Alyssa Navarro shares her professional debut
by Alison Rodriguez
photography by Michael Saakyan
Not every day does one get to be a princess. Bright lights illuminate her face, and the roar of the crowd blares in her ears as a whirlwind of dancers and dazzling colors fly around her. Her dark black hair reflects the spotlight, and she smiles out into the darkness as her pink and purple silk robes swirl. Before breaking out into the song “Reflection,” she takes a moment to think about how different it all would have been if she had not said “yes” to her casting director; how that young woman from Rowland Heights would have never experienced the rush of adrenaline that comes from a Disney crowd or know what it is like to have people know you by name. With all these thoughts in mind, she embraces the music like an old friend and sings with the strength of the warrior princess that she is.
Moments like these are a part of University of La Verne junior Alyssa Navarro’s life. At La Verne, she studies public relations, but at Disneyland, she is an actress and dancer in the show “Mickey and the Magical Map.” At barely 20 years of age, Alyssa has accomplished endeavors for which others have childhood dreams. She is a professional singer and dancer at the Disneyland theme park and has performed in more than 10 different shows and musicals. On campus, she is an engaged member of several organizations, including in the Communications Department. She leads as a radio DJ, as a staff writer for the Campus Times, as a senator for the Associated Students of the University of La Verne (ASULV) and holds a position in her sorority. She does it all and continues to strive for the best version of herself.
Alyssa’s adventure began when she was 3 years old, and her parents took her to watch an “Annie” musical audition. Watching her dance and sing along with the participants, her parents realized that their daughter had a future in performing. They bought her a karaoke machine, and Alyssa has not stopped singing since. At first, she only performed at family events. “One of my favorite memories of Alyssa is when she and I sang a duet of the song ‘The Prayer’ for my mother’s 75th birthday,” says Alyssa’s father Marlon Navarro.
As time went on, she began performing for organizations and events at her school. To add to her singing talents, her parents enrolled her in classes. Tap, ballet, jazz, hip-hop dance, piano, hula and singing became part of her repertoire. She joined the Aldeguer Sisters Performing Arts Center for children when she was 8 and performed for large audiences. The Arts Center performances helped her build more confidence and skill, which in turn gave her the tools she needed to take the next step forward—professional auditions.
Alyssa inherited her love for the world of Disney from her father, a technical support engineer for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Early on, her father would bring her to his workplace to attend cast parties to watch movies before they were released to the public. Their family went to Disneyland frequently since Marlon was an employee. “I thought it was awesome because not many children could say that they saw movies before they came out or got free Disney stuff,” says Alyssa. “I would brag to all my friends about how it was awesome touring behind the scenes, Disney studios and seeing backstage.” She describes one encounter that really inspired her. “My favorite day was when we got to tour the Disney prop room. It was just my dad and I, and we got to see the whole room with all the props from every Disney movie. After visiting there, I knew that I would eventually work with something like that, and it made me love the Disney Company even more.”
Although she grew up surrounded by the Disney experience, it was not until later when she really considered looking for employment. “My friend from high school worked for Tokyo Disney, and I would see all her pictures on Facebook,” says Alyssa. “It looked like a super fun job, so I started looking up auditions and checked everyday, starting my senior year of high school.”
The day finally came when Alyssa attended her first audition in Yorba Linda. Initially, she auditioned for the show “Aladdin,” but she was cut in one of the first rounds. The rejection inspired her to keep going, and, sure enough, she made it through all three rounds of her next audition and was cast as a dancer in the show “Fantasmic.” “I was so ecstatic because I’m not a trained dancer; I just pick it up,” Alyssa says. “I was a little surprised because I wasn’t expecting to get a job that day, but I was super excited because I knew I was one step closer to my dream job as a character.”
Alyssa’s opportunity for a large role quickly came in the form of a new show called “Mickey and the Magical Map.” “After being cast in ‘Fantasmic,’ it really gave me the push to strive for other auditions since I had already been cast once,” she says. The audition process was long and grueling. “We usually cast about 6 percent of the people that we see, but it really depends on what is needed,” says Reinaldo Escoffery, Disney production stage manager.
After two weeks of waiting, she received a callback announcing that she would be cast in two roles: one of Mickey’s fellow mapmakers and as Mulan in the new musical. “I was sitting in Davenport when I got the call. I had already given up at this point since so much time had passed, but I recognized the number and picked up right away,” says Alyssa. “I was so excited. I literally almost started to cry, but I managed to hold it together. Nothing could bother me that day. It was the highlight of my life at that point in time.”
After that, Alyssa’s life became a whirlwind of rehearsals and costume fittings. Because Disneyland is open during the day, most of the practices are at night, stretching from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Consequently, the employees are frequently tired. “It was pretty rough because a lot of the time I had class at 7:40 a.m.,” Alyssa says. “I’d end up pushing through the night and going straight to class or taking a short nap right before. It was hard, but I think it was worth it because I didn’t have to miss class, and we got paid overtime.”
New employees are required to attend what Reinaldo calls “Disney University,” which includes intense stage safety training sessions. At Disney University, new employees are taught fun facts and the history of the company, as well as the four keys that keep the company running: safety, efficiency, courtesy and show. With these four qualities in mind, each employee is expected to live up to the Disney standard. For Alyssa, this was not problem. “Alyssa is really reliable; she is always here when she says she is going to be here,” Reinaldo says. “She always pushes herself as hard as she can and is a fantastic performer. We love her as one of our mapmakers.”
Once part of the company, Alyssa needed to find a way to balance work and school, so she negotiated her contract. She was hired as a casual temporary, which means that she fills in for the regulars when they cannot make it. This accommodates her fast-paced lifestyle well since she gets to make her own hours and chooses when to perform.
As a warrior princess, Alyssa has found a way to bring out her inner strength in all aspects of her life. On campus, she has recently attained the position as senator-at-large in ASULV. With food as her main focus in ASULV, she works with the Bon Appetit employees at Davenport Dining Hall. Her job as a senator is to represent the opinions of the student body. “Students have said they want more gluten-free, healthier and more variety in terms of food options. So we are doing that,” says Alyssa. “We are changing the menu at Barbara’s Place; it is not just going to be Mexican food. The plan is to have food items that are similar to Barb’s current daily specials.” Her fellow senators have noticed her work ethic. “Alyssa is a really hard worker in everything she does,” former senator Megan Keller says. “She’s one of the most dedicated people I know, and when she commits to something, she pushes for it 110 percent. She’s not all business all the time, but she has this creative side that she brings to the group that I know will be showcased throughout the year.”
Alyssa is also a member of Leo FM, Campus Times, HerCampus.com and Sigma Kappa sorority. As a part of her major, she recently joined Leo FM. “I was very impressed when I began training Alyssa. She is a very fast learner and is a natural entertainer,” radio major and trainer for Leo FM Nudia Hernandez says. “Alyssa brings a great amount of energy to Leo FM and is a great addition to our staff. She has a talent for sounding confident and charming even when she is nervous on the inside.”
Although she may be a princess now, Alyssa does not know how long that magic will last. “It’s something I enjoy, and I am passionate about for now, so I’m going to keep going with it until something else pops up.” Her goal is to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in public affairs and then to pursue her master’s degree. First, though, she is still looking to expand her performing career at Disneyland. She plans to continue auditioning for other shows, including the California Adventure Aladdin show. “This whole experience definitely met my expectations,” she says. “The only thing I would say is I wish I did it more often. I hope I can get involved with something else, but I will see what happens.”
Her family is especially grateful for Alyssa’s opportunities at Disneyland. “I think Alyssa has gained great confidence performing and speaking in front of an audience,” Marlon says. “Alyssa’s job at Disneyland is a great experience for her because she is exposed to working with a group of talented artists, such as dancers, singers and choreographers. As long as Alyssa is happy with her career choices and does her best, she will excel in anything she puts her mind to.”