From Tawes to the Big Screen: Alumna Abigail Hawk ‘04 remembers her time at the University of Maryland

November 1, 2017

You may recognize her as Detective Baker, on CBS’ hit TV show Blue Bloods. Abigail (Gustafson) Hawk ‘04 knew she wanted to be an actor ever since she played Gretl in a community theatre production of The Sound of Music. She spent her formative years of actor training while an undergraduate in the University of Maryland’s Theatre program.


Abbie majored in Theatre performance; she was also in the College Park Scholars program and received a citation in Life Sciences. She chose the University of Maryland because of the Bachelor of Arts (BA) Theatre program, choosing a liberal arts education rather than the conservatory style that is typical of Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs. She feels that this approach made her education more well-rounded and gave her the opportunity to study other subjects that helped shape her worldview. She was interested in Life Sciences and even completed a work study trip during her sophomore year to study lizards in Belize. Being able to combine her theatrical training with coursework in humanities and sciences taught her to think beyond herself. The people she met through her various courses of study expanded the world she knew in her hometown of Atlanta before coming to the University of Maryland.


Abbie performed in the last show in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies’ old home in Tawes Hall--that show was Suburbia, directed by Karl Kippola. During her time at UMD, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center opened in 2001, and she remembers the excitement around this brand new, state-of-the art facility. She recalls the extensive resources available to Theatre students at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, where she spent many hours researching everything from Shakespearean costume to obscure plays and new technologies. With the opening of the new performing arts center, she felt like she grew into a community of performing arts students and faculty.


Suburbia, directed by Karl Kippola, November 2000


Abbie is grateful for her experience with her professors in the Theatre program. “They were all nurturing, but they also didn’t hold our hands. They prepared us for the difficulties ahead in the theater world.” She remembers Professor Mitchell Hébert pushing her out of her comfort zone in a class in which she played Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. “I had the hardest time relating to her. But Mitch helped me discover where we intersected and I learned to let go through the process,” she says.


She also remembers a performance of Sophisticated Ladies, directed by Professor Scot Reese, when all the lights went out--but the show had to go on! They finished the performance full costume and make-up, entirely in the dark, thanks to a dedicated student crew and a determined cast.


Sophisticated Ladies, directed by Scot Reese, October 2003


She had an epiphany in Professor Adele Cabot’s Shakespeare course while performing a Richard III monologue--after months of learning intense warm-ups, vocal work, and character work, the process finally came together for her. She understood how all the pieces helped her reach the one goal of preparing a character for the stage.  


After graduating, Abbie moved to New York City to pursue her career in acting. She struggled for years, working in retail to support herself. In 2010, she was contracted to guest star on Blue Bloods in role of Detective Baker, assistant to the NYPD Police Commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck). The one-time gig became a full role, and she is now in her eighth season of the show. She has also starred in the TV movie comedy A Christmas in Vermont (2016) and the comedy Almost Paris (2016), for which she won the Best Actress Award at the Hill Country Film Festival.


These days, Abbie is more focused on television than theater because, as she says, “that’s where the work is.” She also appreciates the more flexible schedule that comes with working in television, so she has more time to be with her family and raise her two children (now ages 5 and almost 1).  (And the steady income doesn’t hurt, either.)  She does, however, miss the sense of community in theater that comes from developing a story arc together during long rehearsal hours and the singular shared experience that only a live performance in front of an audience can provide.


Abbie is still in touch with her classmates, and she is struck by how they have all succeeded, in various ways. Some are actors, some are directors, some are educators, some are producers, and some have gone on to embrace leadership roles in their communities. She says that the sense of camaraderie that she still feels with her fellow classmates keeps her grounded and reminds her why she does this work. She says,


“This work – our work as artists - is the means by which we express our collective humanity; art shows us our fragility, our resilience, our constant hunger, our ability to laugh, our ability to regret...  Our work in the arts is healing and vital. I wouldn’t trade my dear friendships with fellow alumni for anything – they are some of the most insightful, inspiring, indomitable souls I have ever had the privilege of knowing.”  

Abbie will return to TDPS on Wednesday, November 29 to give a master class to students. She will talk about her path--where she comes from, where she is now, and where she may be headed next. She has some sage words of advice for students who are just starting out their careers in the performing arts:


“Don’t be afraid. Go where the work is. Be patient. And always be yourself!”

Abbie as Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet,

directed by Carey Upton, March 2003

Abbie in Moisés Kaufman’s The Laramie Project, directed by Adele Cabot, November 2002


By Kate Spanos