Busta’s Person of the Week: At just the age of 11, she achieves her dream role on Broadway

Busta’s Person of the Week: At just the age of 11,  she achieves her dream  role on Broadway
June 08
20:03 2023

By Busta Brown

Oscar winner and twice Tony Award winning actress Viola Davis has yet to land her dream role as Nora in the Broadway play “A Doll’s House.” Oscar winner Halle Berry has yet to play the first lady of the Black Panthers, Angela Davis. In 2017, Berry said playing Davis is the role that she wants to play before she dies.

Ava Hailey Harris of Greensboro has the same dream role as thousands of young actresses all over the world. While sitting in the audience watching “The Lion King” and seeing the girl who played Young Nala, Ava turned to her mother and said, “I could totally do that.” 

I’m sure many actors and actresses have felt the same way about their dream role, but unfortunately the opportunity forever eluded them..

It was two years ago and Ava Harris was nine years old when she told me the role of Young Nala in the Broadway musical “The Lion King” was her dream role. In 2022, the multi-talented actress finally got her chance. “I found out about the audition for Young Nala through my dance studio director. They post auditions that the students can audition for. I looked at the requirements and I fit the role. When I submitted my audition tape, they had already picked the coverage they wanted for that year. But they asked me if I wanted to resubmit. When I sent my tape in, I didn’t feel good about it,” said Ava. 

Her intuition was correct, but the tape that she resubmitted came back with notes on it. “I was like, if they’re giving me notes, they want me to succeed. So, I applied the notes and auditioned again. After I sang ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,’ one of the guys said, “Don’t change a thing,” shared an excited Ava.

The casting agent called Ava with some news: “We would like to offer you the role of Young Nala.” Ava got extremely excited and began waving her cute little hands back and forth, with a huge adorable smile. “Yes! Yes! OK! … I actually did this!” 

During her first rehearsal, Ava began to worry. “I was very, very nervous. What are they going to think of me? Are they going to like me? Are they going to think I’m weird?” This is Broadway, and the adult actors were polished and seasoned. Ava’s just an 11-year-old kid from Greensboro, North Carolina. 

But when you meet Pastor DeJuan and Sannyu Harris’ little princess, you’ll absolutely adore her. It was no different during her first rehearsal for the “Lion King. ” “I was nervous and also excited as well, because it was my first Broadway show. When we all bonded and became a really tight-knit family, that made it so much easier. Until all of the directors, stage managers and staff were there … I got really nervous again.”

It’s opening night and Ava said her stomach was flip-flopping. “This is my first performance, my Broadway debut, with lots of people sitting in the audience, including my family and friends. So I really didn’t want to mess up. I began to reflect on how I got there, and I was feeling very grateful. Then I said, ‘Let’s go! I’m ready to do this thing,’” said Ava while smiling and pumping her fist like an athlete after scoring the winning points in a championship. 

Her performance was amazing! One night, hip-hop artist and philanthropist, Chance the Rapper, came backstage to congratulate Ava on her performance. “We took pictures and talked. It was a lot of fun.” She also impressed the writers, director, and other shot callers, they extended her contract through December.

The saying about New York is, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. And only love can give a child the confidence and strength it takes to make it in the Big Apple. “I didn’t know I was having a surprise sendoff party. My dad took me to get some food and when we came back to the church, he took me down to the fellowship hall. In the fellowship hall, there was literally everybody I’ve ever known my entire life. All of them were standing there! In my mind I’m saying, wow! All of these people came here to support and congratulate me on my big journey. There has been a steady flow of people coming to see the show, so I definitely felt loved.” 

What she said next is going to warm your heart. “But even the people who couldn’t make it to the show, I could still feel their love, support and happiness for me,” said Ava, feeling overwhelmed.

I asked the Greensboro native what was next for her. “I want to continue acting, dancing and singing. And one day do TV and movies.” 

What gives her strength during her tough days? “When I was younger, my mom told me, don’t ever let anyone look down on you because you’re small. Be great at everything. That taught me that as long as I do the best that I can, it’s my best.” 

How did Ava overcome being bullied about her Afro in elementary school? “I was always proud of this beautiful crown on my head, so when the boys teased me, I felt conflicted. Mom said, ‘Just because other people don’t see your beauty and your greatness, doesn’t mean you can’t make it.’” 

Ava’s favorite scripture is 2 Timothy 1:7. “To me it means to stand strong and true to who you are.”

My phenomenal Person of the Week is Ava Hailey Harris. You can keep up with Ava @iamavahailey on IG and FB. 

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