Upon receiving their degrees, many college graduates lack concrete vocational paths and can offer only shrugs and sighs when people pose “What’s next?” to them. Ariana Sepúlveda suffered no such unease at her May commencement, having earlier in the spring secured the role of Aurora in the People’s Light premiere of “Sleeping Beauty: A Musical Panto.” Through Jan. 15, the 22-year-old is frolicking over her fortune in fraternizing with a South Philly-heavy cast bent on beckoning audiences to seasonal revelry.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better company with which to explore my love for this art form,” the East Passyunk Crossing dweller said of her affiliation with the Malvern-based entity. “My fellow performers and all of the others involved have been amazing, too, and really make me eager to stay here in Philadelphia long term and be a part of more great work.”
People’s Light customarily caps the calendar year with especially uplifting pieces and has succeeded again in promoting harmony by offering “a raucous, heartfelt spin on the classic tale of fairies, awakenings, and true love.” With music and lyrics by Passyunk Square denizen Alex Bechtel, the brainchild finds the hires working to reiterate, as director Pete Pryor posits, that “love is the cure for any curse,” in this case the scourge of the wicked Chanteuse that the titular character’s father seeks to keep from confounding his daughter’s existence.
“There’s so much at stake for her,” Sepúlveda said. “I think she has such maturity for a 16-year-old going through these discoveries, and I’d say she pulls that off because she’s super bright, energetic, and charismatic.”
The adolescent, according to the thespian, also revels in esteeming people as equals and strives for inclusivity, a trait that she and Sepúlveda share. With South Philly native Tom Teti, who portrays her patriarch, and current locals Bechtel, Tabitha Allen, Luke Bradt, Tori Mittelman, and Josh Totora among her peers, that deep desire for unity has met with resounding regard.
“Like her, I’m eager to learn,” the actress said, noting how that enthusiasm for increasing wisdom comes through in the song “Lost in the Stars.” “Since I graduated, I’ve become really excited to find out more about who I am, so to have this job at this point is going to go a long way to helping me to acknowledge what I’ve seen and what I could become.”
THAT INFATUATION WITH considering sequences and processes dates back to the performer’s upbringing in Warwick, N.Y. With steady influence from brother Noel and immersion into musicals’ wonders through her parents, the Empire State product felt quite compelled to court a creative journey and soon found herself hooked on every aspect of stage-centric projects.
“I liked being able to take everything in and learn the dialogue of the field, so to speak,” Sepúlveda said of her pursuit of mastery of what drives creative minds to be so daring in believing they can tell enriching tales. “The ambition, I’d say, was always there, and I just had to work to comprehend what could happen if I really put all that I had into this passion.”
Relationships with her home state’s Forestburgh Playhouse and TADA! Youth Theater proved pivotal sparks, and she credits their guidance with making her early efforts a reflection of her constant curiosity, especially due to her being able to associate with and pick the brains of equity employees.
“They were incredibly captivating,” she recalled. “I gained this amazing sense of how much I needed to devote to my maturation, and that set me up for finding a college destination that could give me extra chances to work on being even more self-motivated.”
Yearning to experience post-secondary education in a sizable expanse, she earned placement at The University of the Arts and made the most out of the “It’s whatever you make it” sentiment by engrossing herself in her studies and roles, the latter including Ofelia in “Anna in the Tropics,” Sheila in “A Chorus Line,” and Riff Raff in “The Rocky Horror Show.”
That gusto and outreach from People’s Light personnel made her final semester at the Center City institution particularly pleasant, as she learned that life as a Philadelphia professional would begin not far beyond the acceptance of her diploma.
“I’d been working outside the field, so I knew I could fall back on other avenues, but I can’t say it loudly enough how fortunate I feel to be able to have such a great part to play for such an outstanding leader in local theater.”
Acquiring the part as a princess on the precipice of transformational experiences has proven an occasion to intensify awareness of the Philadelphia theater scene’s reliance on go-getters to propel the craft to new heights. Because of that, one could contend that “Sleeping Beauty: A Musical Panto” will serve as the first of many chances for Sepúlveda to show that new blood can come to earn constant consideration as fluid contributors.
“We’re still very early into this run,” she said of the work that debuted Nov. 16. “Already, though, I know the tireless professionalism of those around me is going to be a permanent motivator. I’m excited to meet more people like that in the near future.”
Given that she has logged just six months in South Philly and resides in an area rich with acting contemporaries, Sepúlveda will likely have no trouble with making such acquaintances.
“There’s such a great vibe down here, and it’s really coming through this time of year,” she said. “It suits me in so many ways to be here at this point in my life.” SPR
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Musical Panto”
Runs through Jan. 15
People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern
Portrait photo by Maria Young. Production photo by Mark Garvin