Most university students dream of the day they walk across the graduation stage in cap and gown to receive their diploma, finally ready to take the first step in their career.
But for 21-year-old Senzel Ahmady, her career kicked off with one giant jump when she received her first professional role as Princess Jasmine in the North American Tour of Broadway’s hit musical “Aladdin.”
“I auditioned for this while I was at college, and I honestly didn't really think I was going to get it at the time,” Ahmady said. “But Jasmine is an old dream of mine, and so I thought that I would audition for it anyways and put my name out there and get to know the Disney team and whatnot. And then they kept calling me back, and I got it! I was so surprised.”
Ahmady said the audition process was easy to access because New York University’s campus was only a subway ride away. Besides a few missed classes — with the support of her professors — managing auditions and coursework seemed to work out for the now-professional princess.
Adi Roy, who plays Aladdin, is still attending university online, but Ahmady decided to take a leave of absence while traveling across North America with the cast.
Ahmady would be a senior at New York University.
“I'm basically studying to do [this opportunity] right now, and if I want to go back to school, I could always go back to school,” Ahmady said. “But roles don't always come by, so I just felt like I had to leave.”
Being thrust into the professional world of show business has its tolls, but Ahmady thinks learning by doing is the best way to practice her craft.
“As much as they can try to prepare you for that when you're in a musical theater program, you can't really learn how it feels on your body, voice and mind until you actually do it,” Ahmady said. “I've definitely had to learn a lot about myself, making sure I'm okay mentally and physically and learning that not every show is going to be perfect.”
Other than experiencing two days of back-to-back shows every weekend while traveling professionally for the first time, Ahmady said the hardest part of the show is being away from her friends who are still in school, especially since she never had a full graduation experience as part of the high school graduating class of 2020.
“I feel like even though it was a really big life decision, I didn't realize how much my life was going to change,” Ahmady said. “Did I make the right decision? Did I not? I know I'm going to feel the real F.O.M.O. [fear of missing out] when I see my friends graduating.”
As for friends in the cast, Ahmady says Marcus M. Martin, who plays Genie, has been a friend like no other.
“This is definitely his first professional show, too, but he just has this big brother energy about him, and he's always checking in on me and making sure I'm okay,” Ahmady said.
Other cast members have also extended a welcoming hand to Ahmady to make sure that she is still having fun and learning new things as part of the cast even though she left behind her college experience.
“It's definitely rewarding. It was also hard coming into this show so young, having no experience. There’s a few other younger people in this cast, and the people that have been doing it for a while welcomed me with open arms and kind of showed me the way to do things,” Ahmady said.
The shift from a college student to a professional is a huge leap in any business, and that leap for a stage actor can be especially jarring. Ahmady’s advice is to remember it is more than okay to learn along the way.
“Just go for it and put yourself in rooms,” Ahmady said. “Even if you feel like you're not ready or you don't exactly know what you're doing, feel confident about yourself. Even if you go into a room and you don't exactly know what you're doing or how to exactly do things, you're going into rooms to show people your talent and showcase yourself.”
“You'll always have yourself and your talent,” Ahmady added.
Ahmady and the rest of the touring cast of “Aladdin” appeared at Madison’s Overture Center October 10-15, and they will continue their stay in Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s Marcus Performing Arts Center October 17-22.