In junior high, Kayla Davion decided she wanted to be an R&B artist, but didn’t get passionate about it until she was heading to high school. While in high school, she met her friend Brenton Smith and with his encouragement she pursued her music goals, writing new songs daily and recording on some his tracks. She was convinced that a record label would sign her.
In her senior year, Kayla found theatre. She had only been in one play in high school and a small production when she was 10. She was asked to audition for an All State Theatre production of Memphis and got the role.
That production changed her life. She never knew African-American women could be leads in a show and had no clue that shows could actually talk about the passion of music. It was then that she knew she couldn’t go back to anything besides theatre.
Just three and a half years ago, Kayla Davion was attending Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana with big dreams of performing on Broadway one day. Kayla is currently playing an Ikette in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, where she appears in the ensemble and understudys the role of Tina. Her Broadway credits include King Kong and Waitress, appearing in the ensembles of both shows and understudying the roles of Ann Darrow and Dawn respectively.
N’DIGO chatted with Kayla Davion recently and discussed her journey from Ball State University to the bright neon lights on Broadway.
N’DIGO: At what age did you start singing? Does anyone else in your family sing?
Kayla Davion: I started singing around the age of seven. I was raised singing in church where my dad was the pastor. I would say I inherited my voice from my mother. I always like to say if anyone thinks I’m good, to just know that my mom is 10 times better.
Is there a certain teacher in high school that you would like to acknowledge for recognizing your talent?
Ah, there are so many teachers I would want to acknowledge, but to name a few in high school: my choir teacher Mr. Eugene and the pianist Ms. Pawlak, and my director and theater teachers Mr. Rose and Mr. Wall.
Were you amazed to find yourself on Broadway right after graduating from college?
I was completely amazed, but also in remembrance that it was something my mother and I prayed for. We specifically prayed that I would leave college and book a Broadway show and that is exactly what happened! I didn’t know much about Waitress beforehand when I was initially asked to audition, but I got to go see the show before I went in, which gave me more insight.
Most theater majors gravitate toward local theater after graduation. Was Broadway part of the game plan when you attended Ball State? And why?
It was a long-term goal of mine because I knew it was one of the top tiers of my career. However, I did plan a short-term goal of moving to Maryland with my mother and doing regional theatre out there while taking the train occasionally to the city to audition.
What about this experience has surprised you the most thus far?
Honestly, the time-frame of the experience and also covering lead roles. My only training that I received in regards to theatre was in college. There were many people that were more experienced so the fact that it happened so fast for me and that I was able to do so much in such little time is insane to me…in the best way.
Who or what continues to inspire you most as an artist and why?
What inspires me honestly is all of the ordinary artists. The ones who do theatre not for the accolades, but because they want to continuously touch lives and find healing in playing on stage while learning about what it takes to truly listen to a person and to actually hear them. I think what is inspiring about theatre is that it really can touch so many people and it makes people feel seen. It makes people look up and say, “Hey, I’m not alone.”
Talk about your transition from Waitress to King Kong. Do you have set days to audition for other shows? How are you made aware of other auditions?
First and foremost, I have an amazing agency that I work with who book me auditions for shows. The hard part is that I have to find time to audition while also being in a show. That means super early auditions and also attending auditions on my only off-day.
Each show, when they are auditioning candidates, has a time frame in which they are planning on casting people. The transition from Waitress to King Kong was fairly easy for me. I ended up putting in my notice to leave the show in advance so that they could find a replacement for me and I started King Kong two weeks after. Waitress was a wonderful experience. It was sad to leave, but I also needed to leave so that I could expand my experiences.
You were the understudy for the lead role in King Kong. Did you ever go on as the lead? Were you nervous?
I went on as the lead quite a bit. I was actually not nervous at all. This was at a point in my life where I decided that fear is a crutch and was not an option because I had put in the work to make sure I was already prepared. I believe in the phrase that says, “Stay ready so you never have to get ready.”
What made you want to take on this opportunity?
Well I think Tina Turner herself is a huge inspiration to many. She demonstrates kindness and strength as well as triumph and hard work. I value those core beliefs.
How do you prepare for high-intensity performances as one of the Ikettes?
I trained with a physical trainer for about two-three months while finishing up my time at King Kong.
How are you coping with the physicality of the show: the heels for instance, and the choreographic demands?
Oh man, it is pretty hard, I am not going to lie. This show demands that you really take care of your body. You have to get sleep and stretch and make sure you are giving your body the nutrition it needs in order for it to process in this highly intense show.
What would be an dream vacation for you?
Spain. I would love to go to Barcelona for a month.
How important is it to have your family’s support?
VERY. I think that when your family says they believe in you and they show that by doing what they can to make sure you know that, it just means the world. It makes you feel valued.
I take it you trust your instincts, or is it mainly having favor in your life?
Both. I think God has given me a great amount of discernment when it comes to making big decisions in my life. If something doesn’t feel right, I say no, and it usually always works out in the end for me. I feel that if it’s meant to be, it will happen. Period.
Do you keep your voice in tip-top shape doing your performances?
Oh, absolutely! Sometimes it can be hard because we are constantly busy and our voices get really tired, so I have to warm up my speaking voice as well as my singing voice so I can use it to the best of my ability.
Of the many things you do, which one makes your heart beat the fastest?
Any kind of dancing, or when I get a call for the first time saying im on for the lead!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read, seen or listened to recently?
The most interesting thing I’ve read lately is this book called Draw the Circle. It was written by Mark Batterson and its a 40-day prayer challenge. It gives you daily devotions and restructures how you see the world and God. It’s been a great discipline for me in terms of praying and gaining a deeper relationship with God.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like to sleep, hang with friends, or go to the movies. If it’s hot out, I love a park. I love being by water and occasionally I go to a spa and unwind.
Seeing live theater is a unique, exceptional, and rewarding experience. Why should people seek out Tina when they are in New York?
People should see Tina because many people think they walk in knowing all about her life and in actuality leave learning so much more. They learn about how struggle becomes victory and how optimism and believing in your passion leads to triumph!