Meredith College Celebrates Beth Leavel as 2023 Woman of Achievement

Meredith College welcomed Tony Award-winning alumna Beth Leavel back to campus on April 4 to receive the 2023 Woman of Achievement Award. A celebration of the award was held at 7 p.m. in Jones Auditorium. Earlier in the day, Leavel also visited with theatre classes and answered questions from students.

Leavel, a 1977 graduate of Meredith, is an accomplished Broadway performer who will next be seen starring as Miranda Priestley in the new Broadway musical, The Devil Wears Prada, with music by Elton John. 

President Jo Allen, ’80, presented Leavel with the award, recognizing her success in the arts. Leavel won a Tony Award in 2006 for her performance as the title character in The Drowsy Chaperone. Most recently, Leavel was nominated for a 2019 Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critic’s Circle award for her performance as DeeDee Allen in the critically acclaimed Broadway show The Prom.  

After the presentation, Leavel was interviewed about her career by Meredith Professor Emerita Catherine Rodgers, an alumna of the Class of 1976 and former head of the theatre department. 

Rodgers and Leavel are longtime friends who met as students at Meredith. They first performed together in a Meredith children’s theatre production of Winnie the Pooh in which Rodgers played the title role and Leavel played Rabbit.

“That show at Meredith was when I found out the power getting a laugh had over me,” Leavel said. 

Beth Leavel with Meredith theatre students and facultyEvery actor has a singular journey and Leavel is grateful for her Meredith experience. “Meredith College gave me the freedom to explore. I was given opportunities in my passion that I wouldn’t have gotten at a huge school.”

She “performed in every show” while earning a degree in sociology and social work, with a minor in theatre. During her senior year, Leavel decided to pursue an acting career.

Her social work training has also been beneficial in her acting career. “Social work training is in listening and responding –which is all acting is – listening and responding,” Leavel said. 

Rodgers asked Leavel, who has been in 13 Broadway productions so far, if she still gets nervous performing.

“It’s normal to be nervous. If I’m not nervous, I don’t have any fuel, and if I don’t have any fuel, I won’t be very good,” Leavel said. “You just can’t let that fuel get in the way of the joy. Keep the energy and excitement you get from the nervousness and don’t let it go to fear.”

When asked about the secret to being a successful actor, Leavel said there isn’t a secret – it is the same attributes that bring success in any other profession.

“You have to show up on time. Be professional. Be kind, be dependable, be a good listener, a good responder. Be willing to change and take direction,” Leavel said. She emphasized the importance of being kind so people will want to work with you again. 

“The secret to being a successful actor is the same as the secret to being a responsible, good employee, adult, artist,” Leavel said. 

Leavel also talked about changes in the theatre profession over the years, including the way once commonplace objectifying of female performers has lessened. 

“It has changed and is still changing. Women are claiming their power now,” Leavel said. “I’m working with many more women directors, women conductors, women writers, women lyricists. It’s time.”

Meredith Plans Arts Venue Renovations
President Allen announced during the event honoring Leavel that the College is launching a fundraising effort to renovate Jones Auditorium, which was built in 1949. Funding will lead to the creation of the Meredith College Performing Arts Center. 

About the Woman of Achievement Award
Meredith College’s Woman of Achievement Award recognizes women who are inspirational role models. Previous recipients include Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker, N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, journalist Judy Woodruff, Tony Award-winning choreographer Twyla Tharp, and chef Vivian Howard.

Melyssa Allen

News Director
316 Johnson Hall
(919) 760-8087
Fax: (919) 760-8330