Freshman musical “star” finds love in singing and acting


Anand (middle) acts in “She Kills Monsters” in October. Photo by Naina Srivastava.

Naina Srivastava, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Saumya Anand isn’t too different from her on-stage “Little Shop of Horrors” character Audrey II, a flesh eating plant that dreams of world domination. She’s ambitious. She loves to sing. And, she’s willing to take the steps necessary to achieve her biggest aspiration.

Admittedly, she’s not a plant nor a villain, and rather than world domination, what she wants most is to become a recording artist. And, thankfully, unlike Audrey II, the steps to get to her goal don’t involve murder.

Instead, they involve moving from Sunnyvale to Mountain View to join a distinguished performing arts department, and playing a lead in the school’s spring musical — a feat all the more impressive considering that she’s only a freshman.

“If she’s thinking about high school in the way that most kids think about college, like ‘Where should I go?” that’s someone to me that is very conscientious and specific with her vision of her future,” Theater teacher Pancho Morris said.

For Anand, “music is the number one.” She’s been singing since just eight months old and began singing professionally at five years old. Nowadays, she sings around 16 hours a week — a combination of school choir rehearsals, voice lessons and practicing. By the time she graduates high school, Anand said she wants to have released an EP.

“It’s something I’ve always been really comfortable doing and it’s one of the very few things that I feel like if I were doing every day, I wouldn’t be working,” Anand said.

Her love for acting came later, when she got the lead for a Peninsula Youth Theater show in around fifth or sixth grade, Anand said. She’d been acting since kindergarten but said it was at that moment that she realized just how much it meant to her.

“I feel like I’m floating if I’m onstage performing,” Anand said. “I thrive on stage. And so, teachers have always … [told] my mom ‘Watch out, your kid’s a triple threat’ and it’s so exciting to hear these things.”

Since then, Anand has been in many shows, including MVHS’s own productions of “She Kills Monsters” in November and most recently, “Little Shop of Horrors.”

“This show [Little Shop of Horrors] pushed me to my limits,” Anand said. “If you told me a year ago that I was singing for Audrey II, I would have actually just laughed in your face because this is so outside of my comfort zone.”

Although casting a freshman is a huge risk, Morris said he wanted to “take a chance” on her and that he had confidence she would remain professional throughout the process.

“[Anand] had the talent to play the role,” Morris said. “The question was about experience, but as someone who people took chances on me when I was a younger performer and I held up my end of the bargain, I felt strongly that [Anand] was gonna be able to do that as well.”

Senior Joshua Hackworth, co-actor, family friend, and neighbor said Anand was easy to work with and “brought a generally good vibe to rehearsal.”

“It was definitely just like, ‘Woah,’” Hackworth said. “Like, we’re all juniors and seniors and she’s able to keep up with us as a freshman.”

In casting Anand, Morris said the creative team went for an alternate vision. Typically, Audrey II is played by a man with a deep, bass voice, he said. With Anand, a 15-year-old girl, playing the character, though, the plant’s voice was modified to be more feminine, yet replicated the original voice’s effect on the storyline.

Because of the nature of her character, Anand faced another challenge: voice acting. Instead of being on stage in a costume and makeup, Anand said she would peer over the stage from a booth above, holding a microphone.

“I have so much respect now, for voice actors,” Anand said. “[Jill Denny] says ‘expression is audible’ a lot, and I didn’t really get what that meant until this performance. Even if I’m a little bit not full out it’s so obvious in my acting, and I honestly think voice acting is harder than being on stage sometimes.”

Morris said that Anand consistently sought to improve throughout the process. Even outside of rehearsal, she would ask for advice to elevate her performance to the “next level,” he said. Hackworth said Anand was also able to take criticism well.

“She definitely had to receive a lot of different types of notes from the acting teacher plus the choir teacher,” Hackworth said. “I would say that for the notes that she did receive, because they weren’t harsh or anything, after a while it can be kind of unmotivating that you always need to change what you’re doing left and right. And I think she handled it really well.”

Ultimately, Anand said she’s grateful for the opportunity that the show gave her. She said she hopes to be in every show until her graduation, which would work out to three shows each year: one in the fall, one in the spring, and one for Drama Llamas — an MVHS student run theater organization.

“I’m super proud of her,” Morris said. “She could have easily bombed. We could have totally set her up to not succeed. Like, let’s say the conversation last night goes in the opposite direction, ‘Oh we think she needs a little more experience before we can trust her with this role,” and then we picked someone else. I don’t think the show is the same at all. I think we needed [Anand].”