- June 29, 2016
At age 11, Victoria Mei Ashton has been to 22 countries, performed in 12 shows and attended musical-theater camp in London three times — and she’s just getting started.
The Foundation Academy student, who goes by Mei, lives in MetroWest and has been involved in productions with Winter Garden’s Acting Up Theater Academy since she was 7.
Her mother, Jeannie Lee, first thought of introducing her to musical theater when she realized her daughter’s passion for singing wasn’t just a phase. Some of her favorite songs to sing, from a young age, included Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.”
“She’s always loved singing, so I thought, ‘Let’s try musical theater,’ because she’s been singing since she was 2,” Lee said. “(And) ever since she was 4 years old, when you asked her what she wanted to be she would say ‘a singer,’ and she’s never deviated from that. … One of my favorite memories was her teacher in transitional kindergarten sent me a video of her singing (Journey) right in the middle of class when she was working.”
And if you ask Mei why she sings and acts, the answer is simple.
“It’s just my passion,” she said.
Mei is no stranger to the spotlight, and most of the time any stage fright she feels can be cured with one simple, deep breath. In fact, she just finished callback auditions for her 13th show with AUTA, “Footloose.”
“I like the stage, when you get a lot of applause,” she said. “It’s just really fun, and it’s amazing. You get to meet some new friends, and my best friend started acting with me when I did my first show with AUTA.”
Most recently, Mei took on a big challenge in AUTA’s spring rendition of “Mary Poppins,” reprising the role of none other than the magical nanny. It was her first starring lead, and she found out it was hers while she was at Epcot. For the next four months, she spent as much time as she could studying her new role and even participated in acting lessons over FaceTime with a West Orange High student who played Mary Poppins in the high school’s show.
“I had to work really hard toward it to learn my lines in all the songs,” Mei said. “We would listen to the music every day in the car on the way to school, practice, Irish dance lessons, all that stuff. Sometimes, I’d bring my script to school and learn it at recess. It was really nice, because it’s fun to get your own bow at the end of the show. … For ‘Mary Poppins,’ I practiced basically the whole time, except when I was at school or sleeping.”
Lee’s favorite memory of seeing Mei in “Mary Poppins” was the method her daughter used to control her reaction to her best friend, Gaby, playing the role of Mrs. Andrews: Mei would cross her eyes so she couldn’t see Gaby, therefore preventing her from laughing while pretending to be enemies.
Aside from acting and singing, Mei also takes Irish dancing lessons, plays violin and both draws and paints.
Most recently, Mei and her mother returned from a five-week trip to Europe, two weeks during which they stayed in London for Mei’s third time at West End Stage. The program is the United Kingdom’s premier theater summer school for young, aspiring thespians from ages 8 to 21.
“It’s really fun, because there’s lots of new people from different countries,” Mei said. “I met a girl named Olivia, and she was from Japan. One person was from Norway. People were from a lot of different countries. We did a masterclass with beatboxing and an ‘Aladdin’ master class, which was probably my favorite. (The person who plays) Aladdin taught it, and we learned the dance, a couple of steps from ‘Friend Like Me.’”
All of Mei’s teachers were West End Stage performers, and she once again got to perform at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the heart of the West End, which is home to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”
What’s more: Mei even paid for her own summer-camp tuition. She and her mother save all year, every year, to be able to take trips to Europe and attend the camp. Mei commissioned and sold paintings, wrote to businesses asking for sponsorships, sold cupcakes and made bows.
“(Acting) is fun, because you get to show your expressions,” Mei said. “It’s amazing how you get to act. When people act they can make you cry and it’s so emotional. I also get to see a lot of new countries and learn a lot of facts on tours, and it’s educational.”
Wherever Mei’s theater journey takes her, Lee is ready to support her and be her travel companion through it all.
“Through theater, she’s grown a lot in her confidence but also in teamwork and compassion,” Lee said. “She reaches out to the newbies and is compassionate for them because she’s now a veteran. For the England part, really it was always her choice. The second and third year, she raised her own money, and that was part of the deal. …With the cultural part and her wanting to do theater, it opens so many doors for her in terms of learning stories, going to watch a show and seeing it come to life in front of her eyes.”