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Class of 2013: U.Va. Grad Shares Her Passion for Art as Multi-talented Performer

After four years of excelling at the University of Virginia, the reviews for Ali Stoner’s arts-centered academic career are in.

“Ali Stoner is the real deal ­– a generous, spirited and gifted young artist,” said Richard Warner, a drama professor and head of acting in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences.

“In my 23 years on the faculty in the U.Va. Department of Drama, Ali Stoner has been one of our most talented, creative, intelligent, thoughtful and caring students,” said Robert Chapel, professor of musical theater and producing artistic director of the Heritage Theatre Festival. “Ali has done superb work as an actress, singer and dancer, and she has been one of our most important student leaders.”

Music, acting and dance have been the “real deal” for so much of Stoner’s life that her artistic experiences and performances barely can be contained in a single resume.

This weekend, Stoner will graduate from the College with a double major in drama and arts administration.

“I credit my ongoing involvement in the arts to the encouragement of my teachers and mentors and to the unyielding support of my family and friends,” Stoner said.

Stoner’s parents started her young, enrolling her in piano and classical singing lessons. In middle school, Stoner was inspired by her band and choral teachers to explore musical theater, and at Western Albemarle High School in Crozet, Stoner spent time in choir and band as well as participating in the school’s spring musicals. She also performed in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with New Lyric Theatre, a now-defunct Charlottesville theater company.

Greg Harris, New Lyric’s then-artistic director and currently a music director for the Heritage Theatre Festival, cast Stoner as an ensemble player for “The Pirates of Penzance” – her first professional role and her introduction to Charlottesville’s thriving theater community.

“I am thankful that my parents allowed me to take advantage of Charlottesville’s arts scene,” Stoner said. “They drove me to a ridiculous amount of dance classes, music lessons, rehearsals, auditions and concerts while I was growing up.”

Stoner’s mother, the late Sara Gropen, graduated from U.Va.’s School of Law. “My mom, sadly, passed away from breast cancer in 2001,” Stoner said. “She was always at my shows – taking pictures, making sure I had a microphone, volunteering to sell tickets.

“My dad, Dave Stoner, is an engineer, and my stepmother, Jennie Moody, is a research associate professor in U.Va.’s Department of Environmental Sciences. Neither of them comes from an arts background, but they almost never missed my performances.”

Stoner knew she wanted to perform, but chose U.Va. because it offered educational experiences not available at an acting conservatory. “I’ve taken courses in ethics, calculus and comparative politics – all of which have informed my understanding of the world and contributed to me as an artist,” she said.

In her drama classes, Stoner learned all aspects of production – theatrical design, stage management, dramatic literature and criticism, directing, and of course, performance.

“You’re not going to succeed in today’s industry if you don’t understand all of these elements and how best to synthesize them,” she said. 

During the past four years, Stoner has performed in films, several dance performances and many theatrical productions for the drama department, First Year Players, Heritage Theatre Festival, Williamstown (Mass.) Theatre Workshop and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

“Ali Stoner is a charismatic, exciting and graceful actress,” Warner said. “She makes performing on stage seem effortless. If you’ve had the pleasure of directing her in a play or working with her in an acting class, you know how much effort Ali pours into her craft.”

Stoner praised U.Va.’s drama faculty as well as George Sampson, director of the arts administration program, which she said shaped and renewed her creativity.

“I learned about management, development, finance and marketing, but the arts administration major is about much more than that,” Stoner said. “It’s about understanding the arts in context, informing yourself about a variety of artistic genres and learning to critique current situations within the art world.”

“Ali is a wonderfully talented actress,” Sampson said. “She is a terrific student, a great friend to all of us involved with arts administration and a highly creative thinker.”

Stoner certainly took advantage of her opportunities while at U.Va. Among the most meaningful, she said, were co-chairing the U.Va. Arts Board and helping bring the world-famous Pilobolus dance troupe to Grounds; serving as president of Virginia Players, the student wing of the drama department; performing and choreographing for First Year Players; studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London for a semesterlong intensive course, “Shakespeare in Performance”; choreographing main-stage musicals “Evita” and “Spring Awakening” at U.Va.; interning for the summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival; and receiving an Undergraduate Award for Arts Projects grant from U.Va.’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence to study musical theatre choreography, later the topic for her undergraduate thesis.

“Creating theater is all about collaboration, and Ali has distinguished herself in so many areas beyond performance,” Warner said. “As president of the department’s student-run organization, as a scholar learning about Shakespeare in London or as an intern at the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival, Ali has excelled as an energized leader and student on many complex projects.”

“I came to U.Va. wanting to entertain people, but I am leaving wanting to change the world,” Stoner said. “That statement is so corny, but true nonetheless.

“Going into the entertainment industry is hugely competitive, especially as a performer. It’s a decision that has to be made over and over again. There have been opportunities for me to go in different directions, but I’ve always wanted to pursue theater and production. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

This summer, Stoner plans to intern with Hollywood producer Julie Lynn – a “Double ’Hoo” with degrees from the College and the School of Law – as Lynn shoots a movie, “5 to 7,” in New York City. In July, she plans to return to Charlottesville to perform in Heritage Theatre Festival’s musical, “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” at the newly opened Ruth Caplin Theatre.

“And after that, who knows?,” she said.

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