Gerstell grad uses art to overcome adversity, change her school community

Even when donning her navy Gerstell Academy uniform blazer, crisp white Oxford shirt and pleated khaki skirt, Abigail Funk still finds a way to be an individual.

When asked about a cluster of items on her blazer during an interview just a week before graduation, Funk pushed back her wavy brown hair to reveal a lapel full of buttons and pins.

The left side is more tame, representing the many clubs and honors societies Funk is a member of: The Gerstell Academy Honors Society, The National Art Honors Society, la Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica (Spanish National Honor Society) and two small trees representing her involvement in the Oaks and Seedlings mentoring program.

The right side reveals Funk's quirkiness. One huge black and green button reads, "I sing," highlighting Funk's vocal ability. She's a mezzo-tenor.

The other pin she reads aloud. "Do I look like a people person?" she reads, quickly getting into character, as she lifts one eyebrow and gives a fun yet devious smile that could give Margaery Tyrell in "Game of Thrones" a run for her money.

Funk is not afraid to stand out, so it's no surprise the animated Gamber native will be studying acting when she heads to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the fall.

While some people get into the acting business seeking fame and fortune, Funk is looking to do something more. She aspires to change the world.

Though barely an adult, Funk, 18, is very sure of herself. The self-proclaimed feminist said she aspires to help revolutionize the way the media portrays the female body.

"I don't like the media's management of female body images," Funk said. "If change is going to happen, it is important it comes from people in the limelight. I want to be one of those strong women, confident in who she is and doesn't back down."

Funk said her matriculation at Gerstell Academy, a private college-prep school focusing on leadership, taught her the importance of making a difference and "taking on challenging roles."

Her show business "she-ros," Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence, reflect that idea. Neither actress allows the media attention to make her falter.

Funk is not afraid to take risks. Her ideal role is that of a villain.

"I identify a lot with the villains and the actors who play villains are often some of the nicest, sweetest people," Funk said. "A lot of the most terrifying villains are played by men, but if you get a woman angry enough, she can be the most terrifying villain."

In hopes for her someday breakout role as a villain, Funk started her preparation work early. Although Gerstell Academy has a drama class for the middle school students, at upper school — while there are choir, literature and visual art options — there was no creative space for theater.

"I was determined to not go through upper school without something to help me," said Funk, who has longed to pursue a career in acting since getting her first taste of it as a child.

Funk said she was "very theatrical" in her youth and spent many summers with her grandmother in Frederick putting on living room plays with some of her childhood friends. She also participated in three community theater plays putting on "The Little Mermaid," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Dracula Rock Show," a kids' musical adaptation of Bram Stoker's goth tale.

When she reached her freshman year in the upper school, Funk approached the administration to start a theater program.

Gary Slyman, head of the upper school at Gerstell Academy, said he was very supportive of Funk's idea to start a theater club and said she evoked leadership — a quality Gerstell Academy's mission is based on.

"Abi was determined to have a theater club," Slyman said. "I told her to bring me a proposal and find an adviser."

The first year, the theater club consisted of Funk and one other student, Funk's friend. But the pair started one of Gerstell's most well-known annual spring programs, Gerstell's Got Talent, and eventually added on dramatic reading, gaining more members.

By creating the theater club, Slyman said Funk did more than just impact the student body, but also the Carroll community.

"The events she put together, especially Gerstell's Got Talent, gave the ability for the middle school and upper school students to come together," Slyman said. "People know we have Gerstell's Got Talent [on an] annual basis, so they get ready for it and she helps to bring the community together on another level we didn't have that's not academic."

While acting has become her first love, Funk explores all art mediums: visual, writing and even spoken.

For her senior art project, Funk explored the theme of the human journey from darkness to light, which mirrors her own personal journey losing her father to a brain tumor at a young age and helping her mother successfully battle two bouts of breast cancer.

In the project Funk used mixed media, sculptures, paintings and even film to show a transition from depression and being limited by others' opinions to hope, faith, persevering and positivity, she said.

"It was a reflection of myself and a childhood fraught with challenges," Funk said. "A lot of people didn't get it was my story."

Molly Pollasch, visual arts teacher at Gerstell Academy, who has taught Funk since sixth grade, said the graduate is "a fantastic critical thinker," who can generate ideas and critique her own work.

"She's very self-aware, and in that way, she's very mature," Pollasch said. "She knows what she wants. She's very goal-oriented and is not afraid of adversity. ... She's a very mature artist."

Funk's love for art also reveals itself in her love for language, especially the romance languages.

"Optimally, the goal of the program is for our students to be functionally fluent [in Spanish] when they leave here," department chair Deborah Doyle said. "And Abi sets the bar high here."

During her senior year, Funk took a 600 level Spanish course, two levels over the requirement at Gerstell.

"Kids take an elective because they think they are going to be a lot of fun and a lot less demanding," Doyle said. "But the Spanish [elective] here is a lot more demanding and Abi chose to take it. She persevered."

During her high school years at Gerstell, Funk and a few other students taught Spanish to the pre-K and kindergarten students as weekly community service after the part-time Spanish teacher left the school.

Funk even gets to incorporate her acting into her Spanish lessons, acting an "I Love Lucy" skit in Spanish for some of the middle school students during a global leadership circle, Doyle said.

But in all of the ways Funk explores various mediums of art, she said, acting is her medium of choice.

"I chose acting, but in some ways acting chose me because I get to live vicariously through someone else," Funk said.

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