Arts and Entertainment

Art Focus: Anya Whelan-Smith

By Denebola
Published: April 2009

The stars of NBC’s The Office, John Krasinski and B.J. Novak, may not be the only Newton South alums making it big as actors. With graduation approaching for this aspiring actress, senior Anya Whelan-Smith is ready for a promising future in theatre and film.

Whelan-Smith’s aptitude for acting began at the mere age of four years old, when a passionate Whelan-Smith performed one-woman shows and enjoyed dressing up in costume. Later, she began her acting career with the regional theatre in Brookline as an eight-year-old, during which she performed in her first production, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. “I had maybe two lines, and I remember dancing in a bunch of ballroom scenes without a partner, Whelan-Smith said.

More recently, Whelan-Smith performed with the Boston Playwright’s Theatre, playing a small but crucial role among a cast of five adults in A Blessing and a Curse. The show premiered during the first two weeks in March at the Boston Playwright’s Theatre.

While Whelan-Smith continues to star in productions outside of school, she is also an active participant of South Stage, performing in numerous shows over the years. With every production comes the chance to demonstrate her skills as an actress, as well as to pursue a passion.
Whelan-Smith appeared in South Stage’s Guys and Dolls in February, playing Adelaide, one of the female leads. The highly rated show challenged both Whelan-Smith and the cast with strenuous dancing, singing, and acting. This past November, Whelan-Smith took on the role of Helen Keller’s mother, Kate Keller, in the heartfelt production of the The Miracle Worker, as well. She is also directing her own show, Women and Wallace, at Newton South’s Student Directing festival at the end of April.

For inspiration, Whelan-Smith examines both Meryl Streep, nominated this year for best actress, and Johnny Depp, whose eccentric and outlandish characters continue to amaze her. Additionally, her favorite play is Equus by Peter Schaffer, although Whelan-Smith admits the greatest production she has ever seen is August: Osage Country.

Whelan-Smith’s natural love for theatre is the quintessence of true artistic passion.

“[Art] has the power to inspire us, evoke our emotions, and ultimately reflect on our own lives. I love theatre specifically because it is the art form that is centered most on communication; its template is dialogue, and its essence is relationship. Theatre forces people to connect, Whelan-Smith said.

Apart from singing and dancing, Whelan-Smith’s favorite element of theatre is acting. Though she admits dancing is fun and that she’s an avid fan of musicals, Whelan-Smith finds that her true passion is to captivate the audience without song or dance.

Aside from voice lessons outside of school, Whelan-Smith takes theatre classes offered at Newton South.

“To me, theatre is the opportunity to explore different worlds and put myself in other people’s shoes. It is a consistent reminder of how important connections and relationships are, Whelan-Smith said.

Though Whelan-Smith participates in a wide variety of shows during the school year, the personal liberty of summer vacation allows her to venture into other areas of interests.

Whelan-Smith has spent most of her summer vacations at an over-night camp that did not emphasize theatre, choosing to pursue acting during the school year rather than over the summer.
However, during the summer after her junior year, Whelan-Smith participated in a five-week intensive drama-training program at Northwestern University, formally called the National High School Institute of Cherubs Program.

“I was completely immersed in acting training from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday and then had rehearsals for five hours at night, Whelan-Smith said. During her time at the program, Whelan-Smith participated in labor-intensive exercise. Her workouts lasted for three hours a day, normally including running, yoga, and Suzuki. While the exercise seemed slightly out of the ordinary for Whelan-Smith, the program claimed grueling exercise would make the participants better actors and actresses.

“It was bizarre but equally amazing, Whelan-Smith said.

This summer, Whelan-Smith will be performing in a Newton Summer Stage drama, Rabbit Hole and will play the role of Becca. She also plans to travel with friends, and, perhaps, find a job at a clothing store before venturing off to college. “I’ll be majoring in theatre no matter what, hopefully as a double with English, Whelan-Smith said.

After college, Whelan-Smith is interested in pursuing a career in acting, but is aware of the hard work and the ambition necessary to become successful.

Nonetheless, Whelan-Smith loves acting too much not to try, and understands a “willingness to accept rejection is intrinsic to the career of an aspiring actress. However, Whelan-Smith remains confident that her own natural talent is enough to pursue acting as a profession.

Aside from theatre, Whelan-Smith is interested in fashion, loves to write, and enjoys hanging out with friends.

Whelan-Smith is a confident, articulate, and charismatic student with a promising future at whatever college she might choose.

Certain that her career will involve acting, Whelan-Smith is ready to tackle all challenges ahead.

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