I've been informally "interviewing" Adrienne Warren, the first black Annie who appeared in a local production of the show in Virginia in 1997. Alex, who posts on this forum, is writing a paper for school about non-traditional casting and wanted help in finding information about Adrienne. So here are the answers to some of Alex's questions to Adrienne, which I found so interesting.
I haven't talked about Annie for years. I did the production in Virginia at the leading family theatre company of that time The Hurrah Players. I auditioned as one of the only girls of color auditioning in the midst of 200 other talented girls. I just wanted to be an orphan because I thought it would be fun. Never in a million years did I expect to be Annie. I was cast on a local news channel in front of a massive crowd and was so shocked i didn't know what to do. My mother was crying! Well after casting me the theatre company got a couple of angry calls disagreeing with the decision. I think a lot of people were also upset because a white girl was my understudy. I was still in elementary school so I really didn't understand the whole race issue. Through the threats and media my father had to be my bodyguard every night after the shows lifting me over his head to get to the autograph table, where I struggled to sign autographs to lines of people waiting outside. I struggled because I was just learning how to write in cursive. When word got to he rest of the country, the next step was an article in a very popular African- American Magazine (JET Magazine) entitled "Black local Virginia girl cast as Annie upsets some whites". I didn't understand what was really happening as it was happening. Well nevertheless, Nancy Carson, child agent in New York caught wing of what I had done and met with me immediately and the rest is history. That year I had performed in almost every theatre in Virginia and was recognized by numerous groups including NAACP, my elementary school even gave me a day where the whole school went to my show and didn't have school. I went through a lot of emotions that year, but it taught me a lot about myself and the world at a very young age. That is a very abridged version, but I was never nervous about the media, I think my parents did that part for me, I just wanted to perform color wasn't a thing to me and to this day I think that experience has a lot to do with the person I am today.
I had the best cast I could have every asked for in that situation. Everyone was so supportive and inspiring through it all. No one ever made me feel like I was a "black girl" playing Annie, but rather just a girl doing what she loved. There were times when I was shadowed by reporters during rehearsals because it seemed like every week just about every news channel in Virginia was doing a special on me. It was quite exhausting and personally I think the cast was just having a good time. They understood what the big deal was but then again they saw the chaos that surrounded me after shows, but no one was ever worried because I had a bodyguard.
Now my understudy...that's a different story. My understudy did not care for me like my cast did...and frankly I didn't blame her. Every girl that auditioned for the show really wanted a chance at being Annie, and she was chosen as my understudy. I never got sick because of all the media, I was informed that people wanted to see a black girl play Annie, and that is what they were going to see. I am sure that was a very tough time for her but we never talked much.
The day my whole school came to my show of course it was on the news. There was a competition at my school, in which certain students would have the chance to ride to the show with me in a limo and of course we were followed by a camera crew. I still remember the night before, I could barely sleep because I knew the younger kids would think I was great but I was sure to be teased by the kids in my grade. It was a bitter sweet performance for me because I was so nervous about what my so called "friends" would say, but I couldn't have been happier that my school took the time to come support me. However it was quite interesting coming back to school with crayon pictures of me drawn and displayed all over the walls.
Opening Night was such an exciting time for me. This is what I had worked so hard for and now was my chance to prove myself. I specifically remember the energy of the orphans that night. There were a lot of us and we couldn't sit still. There was a packed house and my favorite part of the show was all of the orphanage scenes because I was with girls my age, and we were extra mean, dirty, sad, loud, EVERYTHING that night. I was so happy to be on stage. One thing that I remember specifically is the opening night when we opened in a theatre closer to my home town. Just about every African American club, woman's clubs, any club sent me flowers that night. After the show each club had a representative that brought the flowers on stage and soon I was covered in flowers. I even said in front of the whole theatre that it had started to look like a funeral. The other orphans couldn't believe it, neither could I. I couldn't believe that after all of the negativity I had such amazing support telling me that there is nothing wrong with being a black Annie...I was just Annie and Adrienne. Needless to say, my house never smelt so good.
Thank you Adrienne for sharing your ANNIE adventure with us.
What a wonderful and balanced perspective on the whole thing. She obviously was raised by great and wise parents. So interesting to read through how everything played out in front of the cameras and also her personal feelings on all the matters involved as well.
As always thank you Julie for all that you do and all the wonderful people and stories you continually bring to our attention through your awesome website!