AJ Pendola and Austen Willis were honored earlier this year at the Liberty District Play Festival. Both Stone Bridge High School students were two of the eight students named to the festival's all-star cast. AJ was also named Outstanding Actor for the entire festival. The following questions were answered by AJ, Austen's responses will run next week.
Where did you grow up?
I've spent most of my life moving around frequently — because my dad was in the Navy. Among the places we lived were Georgia, Connecticut, England and South Carolina. I have lived in Loudoun County since '99.
Tell us about your family:
My mother has been a teacher at Countryside Elementary for several years winning such awards as "Teacher of the Year." Parents consistently request for placement of their children in her class and she is a favorite by her students. My father works for the government, as well as being an active Navy reservist. He, too, is an educator being supporting faculty at George Mason.
Favorite school subject:
What is your favorite (or least favorite) thing about school?
Favorite: The broad extracurricular opportunities. I am involved in many programs thanks to school including International Thespian Society, Cappies NCA, All-District and recently All-State Choir, Virginia Math League and many more. The activities not only make good use of my time but I meet a lot of people from other schools as well.
Least Favorite: The gratuitous homework from the rigorous classes.
What do you want to do when you get older?
Right now my only solidified plan is to go to college and graduate school — beyond that I simply can't decide.
How did you begin acting?
I honestly never considered acting as a path for my high-school career until my brother got involved. His consistent positive attitude and funny stories about the program convinced me that this was the place I wanted to be.
Tell us about your recent award:
The AAA Liberty District Theatre Festival is a host to a variety of one-act plays. Each school is allowed to bring one play that exemplifies the talents of its actors and actresses — not technical theater. At the end of the competition, best ensembles are selected and the winner advances to the Regional competition, but in addition eight actors are recognized as an "All-Star Cast." The All-Star Cast consists of the top-eight actors of the day, regardless of gender or school affiliation. (Austen Willis from Stone Bridge High School was recognized in the All-Star Cast with me). From the All-Star Cast, the best actor and best actress of the day are picked out and receive a special recognition. I was fortunate to win best actor for the role of Sganarelle in Sganarelle, or the Imaginary Cuckold, and the best actress was Julia Weed for her role in The Mandate.
Who inspires you as an actor?
The environment of Running Dog productions created by teacher Glen Hochkeppel and Principal James Person is very nurturing to individualism while still working as an ensemble. The constant new ideas and interpretations from my peers in Running Dogs has always been an inspiration to me.
What is your favorite, book, movie and play?
Book: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
Movie: Spirited Away.
Play: The Mandate by Nikolai Erdman.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
College/applying to graduate school.
Favorite place to hang out in the community?
The drama department at Stone Bridge.
What are some ideas you have on ways to improve your community?
I would really like to see a stronger presence of high-school [arts] in the community. Right now the student board (myself included) for the Piedmont Arts Foundation is working to help connect the drama departments together more than they ever have before. I believe the new partnership between schools would bring more students together and our combined efforts would increase support of the departments and enhance the overall productions.
Who is a historical figure you would like to meet?
R. Buckminster Fuller.
Describe how you would most enjoy spending a single day?
Sometimes a day off is golden, but standing alone I would like to reunite with the cast of Sganarelle and do another performance, play saxophone and take a voice lesson.
If you could be anyone else, who would you be and why?
There is a senior at another school who is motivated, nice, talented and was just accepted on early admission to Northwestern. I feel this is a good model to follow.
Do you have a favorite quotation?
"I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." — Thomas Jefferson.