As an only child, Asia Howard ’16 filled her adolescent world with characters taking the form of stuffed animals and imaginary friends. Things haven’t changed much—Howard spends much of her free time writing and assuming the roles of theatrical characters, comedic personas and the like.
Howard grew up in Atlanta and attended Dekalb School of the Arts, where she was able to study her art. But it was not until the summer after high school that Howard became passionate about something that would later become one of her largest commitments a few months later. “The summer after high school, I was obsessed with stand up comedians and saw on the VANS list that there were student comedy groups. I had to audition,” said Howard.
Now, Howard is a member of No Offense, one of Vassar’s co-ed comedy troupes, where she is able to collaborate with group members in writing and performing sketches. Although comedy brings Howard a great deal of joy, the quest for a laugh is not always an easy one. “I have a really hard time writing sketches, actually. I’m chock full of ideas, but in the execution, I struggle. It just takes me a while.”
But the payback is far worth the struggle. Howard said, “It’s always awesome when we realize the pieces that we’ve created. Our audiences are wonderful and responsive, and they are always down for the crazy, twisted ride.”
Howard’s ability as a comedian is evident, according to fellow No Offense member Collin Knopp-Schwyn ’16. “She’s great. We’ve worked together mostly in comedy and some theater,” he said. “She has the most wonderful sense of humor and seemingly boundless friendliness, which together make her a fantastic collaborator.”
But Howard’s work with No Offense is only a small portion of Howard’s involvement on campus. Howard also sings with the Vassar College Mixed Choir, is a member of the Woodshed Theater Ensemble and has been a part of—and is currently a part of—a number of student productions.
One of the many works of theatre Howard has been involved in this year is Not Anonymous, a collaborative performance piece that addressed a multitude of issues that plague today’s society. Howard said, “Not Anonymous was probably the most special experience I’ve had, because it was the first fully produced devised theatre that I had ever done—and it was very personal. So often as actors we can hide behind characters, but we had to be very honest and open with our stories.”
The behind-the-scenes action made Not Anonymous a particularly rewarding and exciting piece of theater for Howard to be involved with. “The process was so cool! Rehearsals consisted of us doing a lot of journal exercises, team challenges and games that didn’t seem like more than warm-ups at the time,” Howard said. “When we finally compiled all of the work that we’d done, we realized that we had a powerful piece of theatre on our hands. We had such a bond at the end because we had built such trust in each other to be able to share our stories and tie them into one another’s. It was very rewarding to have the talk back and hear that our stories resonated with the audience.”
While she is no stranger to the stage, “Beyond the Wall,” a play written by military veterans including Posse student Jack Eubanks ’17, was a completely new experience for Howard. “The fact that so many of the people risking their lives for us are our age is mind blowing. They have experienced things that I can only imagine, and because of it they have a certain maturity that would usually take years to attain,” she said. “I’m honored to have been involved with a production that will allow more people to come to these realizations and appreciate our service men and women.”
Continuing her involvement in theatre that encompasses hard-hitting issues, Howard was recently cast as Joanne in “Rent.” The social issues “Rent” addresses—AIDS, drugs, homosexuality and age, to name a few—make being part of the musical mean something more to Howard, beyond its performance value. “So many students at our school are familiar with the show, and while it is a very fun show, it tells a very important story about the response to the AIDS epidemic in our society during the early 90’s,” said Howard. “There’s an element of reverence that Doug [Greer ‘14] intends to present. I really respect that. I’m so excited to sing with Brielle [Brook ‘16] and tango with Ryan! The cast is composed of amazing people, and we’re ready to put the work in.”
Soraya Perry ’17, who is cast as Mimi in “Rent,” finds Howard’s ability to take on a variety of characters remarkable. “I am so excited to work with Asia in ‘Rent.’ Asia has a particularly expressive and emotive face that makes her perfect to play a character that is very emotive and can fluctuate from being extremely happy to extremely upset,” Perry said. “She can act all of those emotions very well, not to mention she has a fantastic singing voice that’s both very beautiful and very loud, which is perfect for the character. She’s awesome, and I can’t wait to work with her, and is one of the most talented and versatile people I’ve met here so far.”
Within the average week, Howard must take on comedic and dramatic roles and devote herself equally to each. “Each has elements of the other to create a bit of balance, but the way that you play with the audience’s expectation has a lot to do with it. Commitment is really important all of the time,” Howard said. “I think that comedy is best served straight. The audience doesn’t need a hint that what you’re doing is funny. Trust the reality that you’re in, and people will get it. As for dramatic pieces, it’s also very important to take hold of the moments of levity. We feel the more serious emotions so deeply, that it’s just good for you to provide some balance.”