Senior actress Asia Todd prepares for one-woman show “The Penny Executive”

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For individuals who enjoy performing, pursuing an acting career may be both tough and gratifying. The acting industry is extremely competitive and success takes a combination of skill, hard work and perseverance. College theater programs at Rowan University provide students with the chance to study the craft of acting as well as other aspects of theater production such as directing, stage management and design.

These programs often combine classroom training, workshops and hands-on experience through participation in theatrical productions. Students learn about diverse acting skills, theater history and industry business. The path to becoming a professional actor can be lengthy and arduous, but for those who are committed to the craft, it can be an extremely rewarding and thrilling experience.

Asia Todd is a 21-year-old senior at Rowan in pursuit of this path who studies Radio, Television, and Film, as well as Theater Arts with concentrations in directing and acting. This young aspiring actress and student from Linden, New Jersey is diligently training and preparing for what could be her most important performance yet. She is now starring in “The Penny Executive,” a one-woman bio-play based on Maggie Lena Walker’s life.

“’The Penny Executive’ is a one-woman show that tells about the life of Maggie Lena Walker who was the first woman to be a bank owner in America,” Todd said. “She has this long life filled with a lot of triumph and tragedy that you may see if you come to see the show. She is just a really inspiring figure not only in U.S. history, but as far as being a businesswoman.”

A one-person show is a type of theater performance in which a single actor takes on numerous roles and narrates a story using only their own voice and body. Todd will portray up to 20 distinct characters in this play, including Walker.

Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) was an African American teacher, businesswoman and civil rights advocate who is the subject of the bio-play. She was the first African American woman to establish and lead a bank — the Capital Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia.

Todd called this play “the biggest project she has ever worked on.” Her main concern when she agreed to work on the project was having to execute multiple speeches and dialects for over 20 distinct characters, which was especially tough because she hadn’t had any training in that area.

“This my first time diving into different accents and doing different characters and physicality. So it has been very challenging in that way but also very rewarding because I can do it and I am doing it,” Todd said. “I don’t think there is much you can do to prepare besides knowing your material, know who you are, know why you are playing it and just go in with an open mind ready to work.”

Todd began acting in middle school with her first performance in a musical production of “Wizard of Oz Jr.” Fast forward to her college years and she is still doing musicals with much more knowledge. Coming to college has also helped her stretch out and learn more about her job, with classes concentrating on straight acting and how to construct character work for different scenarios and for each role. 

“It has really prepared me for tackling all the script work that comes with a one-woman show,” Todd said.

Todd comes from a musical family. Watching her elder sisters sing and perform inspired Todd to do the same. However, every artist draws inspiration from sources other than family, such as a famous actor, celebrity, or even a musical. Todd was inspired by the 2007 musical romance film “Hairspray.”

“Something about that movie, looking at all the lights and the costumes and singing — I was like ‘I wanna do that. That looks so much fun,’” Todd said. “So figuring… I can be in a production where there is a lot of singing, dancing, and people and lights… And going from there and just being immersed in that community, being with people who are creative.”

Since then Todd has immersed herself in a community she describes as fun and almost like a second family. In the Theater and Arts department, everyone knows everyone, and even when you come across someone you don’t know you don’t remain strangers for long. Acting has allowed Todd to get introduced to not only new people who share her same interests but also new stories, characters and places, all of which she can be a part of. 

“I always say that acting teaches me a lot about myself without me realizing it because every time I learn something about a character I learn something about myself. Finding those parallels and those similarities is so intriguing to me,” Todd said. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Being an aspiring college actor can be a difficult and rewarding experience and Asia Todd exemplifies both. Finally, aspiring college actresses like her must remember that hard effort, dedication and determination are essential for success in the industry. 

Todd demonstrates the value of having a passion for the art and always striving for greatness while having fun. With these qualities, an aspiring college actress like her can realize her aspirations and build a name for herself in the theater industry. 

Her hobbies outside of acting and theater include word searches, listening to music of all genres, writing poetry and dancing. She’s just dabbled with songwriting, which she claims no one has ever seen and will most likely remain that way. But intertwined with all of these hobbies is a pure passion for the raft.

“If you love it do it. There is a lot of criticism about going into theater and going into acting in general… but if it’s something that you truly enjoy doing then I say do it. I agree with my mother’s philosophy of not doing anything you are unhappy doing… if you can see yourself doing anything else but theater I think that’s a sign that you need to be doing theater,” Todd said.

Follow Asia Todd’s journey through the world of acting and theater on Instagram @theasiajenine

“The Penny Executive” will start performances on Wednesday, Feb. 1, and Thursday, Feb. 2, at 5 p.m, with an after-show panel discussion. On Friday, Feb. 3, at 2 p.m, an ASL interpreter will perform in the Rohrer College of Business on the ground level.

For questions/comments about this story email the.whit.arts@gmail.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline.

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