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Student actor ready for big break

Anna Peterson, a junior at Jefferson High School in Alexandria, recently starred in Moon Over Buffalo and she plans to attend an acting program at New York University this summer. She’s pictured with fellow student actor Tristan Chamberlain. (Contributed)1 / 3
Anna Peterson of Alexandria has starred in several local plays and musicals, including Oklahoma! last spring. (Contributed)2 / 3
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Anna Peterson is just 17 years old and she’s already caught her first big break – she was chosen to take part in a prestigious acting program in New York City this summer.

“I freaked out,” she told the Echo Press. “I called my mom right away. I was like, ‘Mom, I got in.’”

Peterson, a junior at Jefferson High School (JHS) in Alexandria, was accepted into the New Studio Summer Music Theatre Program at New York University (NYU), an intensive, four-week training presented by Tisch School of the Arts.

She was chosen as one of 16 girls out of nearly 700 applicants.

“I was really nervous and thought I wasn’t going to get in because there are so many people applying,” Peterson said. “But then I thought, ‘Why not me?’”

The program includes dance, vocal, speech and acting classes, attending shows and writing analysis papers and offers six college credits to each participant.

“We will also be training with top professionals, which is amazing, and just seeing the city – I feel like I’m going to cry when I step off the plane,” she said.

Jessica Chipman, a District 206 theater arts and English instructor and JHS theater director, said, “NYU Tisch is widely accepted as the best overall university program for drama in the United States. Their graduates go on to highly successful careers on Broadway, in regional theater, and in film and television. Anna Peterson’s acceptance into, and subsequent completion of this program, will essentially be an open door for her into any musical theater undergraduate program in the United States.”


Peterson said she’s always loved theater.

“I went to so many shows when I was a kid and I’m so thankful for it because not many kids get to do that. I went to Annie, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast like three times and Wicked,” she said. She is the daughter of Melissa Peterson and Brian Peterson, both of Alexandria.

Peterson was in her first musical when she was 7 years old, but it was last school year that her passion for being on stage played out.

“They were looking for people to be in the fall play, Almost Maine, and I thought, ‘Why not? I haven’t done this in a long time. I’ve always loved singing and dancing.’ After that, I auditioned for the one act play, Spring Awakening. I got into that and loved it.

“It was an acting experience that really changed me. That experience helped me grow as a performer. I felt so comfortable, I could do whatever and nobody was judging me. It just opened me up. That’s when I decided, OK, this is what I want to do with my life.”

Chipman said, as an actor, Peterson’s talents lend themselves toward many characters in the musical theater genre.

“She can easily play the ingénue, the brassy comic relief, or the bold heroine. To be honest, I might not have the opportunity to direct someone as talented in the ‘triple threat’ of acting, singing and dancing again in my career,” Chipman said.

Peterson was in the fall play this school year, the one-act play competition and she’s set to play the lead role in the high school’s spring play, Thoroughly Modern Millie.

On stage, she said she feels at home. “It’s kind of like a family once you get into it. Being on stage is a rush, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Sometimes I just go sit out there and just stare out into the seats. It’s amazing.”

Chipman added, “I’m really proud of Anna. Her drive to be her best and do her best is unmatched among students her age. However, despite her many gifts, her goal is always to have the best overall production possible, not for her own character to be the best. I wish every student shared her humble, team-oriented philosophy and leadership. It’s a pleasure to be her director.”

Now more than ever, Peterson has her heart set on New York City this summer.


She received her acceptance notice last month and Peterson said it’s all starting to sink in, particularly the program cost – about $10,000 total, she estimated.

“What I think about a lot is maybe I won’t get the funds to go, but I’m not going to give up on myself. I know I can do this,” she said. “It’s a lot but it’s not impossible.”

She did not receive a program scholarship. However, Peterson set up an online fundraising account at

“I’ve had a few donations… Some of my teachers have made contributions in one way or another. It’s been nice to see community things happening. I heard it was on the radio and that was pretty cool to hear. Getting the word out has been cool.”

She works part-time at Doolittle’s in Alexandria and said she’s raised about $1,500 so far.

“Right now, I just need help getting there. I wrote a letter I’ll send out for sponsorship and donations. Anything helps right now. If anybody wants to help me achieve my dream, that would be amazing. I’d be so grateful because this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. Who knows, maybe you’ll see me on stage and be like, ‘Hey, I helped that girl get there.’”

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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