Making the Leap from Penn State to Broadway: Catching Up with 2016 Alum Ixchel Cuellar

Ixchel CuellarHow did you end up at Penn State?

Penn State has always had a significance in my life. My uncle played lacrosse at Penn State back in the day and he is a die-hard alum. Whenever I was at their house, I was surrounded by Penn State cups, blankets, tents, and pretty much anything you could think of with a Nittany Lion on it. So when Penn State was at LA unifieds, I decided to do a walk-in audition. I was originally put on the waitlist and was deciding between a couple of other schools. Then I got a call from Cary Libkin asking how I would feel about going to Penn State! At that moment it felt like my stomach fell out of my butt, I said yes, and the rest is history.  


What was your audition process for Finding Neverland like? 

It began in the beginning of March of my senior year. I had just closed 110 in the Shade and miraculously didn't have any classes on the Tuesday after we closed, so I decided to go into the city to audition for the West Side Story International Tour. My best friend/college roommate Kate Johnson decided to come with me to go to the Finding Neverland Equity Chorus Call. The WSS audition was at 2 p.m. and Finding Neverland was at 10 a.m. Kate convinced me to audition with her for Finding Neverland. I was super-reluctant at first because I didn't think that I was "right for it.” Kate was insistent that I go with her. So I auditioned in the morning and didn't think anything of it. Then about a month later I got a call from someone at Telsey and Co. asking if I would be willing to come back and dance for the team again. So I hopped on a bus to NYC, danced, then got an email that afternoon asking me to come back to sing and do sides. After I finished up, I felt good about what I did in the room but never expected to actually book it. Then at around 6:30 p.m. the next day, I was sitting in my room at 708 (my college apartment) and got a phone call from an unknown New York number. On the line was Patrick Goodwin from Telsey, offering me the vacation swing position in Finding Neverland! It was one of the most incredible moments of my life. 


Finding Neverland Cast

What is the biggest lesson that working on Finding Neverland taught you?

To trust myself. Because I was so young and new to the scene, I definitely had moments where I questioned my ability. Was I good enough? Would I be able to pick it up? But at the end of the day, I was doing a show, just like any show that I had done at Penn State or in high school. It was something that I’ve done before and had trained to do. I was totally ready for this moment! 


Any words of wisdom based on your audience/working experience that you would share with current/future grads?

Stay positive, driven, and humble.


What has been the most surprising thing about life in NYC? 

When I was in school I thought our crazy schedule was just a four-year thing! But now I feel like my schedule is even busier. The long days and the hustle never end, but I'm so happy. I'd rather be busy than bored!


How has your time at Penn State influenced the person you are today? 

The biggest influence that Penn State has had on me is definitely all the incredible people that have come into my life. The community at Penn State has truly inspired, challenged, and been my support system during my time at school and since graduation. I would be nowhere without these people.


What are you dreaming of next?

I want to salsa dance my way through Cuba. I want to become a certified massage therapist. It's so healing. I want to learn to heal people with my hands! 

I’ve always dreamed of starting a theatre school! It would be a school that taught music, theatre, dance, and self-empowerment. When I was young I went to a dance program called GRRRL Brigade, a dance/leadership development program. I want to bring a program like that to NYC. I want to bring high-quality theatre training to all young artists, combined with self-empowerment, to promote self-confidence, body awareness, and create positive, well-rounded human beings! 


What is happening right now that you are excited about?

I just started working at a new NYC fitness studio! Which I’m totally loving. It gives me a reason to really sweat it out every day, and dance around like the total crazy person that I am! 


What's coming up next?

In February, I’ll be going to the Fulton Theatre to do In the Heights. Then after that, who knows! This career is definitely a marathon—not a race—and so far it has been an incredible adventure. I can’t wait to see how this journey unfolds. 

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