BWW Interview: Nia Holloway of THE LION KING at Robinson Performance Hall
How does a singer, performer and basketball star from Georgia book a National tour, while still in high school? Nia Holloway who is playing adult Nala in The Lion King, was gracious enough to give up some of her precious free time to share her experiences. She is delightful, wise and even a little bit surprising.
Name: Nia Holloway
What was the first musical that you saw live?
The first musical I saw live was The Lion King. I had done stage plays when I was in middle school and locally in high school but the first musical I saw live was actually The Lion King when I went and got fitted for my costume. I got to sit and watch the show with my mom and I was just absolutely blown away. I just couldn't believe I was going to be a part of that. So what I remember was talking to my mom when the show started and I said "Mom, I'm going to be up there." And she said " I can't believe it"
How did you get the first audition, was it through an agent or a manager?
No, actually almost 5 years ago, now The Lion King had an open call audition. They we're going all over the country and they had an open call in Atlanta and I went to that audition and Mark Brandon, the casting director liked me and then I came back the very next day and I auditioned for him and he was asking questions about where I went to school and I said " I go to Norcross high school." He said " Are you about to graduate ?" I said "No I'm a Junior." He said "Okay. Well, we'll be in touch" and you know, sometimes when you hear those words "We'll be in touch" they probably aren't going to be. About a month went by and I actually didn't hear anything and my parents and I decided to email the casting director to let him know I really appreciated the opportunity. Just being in the room with Mark, not only did I audition for him, he gave me tips and tools that I should use that worked for other auditions. Surprisingly, he emailed us back and let us know that there was a final call in New York and I went to that audition. That one was two days long and it was some of the hardest work I had ever done but it was definitely rewarding. About 2 weeks after that audition. I was on spring break and my mom woke me up at 6 in the morning and she said "Good morning Nala" and I said "No way!" I remember jumping on my bed, then me and my family were just crying. My life just changed, I went from being a normal high school student doing local plays and recording music and playing basketball. I just won a state championship with my basketball team. I went from going to school every day to being on a National tour.
For the the original audition, did they say bring in a song from Lion King or did they just say do whatever you would like to do?
You had to prepare Nala's solo but then you had to also bring in your own song. I actually sang "Listen" by Beyonce from Dreamgirls.
When you got to the call back did they teach you choreography and lines?
Yes, it was going through a very important scene I had with Simba in the show. I was going over Shadowland, which is my solo and then the choreography for that.
It was a lot of hard work, we worked for 7 hours. They really put you through it, to see if you can get it done because the work we do on tour is a lot. On top of rehearsals, we do 8 shows a week, sometimes 9, sometimes 10 shows. On top of traveling every 2 to 4 weeks, it's a lot of hard work. They definitely gave me a taste of what it would be like.
How many girls were at the callback for Nala?
The final audition had about 20 girls. I was quite surprised because I thought it would just be a couple of girls, but it was a lot. It was nerve-wracking at first, but once I got in the room and I had been there so long, I just made the decision to completely focus on myself. I think this is good advice for any kid trying to be an entertainer, when you get an audition, just completely focus on yourself. Then I just felt like at that moment, it was meant for me to be Nala. As artists, we have to understand that, this is for us and nothing is going to change that. When you go into that room you have to be confident in the work that you put in front of them. It doesn't matter what happens after that and that's how I felt. I just happened to get it that time.
What was the rehearsal process like after you got the part?
It was everyday, music, choreography and acting. It was 5 weeks and a lot of time working with our creative team and our resident Directors, resident choreographer and conductor. It gave me a taste of what it was going to be like because they definitely work you and pull a lot out of you. I have been with the show for almost 5 years now and I have grown so much, not only as an artist and entertainer but as a person.
It seems like what you gained through that process, is what a lot of students get through Musical Theatre training at colleges and universities.
Honestly, through the years, I have gotten that experience. It's definitely different and I value and admire training you get from going to school but my journey was a little different. I didn't miss out on an opportunity to learn, I've learned so much and I'm still learning.
What has been the best part of being on the road, besides the people?
I know you said besides the people, but it honestly is the people. As an entertainer, any time you get out on any stage, if it's in front of an audience of 3,000 or an audience of 3, it's a blessing, doing what you love. Being able to travel all around the country, especially with the state that our country is in now. To be a part of the show that brings in diversity, authenticity, culture, love, happiness and revolution. To be part of a show that's not just pretty singing and dancing, it has a message and it has a goal. That's the best part of being on tour. This show is not just a source of entertainment, we come into these cities and we are a source of freedom and beauty and inclusiveness.
What is the biggest challenge being on the road?
The biggest challenge is being away from your family. I'm here with my second family but being away from the people you love is the hardest part. It's a healthy alternative. I always tell kids when they ask "Do you get tired?" and I'm always tired but I'd much rather be tired from something I love then something I hate.
What has been the most surprising thing that has happened during your journey with The Lion King?
Thinking back, I was 17 when I started and now I'm 22. I think back on that time when I came in and I was just a baby back then. There were so many things that could have gone wrong and I'm just in a way, surprised that Disney took a chance on me. This is a very big show and this is a show that's for grown-ups, you have to be a grown-up, you have a job to do. So I was surprised that they really took a chance on me. They took a chance on me and I'm very grateful and we both benefitted from that chance.
Is there a role that exists right now that you would love to play?
There isn't a role that exists right now, the only dream role I see is the dream role that I originate. As an entertainer, I would love to originate a role. Someday, my dream is to be some kind of a superhero. I'm really into fitness and Marvel and I would love to be a superhero someday.
If you could't act or perform what would you do?
If I wasn't able to perform, I would be an MMA fighter. That's something that I have always been obsessed with as a kid watching wrestling, and then now watching MMA and UFC. I took Taekwondo as a kid and have always been in love with that art. So if I wasn't a singer or entertainer, I would be some kind of boxer or fighter, I love that sport.
Wow, I would never have guessed that as an answer but that's great. Last question, what's the best advice you ever got?
Last summer I got some advice from a guy that does a lot of shows in Toronto and he told me "In this life, do not take yourself so serious. Life is too short to take yourself that serious." It was some advice that I needed as a performer especially being so young. In this industry, you want things so fast. You look around and it looks like things are happening to everyone else except for you. You have to take the time to smell the roses and just not take yourself so serious. It's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to not be doing anything. It's okay to be working on your craft because those are times that help you grow. I'm very young but I'm very passionate about what I want, sometimes I don't give myself credit and I don't give myself a break so that was the best advice I've received recently.
Nia Holloway and the rest of The Lion King cast will be in Little Rock through May 6th. For tickets contact in person at Celebrity Attractions, via phone at 866.870.2717 or locally at 501.244.8800 or online at lionking.com