Chani Wereley graduated from YAA programs in 2013. Since then, she’s graduated college (Catholic University of America), and is now a working actress. We sat down with her to talk about what life is like now and how YAA helped her accomplish her dreams. #YAADreams
What was your first professional gig?
I had my first professional gig during my sophomore year at CUA! I auditioned for Dogfight at Keegan Theatre in the spring, and I ended up getting it and doing it for the summer and fall of that year. Keegan is one of the greatest places I’ve worked, honestly. I didn’t really know what to expect since I was so green, but the Artistic Directors are so supportive and welcoming, and so was the cast and creative team. I ended up doing my second professional contract (American Idiot) there as well.
How have you found being a working actor in the DC area?
It has been, for the most part, really wonderful. I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences and opportunities, and it really has been such a joy. We have a crazy supportive community here, and I have felt it so much in the past few months especially. Sometimes I think about the experiences I’ve had and the things I have coming up next year and I’m just like – how did I get this lucky? It can be hard sometimes, but that’s life. I am just grateful that I get to do what I love everyday, it’s kind of wild.
What is your favorite professional gig and why?
I’d say it’s probably Bridges of Madison County at Red Branch Theatre. I did it a little over a year ago. I was Marian/Chiara/The State Fair Singer/Every Other Female Ensemble part in the show, which was so insane but so much fun. My friend Harrison saw the show and dubbed me “The Chansemble,” and that’s been following me around and haunting me ever since.
How often do you go to auditions?
It depends. Last year, when I was in the middle of audition season, I had an audition or a callback every couple of days. Sometimes I had two in one day. I remember one day I had to be at Olney Theatre in the morning, and then I had a tight turnaround to go to Signature Theatre in the afternoon. I still don’t know how I made that one work. A lot of the non-equity theatres have their auditions on a rolling basis, so there’ll be this random audition I have in the middle of nothing, and then all of a sudden, there will be a whole bunch at once. It’s fun, but it’s stressful.
What did you learn from YAA that you use in your professional life?
There are so many things. I don’t even know what to focus on. It was a really formative part of my life when I was a teenager. One thing I’ll never forget is the support that I received from YAA at one of the lowest times in my life.
My big dream was to go to The University of Michigan, and study musical theatre. I was at the Corner Bakery near Montgomery Mall before rehearsal one day and I got an email from admissions that said I didn’t get in. I had a huge panic attack, drove to Strathmore, and broke down.
Rolando Sanz and Alan Paul were there. I remember them saying “It’s going to be okay. Everything will work itself out. You’ll work. It doesn’t matter where you go to school; it’s what you do with what you have, and how hard you work.” It was honestly less what they said to me in that moment, and more how much they blindly believed in me that sticks with me. I got up, dusted myself off, and did Miss Saigon. They helped me tap into my inner strength and resilience, and that is something I carry with me every day.
What advice do you want to give YAA students that dream about being professional performers?
Do not let anyone get you down. As Lady Gaga has stated at literally every single press event for A Star Is Born: “There can be 100 people in the room, and 99 don't believe in you, but all it takes is one who does.” I just think that that one person has to be you. There are so many supportive people in this world, and so many kind friends, but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t believe in yourself. You have to be your biggest fan if you’re going to keep going.
And honestly, there will be people who try their best to tear you down and dim your light. But there are a whole lot more who will love you. Focus on them. Focus on yourself. Be unapologetically you. Embrace your failures with as much love and light as you would your successes. Bottom line: spread love and accept love. And work your butt off!
Want to help other young performing artists’ dreams come true like Chani’s did? Make a tax-deductible donation to YAA toward our I DREAMED A DREAM Campaign. Donate today.