Playing piano was School of Drama alumna Anna Lei Negrin’s first exposure to performance art, but it was an “on a whim” audition for her elementary school’s production of “Annie” that really sparked her love for musical theater.
Negrin played the lead role of Daddy Warbucks in the beloved musical classic. From this first foray into musical theatre, one scenario stands out. “I was wearing a bald cap that didn’t match my skin color,” she says. “It was so funny.”
Inclusivity — or the lack thereof — is a problem that permeates the global entertainment industry, even at the grade-school level. Whether it is a shortage of products or a lack of stylists and makeup artists trained to work with different hair textures and skin tones, artists of color too often encounter issues regarding inclusivity in their daily work. Additionally, unspecified roles — ones that did not have a race or ethnicity attached — were primarily cast as white, leaving little opportunity for artists of color to get opportunities outside of specified roles.
While Negrin says she didn’t face that problem growing up in New York City, she worries about getting boxed into only playing Asian roles. But that doesn’t mean she wants to ignore her Asian identity.
A Chinese-Italian-Egyptian-Jew, the New York City native is interested in telling all kinds of stories. At UNCSA, delving into work that deals with aspects of her identity has been extremely rewarding, helping her embrace and own her heritage.
“We just talk so much more about identity,” she says. “I really connect more with the Asian side now than I did growing up.”
In 2022, Negrin played H/Mosquito in “Passage,” a play by Christopher Chen that explores how power imbalances affect personal and interpersonal dynamics. It was the School of Drama’s first production with a cast consisting entirely of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) performers and included AAPI director Nana Dankin as well as an AAPI stage manager and other crew members.
Reflecting on her childhood, she recalls how there weren’t many people to look up to that looked like her. Now, she does have Asian role models she can look up to, and it has made her realize the power representation holds. For that reason, Negrin hopes to make a difference while making a name for herself on Broadway.
“I look up to Michelle Yeoh, Sandra Oh and, really, all Asian artists out there,” she says. “They look like they are having the time of their lives. That’s what I want.”
The positive growth in industry representation excites Negrin and makes her optimistic for the future. She hopes to explore intersectional stories and her favorite genre of work, romantic dramedies.
Some information pulled from a Spectrum News segment.
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May 31, 2023