“Theater is a world where unpredictability so often gives way to fulfillment,” reflects Abigail C. Onwunali ’23 MFA. While pursuing a master’s degree in biomedical sciences, Onwunali realized that a career in medicine was not the right path for her. She decided instead to follow her love for performing at speech and debate competitions in high school and college. Without knowing exactly where this passion would lead, she enrolled as an acting student at David Geffen School of Drama.
“My first theater role was when I got to Yale,” she recalls. “It was a big shift from speech and debate, but one I was really excited about. I immediately felt at home.”
While at Yale, Onwunali served as the associate artistic director of the Yale Cabaret. She also wrote and performed in several original plays, including Udo, about an immigrant couple trying to create roots in their new country.
“As a Nigerian-American actor and playwright, I want to create stories built on resilience rather than trauma. Life is a hard journey but also a beautiful one. We need more stories that show how our lives can change for the better,” she says.
Upon graduation, Onwunali was honored with two of the school’s prizes: the Pierre-André Salim Prize, which is awarded to a student whose artistry and commitment to the community have inspired their colleagues and who shows distinct promise of raising the standard of practice in the field, and the Herschel Williams Prize in Acting, which is awarded to an acting student with outstanding ability.
This fall, Onwunali moved to New York City to pursue a career on Broadway. She quickly landed an understudy role for the world premiere of Jaja’s African Hair Braiding. “I want to bring to the stage stories that show what all of us can be capable of,” Onwunali says. “The support I’ve received at Yale has given me the confidence to believe that something great is coming and to know that I’ll be ready for it.”