jobs at various theatres. Following her instinct to pursue part-time work (especially in theatre) paid off, as it led to Edima's next performance opportunity.

One of the theatres Edima worked at announced Dreamgirls as part of their upcoming season. "I'm like, oh, wouldn't this be cool if I auditioned for their show?" Skip ahead a few self-tapes and callbacks, and Edima found herself in rehearsals for Dreamgirls with ArtsCentric at Baltimore Center Stage- her first professional production since college. It was working on Dreamgirls that unlocked more valuable connections, external and internal alike. "It was honestly the best experience. I learned...and I think this is advice I'd want to pass on to college students today...know what type of actor you want to be, you have agency to choose which productions serve you. Be in the spaces that you want to be in. For myself, even growing up, I'd never been in a production with a majority of black artists...where the majority of people look like me." Dreamgirls opened on November 16th, leading into....

WINTER: During the rehearsal process for Dreamgirls, Edima received some tragic news. "A really big part of my story, post-graduation, is that my grandmother passed away...while I was in the middle of Dreamgirls." Edima put her career on hold, travelling to Nigeria to honor her grandmother's legacy. "Being an artist, you devote so much of yourself to your craft, but you also need to make space to take care of yourself. In the past, I'd probably think 'no, I'm not going to Nigeria, I'm doing a show.' But I think there was something instilled in me- and upon reflection of the pandemic- where I was just like... 'no, I'm going to Nigeria to honor everything my grandmother, both my grandparents, did to immigrate to the US so I can live the life I have today." Following her instinct led to family connections, healing, and the next part of Edima's story.

While in Nigeria, Edima received an email from the Kennedy Center, asking about a project she'd submitted herself for months ago. "You need to submit for everything, because you never know what will come back to you later." Kennedy Center wanted Edima to audition for Beastgirl, a new musical about the mythological, geographic, and ancestral identities of three first generation American sisters. "This audition request happening while I was in Nigeria, trying to reconnect with my roots and Nigerian just felt like the stars were aligning." Edima navigated the callback process, receiving the role of "Eji" in a show that led to more connections- this time to a greater theatrical purpose. "I realized that the things I'm empowered to be in are projects highlighting underrepresented voices and stories. It's time for people who have never seen themselves onstage to hear their stories told." Dreamgirls closed and Beastgirl began, which led into...

SPRING: As Beastgirl drew closer to its opening day, Edima continued exploring what it means to be a true creative in this industry. "The process of building a new musical has instilled in me confidence about what I bring to the table, and how much of myself I can bring into the space. It's all about doing the work." After weeks of musical and character development (both in and outside the rehearsal room), Beastgirl opened and enjoyed an incredibly successful run. Now, Edima looks forward to her summer project, Mr. Popper's Penguins with Imagination Stage. What happens after that? Well, that leads into...

TODAY: I logged off Edima's interview feeling slightly starstruck. I remember taking classes with Edima at UMD, watching her graduate and prepare to face the world. Now, she's already grown and accomplished an incredible amount in just a year. She moves through the professional world with incredible insight, talent, and an awareness of what projects help her thrive. Edima represents what it means to succeed in the world post-graduation. It's not about knowing exactly what comes next or nailing every single audition. Instead, it's about continuing to study your craft, market yourself, make connections, and begin to craft your own path. Then, like Edima, we too can successfully navigate the crazy world of post-collegiate theatre.


"It's a luxury to only be able to act. Most actors have side hustles and day jobs, so have multiple streams of income. If you're not secure in your personal life, it shows in your acting. You can't pour yourself into something else if your own glass is half full."

"Define what success looks like for you, not for others. Comparison is the thief of joy."
"As much as acting can define you, remember that you're also a human being. The saving grace for me this year has been the support of my friends and family. Careers are cool but dealing with real-life stuff and outside relationships are important too."

"Once people see you and know you're talented, they will call you in again and again. Be ready. Have songs in your toolbelt squared away. Know what material represents you the best."
"This entire acting thing is just being in the right place and the right time and knowing what you want to say yes to. If you keep training and investing in your craft, you have to trust that things will come."