It’s one thing to play the role of a lifetime. But it’s another to grow within it and reach new heights.
Aiyana Smash is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to her passions.
With her deep concern for mental health, she works as a certified life coach, providing an emotional foundation to many professionals on-the-rise.
In her artistic career, she is a vocalist extraordinaire and has released incredible music such as “Queen,” her single that calls for empowerment in women.
But when it comes to why she’s turning heads in the District, it’s her upcoming portrayal of Mimi Marquez on the 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour of Rent at The National Theatre that’s making lasting impressions.
Making a Dream Reality
Considering herself to be a person who’s strong, kind and making headway toward being fearless, Smash’s drive to succeed comes from a desire to lift up other Black women in the theatre industry.
“My hesitation to perform came from a lack of representation for women like myself. Though I loved acting, it was discouraging not to see the familiar faces that made up my life onstage,” Smash confesses.
“But with my great education at the Institute of Musical Theatre and the amazing support I got from others, I took the first steps toward my goal and now I’m in a position where I welcome other Black actresses to take the torch from me and move forward.”
A Family Name
When I first touched base with Smash, I was so enamored by her last name.
Initially thinking it was a bold and kick-ass stage persona, I asked her what exactly inspired the move to call herself a “Smash.” But there was no better answer when I learned the surname was no choice.
Not on her part at least.
“Thank you for the compliment. Smash is actually my legal last name.”
“When [an early ancestor] had claimed his freedom from slavery, he didn’t want to use the name of his former oppressor and instead adopted a new name that was entirely his and his family’s” Aiyana beautifully recounts.
To hear that Smash’s family has had this drive to be self-actualized even in the most difficult times was inspiring to me.
It gave so much context as to why Aiyana is such a powerful performer and an advocate for all people.
Mimi In a Whole New Light
Now when it comes to Smash’s portrayal in this farewell tour, it’s important to remember that this isn’t her first spin as the iconic Mimi Marquez.
While only 19 years old and arguably new in the world of big touring productions, Smash graced stages all over with her approach to Mimi on Rent’s 20th anniversary run.
And having already nailed it as Mimi the first time around, you’d think Smash would simply click repeat, but it’s been anything but a repeat according to Smash herself.
“I’ve grown so much since playing Mimi last time. And with growing up, I came to appreciate Mimi for more than just her youth and love of life.”
“With replaying this role, I realized that Mimi is not a little girl, but a mature adult with so much independence and power over her person. She doesn’t follow the flow. Mimi is her own woman and makes her presence known to the story,” Smash says with confidence.
To approach a role years later and learn that the character is much deeper than first thought is such a treat and milestone for skilled performers.
And with her growth as Mimi, Smash’s nights at The National Theatre are bound to be a real pleasure for audiences in attendance.
Larson and Aiyana
With this tour being listed as Rent’s farewell, I asked Smash exactly what this end means for the show’s legacy.
“It’s a farewell, but it’s not goodbye,” Smash confesses.
“This is the end of the original run and staging devised by Jonathan Larson. But with this end, so many possibilities open up for this beautiful story.”
Speaking on the legacy of the late Larson and his recent resurgence due to Andrew Garfield’s portrayal on Netflix, I asked Smash what it’s been like depicting such a compelling story devised by such a driven artist.
“So much is owed to Larson for his humanizing portrayal of the AIDS epidemic.”
“It’s unfortunate he never saw the lives he touched, but his legacy doesn’t diminish because of his short life. I’ve met so many of his friends and colleagues and there’s no question how adamant he was about giving others a voice.”
Not only is Aiyana Smash a performer with many sides to her, but she is also a creative who gives thanks to those before her and demands justice for so many people deserving of humanity.
Speaking to her was a pleasure unlike any other.
Catch this wonderful performance and see Aiyana Smash bring life to a role with 25 years of history.
The Rent National Tour hits the stage at Washington, D.C.’s The National Theatre on March 25 and runs until the 27.
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