By Howard Pousner
Heading off to college soon, Smyrna actress Alexandria Payne is readying for the next stage of her life. But Sunday’s encore telecast of the Shuler Hensley Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theatre offers a good opportunity for her to ponder how things have changed since that April ceremony.
Payne, 18, took the best leading actress prize in the second annual honors staged by the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre for her starring role in Tri-Cities High School’s production of “Once on This Island.”
That qualified her to compete in the National High School Musical Theater Awards (or Jimmys) in New York in June. To her surprise, Payne was named best actress, and received $10,000 plus a scholarship to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Having begun her professional acting career at age 10 on the first national tour of “The Lion King,” she’s been stoked to pursue her show business dreams.
Q: Winning best actress at the Jimmys, did you feel like you were in a Cinderella story?
A: I kinda did. I wasn’t expecting to win at all. I really went in with the mindset that I was going to learn everything that I could, soak up as much information as possible. I thought it was going to be really, really challenging, which it was. I wasn’t sure I could compete. But it was a great experience.
Q: How did you manage to land your first professional role in a national tour at all of age 10?
A: My godsister, Brandi Waller, was doing a summer intensive with Alvin Ailey [American Dance Theater] in New York. Her family lived across the street from my family, and we spent lots of time together. Along with my little brother and older sister, we would watch “Lion King” every day. That’s howwe knew the entire script. Brandi heard about the auditions and called.
So I went to the [Atlanta] Civic Center and I did the open call, and I made the first call back a few hours later. Then I was called back for the final audition in New York, and a few months later I was notified that I had gotten the part. We toured to seven cities in eight months.
Q: Do you mainly want to pursue musical theater?
A: I want to do a little bit of everything. I want to do Broadway, I want to do Broadway tours, I would like to be a recording artist, would love to do movies. I really have big dreams and hopefully I can accomplish them.
Q: How did attending Tri-Cities, with its visual and performing arts magnet program, help shape your talent?
A: There have been so many different opportunities that I don’t think I’d have been able to take advantage of had I not been at Tri-Cities. I was able to attend different summer intensives like Camp Broadway, a program called Broadway Boot Camp through the Broadway Dreams Foundation, the Shuler Hensley Awards.
I would definitely like to thank my teachers at Tri-Cities, because they’re not just schoolteachers but also working artists. They gave us not only the foundation in performing what’s in the books, they also give us their perspective, lessons they’ve learned, the good and bad.
Q: Ready for college?
A: Just preparing has shown me that I have so much growing up to do in the next 20 days before I go off to school.
Q: Twenty days isn’t much time…
A: It’s not, but I’m definitely going to rise to the occasion!
Shuler Hensley Awards
1 p.m. Sunday on WSB