Austin P. McKenzie
Austin McKenzie took a circuitous path to stardom, with his career as an ASL interpreter leading to a breakout role in the hit musical "Spring Awakening" and culminating in a starring role on the gay rights movement miniseries "When We Rise" (ABC, 2017). Born on August 24, 1993 in Mesa, Arizona, McKenzie had a casual interest in music and theater, but never considered it as a viable career path. As a teenager, he worked summers at a camp for disabled children and adults, where his time assisting deaf and hard of hearing kids inspired him to become a special needs teacher. In 2014, McKenzie graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a bachelor in American Sign Language and Vocal Performance. Shortly after graduation, McKenzie applied for a job as an interpreter for an ASL-inclusive Los Angeles production of the hit musical "Spring Awakening." However, director Michael Arden had different ideas, and instead cast McKenzie in the show, as radical atheist Melchior Gabor. The production ran for two months, from September until November of 2014. The production was reprised at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, California from May until June of 2015, before finally heading to Broadway with a critically acclaimed run at the Brooks Atkinson Theater from September of 2015 until January of 2016. Soon thereafter, McKenzie booked his biggest role yet, playing gay rights activist Cleve Jones in the miniseries "When We Rise" (ABC, 2017), written and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, and based on Jones's own memoirs of the same name.