In the Limelight
A recent Monarch High graduate and actress opens up about reaching a lifelong goal
Shot on location at Township Center for Performing Arts
As a 6-year-old, Alayah Parmley unknowingly imitated the famous comedy and tragedy theater masks ubiquitous in the world of performing arts. To her, it was another form of play. To her mother, once an actress, it was a sign of talent.
“My mom would say I was always in the mirror playing with emotions: ‘This is my sad face. This is my happy face,’ ” Parmley says. “From that moment, she knew I would want to do performing arts.”
From there, she participated in community theater, pageants and even short films and commercials. Her love of performing led her to attend Dillard High School, known for its arts programs, during her freshman year of high school. However, she found herself uncomfortable with what she perceived was constant competition among students. Plus, a move to Coconut Creek made commuting difficult. She eventually opted for Monarch High School, where she got involved in the drama program, planning events and becoming vice president of the drama club.
She also continued to participate in district competitions and the Florida State Thespian Festival, which she attended every school year starting in sixth grade. Each year, she earned an excellent rating for her work, but the top “superior” rating eluded her until her senior year. At the 2018 festival, held this past March in Tampa, she performed three-minute monologues from “Thank You So Much for Stopping” by Halley Feiffer, and “Fences” by August Wilson. While the former comedic piece came naturally to her, it was the latter dramatic monologue that tested her limits—and finally earned her a superior rating in the contrasting monologues category.
Knowing that your strength is comedy, how did you approach the dramatic piece for the state competition?
The critique I always got [at past state competitions] was “Your dramatic is lacking. It’s not believable.” That was because I had a hard time trying to open up those emotions of pain and sadness, because I’m always really off-the-wall and happy. This year, I had to actually center myself and make sure I was vulnerable in a way so that when I went on stage, I wouldn’t be embarrassed if I started to cry or if my voice cracked.
How did you find that vulnerability?
The monologue was [a part of the play] where [the husband of Rose, her character] just revealed that he cheated on her, and the girl that he cheated with is pregnant and that it was just a mistake. … My father, he was a part of my life, and then he came to my mom and said, “I have to go.” As a child, you don’t want to see your dad just disappear. I tried to remember how I felt when told my mom me. From that point, I was like, “OK, this is how she felt. Let me use that exact moment of how I felt crushed and angry even though I was 5 or 6 years old.” My dad and I are very close today. I told him I used him as my muse … He helped me—told me what he went through—and that helped me establish my character even more.
What was the performance like?
I remember shaking out of nervousness, and sadness as well, because when you grow up doing these theater competitions over and over again, you get to your senior year and think, “Wow, this is my last one.” It’s a little bittersweet. … I actually teared up before I even got to introduce myself. I let my emotions from the bittersweetness and the research of my character get to me so that … it would hit them with the raw emotions. I was actually feeling that fear that I was trying to portray.
Did you relate to Rose at all?
My mom taught me that I have to bring that confidence of, “It doesn’t matter what my sex is. I can say what I need to say.” My character needs to be this woman who’s scared to admit that he broke her heart, but she really is desperate to get her point across.
What’s next for you?
I’m trying to not stay still. I notice that when I do that, I don’t get better. … That’s why I’m auditioning [to be a performer] at Disney World [through its college program]. It’ll help [improve] my singing and my acting. I won’t stop building myself. [At Broward College,] I’m taking musical theater, children’s theater and regular theater while helping out at Monarch’s [drama program].
What’s your dream role years from now?
To play Effie again in “Dreamgirls.” I had so much fun doing it my freshman year [at Dillard High] because Effie is such an important character played by Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Holliday—such legends. I can’t wait to be able to play that role and hopefully become a legend, too.