Holding the Stage
Since graduating from Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Yewande Odetoyinbo M.F.A. ’18 has been one of the Boston theater scene's leading lights, receiving rave reviews for her performances in productions as varied as the free-love fantasia Hair, the Oz reimagination The Wiz, and the inspirational chronicle Breath and Imagination.
Hailing from Detroit, Odetoyinbo pursued her undergraduate degree in musical theater at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She stayed in the city for six years after graduating, working as a Zumba instructor and doing a few shows at various theater companies, before moving to New York City.
Eventually, she was cast in the now-defunct Fiddlehead Theatre Company's 2016 production of Show Boat. "A few weeks later, I found out that I had gotten into the Boston Conservatory, so I was like, 'Well, I might as well just move to Boston,'" she says.
Odetoyinbo, who lives in Roxbury, voiced the ravenous plant Audrey II in the Lyric Stage Company's 2019 production of Little Shop of Horrors. Also that year, she played the title character, a maid who grows close to her employer’s eight-year-old son, in the Moonbox Productions presentation of Caroline, or Change. "It was scary, because it was my first true lead role," she recalls. "And I was like, 'If the show goes up in flames, it’s my fault.'"
In addition to garnering sterling reviews for the way she powered through the genre-bending songs, Odetoyinbo received her first professional choreography credit. Her choreography work for Caroline and for the SpeakEasy Stage Company's 2019 production of Choir Boy (which she worked on during her Little Shop run) dovetails with her love of teaching: She continues to work as a Zumba instructor for adults and she leads dance lessons at a charter school in Dorchester. She hopes to expand her teaching to include classes for inner-city youth and to eventually open a performing arts school in her father's hometown of Osogbo, Nigeria.
"I just like the idea of giving people [lessons] who usually don’t have an opportunity to have dance classes or movement classes, or who can’t afford them," she says. "When I was young, I was able to do programs like Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit and get training at an early age, but a lot of people aren’t able to. To be able to offer that kind of training for free, or at a very reduced cost, to inner-city youth is amazing."
Following the February run of Hair with the New Repertory Theatre, Odetoyinbo returns this June to Moonbox, appearing in the rock musical Passing Strange. Until then, she's keeping busy with auditions around the country—and staying grounded. "My parents came to see [Caroline]," she recalls, "and my dad, who’s my toughest critic, said, 'Oh, the choreography was so good. It was really good.' And I was like, 'Great. What about Caroline?' And he said, 'Uh, you’re getting there.'"
She laughs. "I was like, 'Okay.' He keeps me humble."
This article appeared in the spring 2020 issue of our alumni magazine, Berklee Today.