Teen makes grown-up debut in 'Harvey' (video)

Veteran actress Karen Locher plays the role of Veta Louise Simmons in the play
  • IF YOU GO

  • • WHAT: "Harvey"

    • WHERE: Leo J. Welder Center, 214 N. Main St.

    • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; and 7:30 p.m. April 25-27

    • COST: $17-$19

    • FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call the Welder Center Box Office at 361-570-8587

Danielle Smith took a brief hiatus from acting - though she is only 19 years old.

"I haven't been in a play since junior year in high school," she said.

Smith's mom told her to audition for a role in Theatre Victoria's production of "Harvey," so she gave it a shot.

Friday will be her first time performing on the stage at the Leo J. Welder Center for Performing Arts.

Scott Mohon, executive director of Victoria Theatre , cast Smith to play the role of Ruth Kelly, a nurse who Smith describes as sweet and flirtatious. He chose "Harvey" because of the connection he had with it.

"It started to ignite a lot of things within me," he said, "my perceptions in not only on producing shows but also in life in general, which is what theater does."

Smith, a fan of iconic mid-century imagery, such as bright-red lipstick, neat up-dos and catty eye makeup, is excited about being in the play.

Despite growing up in Victoria and being close to the venue, her acting career had taken her as far away as Austin and San Antonio.

"I was always too scared to audition in Victoria," she said. "I told myself, 'I am going to try my hardest,' and I got it."

Smith, a 2012 Victoria East graduate, is a full-time administrative assistant at Victoria ENT and crunches numbers and pushes papers during the 8-to-5 grind when she's not busy at rehearsal or attending auditions.

For the past six weeks, she's had an hour in between punching out at work and hitting the Welder Center or Johnson Symposium to go over her lines and scenes. After rehearsal ends about 11 p.m., she heads home to her apartment and starts the routine again.

But the thespian life is one she's been accustomed to for 14 years.

At the age of 5, she heard about auditions for "Schoolhouse Rock" at Victoria Main Street Theater while listening to the radio and pleaded with her dad to try out. When they arrived, they learned there were no children roles.

The director, who was impressed by the young girl's gumption, made a proposition for her to prove she could be in the play.

The director told the bright-eyed child that if she could hear Smith's voice from where she stood in the last row of seats at the theater, then she could have a role in the play.

"They didn't have mics then, you just talked (on stage)," Smith said about the audition. "I got my little butt up there, and I talked."

Proving she could project her not-yet-fully-developed voice to the back of the theater, the director created a role specifically for her.

From then on, she said, the theatre was a place she could call home.

About two years after her role in "Schoolhouse Rock," her mom told her the theater was closing. Smith was prepping for an upcoming summer play when she heard the news about the theater's demise.

"It's like my home. I grew up there," she said. "It was a sad day for me."

That day, then 8 or 9 years old, she vowed to buy the theater and open it back up.

Just recently, she's talked to a few members of the community who were interested in backing her endeavor. Modeling her idea after the popular Alamo Drafthouse, she said she wants to bring something new to the area.

"Give me about two years," she said about bringing the theater to life. "I've got to work on cleaning it out. It's probably full of mold."

In the meantime, she'll find roles in area plays, including "Harvey." But unlike her fellow cast members, she doesn't study her lines. The more she studies her lines, the more likely she'll fumble on stage. She added that the more nervous she is, the better her performance on stage.

"I read them and I know them," she said. "I guess it's because I put more pressure on myself. I'm more focused."

It was her audition and ability to read and act alongside the other actors that set her apart from the other girls who auditioned for the play, said Mohon.

"I thought she fit the role for me," he said. "Her audition was very natural, and I like her energy."

Before she hits the stage, she'll eat a peanut butter sandwich for dinner - a tradition her mom started with her when she started performing.

Smith will make herself a sandwich and cut the edges off with the same heart-shaped cookie cutter her mom used. She even took the cookie-cutter with her when she moved out of her parents' house.

"It's the only thing that sticks," she said. "I still do it, even though I am older."

If it weren't for the support of her parents, Renee and David, she would have never gone to auditions, she said. They were the ones who drove her to and from the theaters, whether in Victoria or in Austin or San Antonio for a lead role or to help fill a room as an extra.

For Smith, "Harvey" will be the first of many milestones: her first adult role, her first role at the Welder Center and the first time her mom hasn't had to sit through rehearsals for the play.

"And really, I did this play for her," she said.