From California to Oklahoma to Florida, Anna has blazed across the country making her mark on local theatre communities. Her talents range from acting to directing to writing. She holds a BFA in Drama Performance and has worked with the nation's top theme parks. After years of performing with PEP, Anna's role with the company has transitioned to Assistant Director + Casting Specialist, where she helps PEP discover and bring on board the best performers for our events. Read on for a behind-the-scenes interview with Anna...
IP (Isabel Power): Can you talk about your early years and when/why you started in the arts?
AL (Anna LeFlore): My whole family is in the arts! My grandma was a music teacher, my mom plays the flute, my aunt is a band teacher! So from a young age, I’m very thankful that my family encouraged me to pursue the arts. I was a shy kid, so we decided to start with choir since it was a group activity. Being in a group was a good starting point for me because it helped me gain that courage. Soon after, I started in ballet, which also helped build my confidence! Later, I picked up the trombone and started in musical theater. One art form let to another… it was an evolution! Once I was immersed in musical theater, I was at the point where I realized I was very OK with being in front of an audience. I had all the confidence in the world once I was on stage...
IP: What college did you go to and what did you study?
AL: I knew I wanted to study the arts. I was accepted into several vocal performance programs and several acting programs, so I had to choose which direction to go. I chose acting because it felt more all-encompassing. As in.. acting would lead to other things that I’m interested in. I never wanted to just do one art form. I wanted to do something creative that could incorporate all my passions! I auditioned for and got into the University of Oklahoma. To be honest, I may not have gotten in purely due to my grades. However, because I had a strong audition, I got in and earned a BFA, which is really cool! I also studied dance and voice in school and started performing in regional theatre.
IP: It's almost like… the arts carved a path for you that led to a college degree!
AL: Yes! A lot of the schools I considered were conservatory programs that didn’t provide a degree. So I was thankful that I went with the BFA because, that – in and of itself – will open up lots of other opportunities. And along with the degree, I got such great arts training. It truly was a win-win!
IP: So you were in college for 4 years?
AL: 4.5 years actually! In 2013, I took a semester “off” to do the Disney College Program. Moving to Oklahoma had been a big shift, and I wanted to get a change of pace and experience a new locale! I’m thankful for that experience because it introduced me to Orlando and theme park entertainment! This was important because I realized that I didn’t have to move to NYC or LA to have a performance career – I could do it in Orlando!
IP: What did you do at the Disney College Program?
AL: I was a Character Attendant!
Sidenote: A character attendant facilitates meet-and-greets between performers and guests.
First-hand, I was able to witness themed character interactions. This gave me a great idea of what a day would like in theme park entertainment. This also exposed me to the arts community here in Orlando.
IP: You’re originally from California right? What made you decide to make Florida your permanent home?
AL: Definitely the community here!!! Also, I have had a chronic illness, ulcerative colitis, since I was 9. So, I knew that if I wanted to have a creative career, I needed to find a less traditional way of doing it. My health was my priority so I did not want to do the starving artist/stressful lifestyle of NYC or LA. When I realized that I could make a living in the arts in a sustainable and secure way, I decided to build my career here in Orlando
IP: There’s such an abundance of work opportunities here in Orlando.
AL: Yep! And there’s such a wide variety of work here. There’s dinner theaters, theme parks, corporate events, etc.! I love acting but I also love guest-facing jobs – interacting with people. So the fact that I get to combine acting with guest interaction… it’s really awesome. You get to see the result of your work right in front of you, when people enjoy themselves!
IP: What has been one of your favorite performing roles?
AL: I love doing pin-up! I discovered the vintage pin-up community when I was living in Oklahoma. I was a bit stressed by my studies and had just gone through a break-up, so I was ready to push myself forward and get out of my comfort zone! I dove headfirst into this world where everyone got to find a style that resonated with them, and find what made them feel good. It felt like someone was a heightened version of themselves. Like… with any vintage style – you can find a version that fits with any body type. Different eras had different ideal body types. So, people who don’t feel like they fit today’s beauty standards, suddenly found this style that made them feel embraced for who they are. It’s not just about… I can do victory curls, I can do pin curls… it’s I’m finding what I feel best in and what makes me feel unstoppable, and I’m going to be myself confidently in this. After being in kind of cut-throat theatre environments where they often want you to be skinny, it was liberating to find people encouraging you to figure out what YOU want to look like… who YOU want to be. I ended up winning a statewide pin-up competition in Oklahoma. And then I found the local pin-up community when I relocated to Orlando. I even helped organize a local event called "Spiffy Saturdays", a vintage event I used to help run. Getting people together who want to embrace their creativity and feel good about themselves... that’s important to me.
IP: We are so happy to have you as part of the PEP team. Since you have years of experience working at the theme parks, how does that knowledge serve you when working with PEP?
AL: People will save for years to go on a vacation to a theme park. Everything is heightened, the stakes are high. You constantly have to remind yourself that you’re a big reason why people visit. We have unique entertainment opportunities that you can’t find other places. There’s such an immersive level that’s so unique and impactful. I love working at the parks, but it is masses of guests. You need a lot of integrity and conditioning to get through it day after day. But our PEP events are much more intimate. We’re doing this once, it’s personalized to the client, and it’s a more tailored and targeted offering. I love the challenge of putting more intention behind the entertainment in order to make it extra special.
IP: What has been one of your favorite events with PEP?
AL: I LOVED the Halloween party we did recently, Twilight Terror Hotel, because we had the more traditional slapstick roles that felt very old Hollywood (with the Bellhops.) But we also had the characters (the Silver Screen Starlets) who got to have this great backstory. Surface level they were very silly and whimsical, but once you peel back that first layer it gets a bit darker and you get to play with even more sides of comedy. We reeled guests in with the fun sparkles and ridiculousness on the outside, and then the guests who latched on and enjoyed it got to explore the new world we opened up to them (once they were willing to step in!) I think this brings us to the next level because… Lots of people say… OK let’s get entertainers in great costumes and take a photo to post on social media. Well, we have that, but then we can take it further and create an immersive experience. We elevate the interaction to a whole new level.
IP: Recently, with PEP you’ve gone more from performer to writer and show director, such as writing out character breakdowns and directing the performers on set at events. Can you tell me why you wanted to stretch your wings and take on more behind-the-scenes work?
AL: I’ve learned so much from all my years working as performer in the industry. I feel good to feel like I’m utilizing that knowledge for the benefit of others. And I’ve picked up a lot of tools the hard way. Having those tools in my pocket and then being able to share them with others in a way that I think would have benefited me when I was in their shoes… I find a lot of gratitude in that. I feel fulfilled in guiding others. I also get to watch them in action, and I learn from them in return. It’s one thing to observe someone on set when you’re also performing, but as a director I’m able to watch the performance and see what the guests are seeing from their point of view.
IP: I know that when you’re a director with us, you make a big impact.
AL: Thank you. I love seeing performers thrive and setting them up for success.
IP: What excites you about the future/what are you looking forward to?
AL: I’m really excited that people are steering away from generic events. They’re getting more and more creative. So they’re seeking out teams like us to help them turn their creativity into a reality. We step in, work with them, and get to collaborate with the client on their vision. The fact that people are prioritizing having themed entertainment at their events is super exciting.