AN ARIA FOR ALBRIGHTS: A Grieving Teenage Singer Seeks Healing Through The Power Of Her Voice
While guitars, drums, keyboards and orchestral instruments can make harmonious sounds, the most powerful musical instrument that exists may be the human voice. Even without a small band or giant symphony to back them, singers can simply use their voices to make an incredibly emotional connection with listeners.
The gifts of song and singing can accomplish a lot, but can they help to heal someone’s broken heart? Award-winning director Alexander Jeffery’s new short film An Aria For Albrights explores that query through the story of a talented teenage opera singer named Anne Albright (played by actor/singer Laura Bretan, a finalist on NBC’s America’s Got Talent).
Anne’s beautiful voice has touched everyone who’s ever heard it. Sadly, that voice has been silent following the passing of her beloved grandfather (played by Richard Zeringue), who motivated her to follow her singing dreams. Overcome by anxiety after attempting to sing before family members following her grandfather’s funeral, Anne has never performed for anyone since then.
As Anne’s efforts to sing in public are thwarted by painful flashbacks to that moment, Anne’s vocal instructor (Sam Fisicaro) struggles to keep her pupil focused. Cheered on by her auto mechanic uncle, Nate (played by Paul Petersen, who also wrote the screenplay), Anne gets another opportunity to sing for an audience. Her talent aside, Anne’s courage will determine if her latest performance will be a success.
An Aria For Albrights continues Jeffery’s streak of superb films that have screened at the Louisiana International Film Festival over the years, including the 2015 Louisiana Film Prize-winning The Bespoke Tailoring of Mister Bellamy and 2017’s Memoir. That same year, An Aria For Albrights was one of 20 shorts selected for the annual Louisiana Film Prize competition.
With An Aria For Albrights having been part of the 2018 festival’s Louisiana Short Film program, Jeffery — who was an actor before he turned to filmmaking — recalls how the concept of his latest short was shaped by his own battles with pre-performance jitters, and by the excitement of artistic pursuits.
Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What and/or who inspired you to make An Aria For Albrights?
Jeffery: For me, it all starts with the script. I thought Paul wrote a really interesting script, because it kind of delved a little bit into his personal life at the time, and it was also able to capture this character, Anne, (who was) kind of based on Laura Bretan herself. The thing that I connected to in this script was this idea of performance anxiety, like being afraid to sing (and) to show your gift to the world.
I was an actor for years and years and years. Of course, I dealt with that because I do have anxiety. I’ve pushed back against anxiety for years and years and years. It is something that lots of people face, and I’m not alone in that, but it’s rather difficult. There’s certainly worse things, but when you’ve dealt with it you know how cumbersome it can be to carry that around with you.
Did you channel those experiences into the script, and ultimately, into the final product of the film?
Jeffery: Absolutely. There’s a whole scene in which she (Anne) has a panic attack. When we shot that, I really wanted to find a way to visually capture what I’ve felt when I’ve had panic attacks. We tried to find ways to do things with the camera. One of the ideas that our director of photography, Joel Froome, had was to actually pull the lens in and out of the camera to create the sense that reality is distorted.
You’re kind of zoning out, and I thought it looked cool. We shot in slo-mo. We pulled the lens in and out of the camera to create this weird effect. My experiences having that (panic attacks) definitely made me able to talk to Laura and tell her how I experienced these things, and hopefully (they) find their way onto the screen.
Talk about how you found the cast for An Aria For Albrights, plus your memories of working with them.
Jeffery: Laura Bretan is known for her America’s Got Talent fame. She was on the show a couple of years ago, and she was one of the finalists. She’s 15, she’s a wonderful performer and a really great actress. We hoped that she would do the film when we wrote the script. We reached out to her, and luckily enough, she was interested in doing it.
Nate Albright, her uncle, is played by my good friend and the writer of the film, Paul Petersen. I think Paul’s a fantastic actor, and I love any opportunity that I can get to work with him. The grandfather, who is there in the beginning to represent what she’s (Anne’s) missing, is played by Richard Zeringue, who I met while working with Jency Griffin Hogan. Richard is an actor, based in Baton Rouge.
Then, Sam Fisicaro, also from Baton Rouge, plays the voice teacher in the film. I think she is just such a good actress, and I was really looking for another opportunity to work with her. I actually wrote a film for her last year called Last Light, that she produced and starred in. I was looking for any chance I could get to work with her again, because she’s just fantastic.
What was it like working with Laura?
Jeffery: First of all, she’s a consummate professional. Despite her age, she is incredibly hard-working and takes things very seriously. She’s all about the craft, so I really appreciated that.
She had done a little bit of acting before, but this was her first big leading role with a lot of lines. I just thought she was so natural, and that she really brought herself to the role, which was more than I could have asked for. I had a great time working with her. Singing is what she’s known for, and the thing that we fought back against was that nobody believed it was actually her singing, because she’s so good.
Talk about the aria Laura sings in the film.
Jeffery: It’s an existing piece by Aaron Copland, called “Long Time Ago”. It’s a beautiful piece, and I thought it really fit the tone of what we were going to try to capture in the end. I really wanted to use that particular piece in the film, because I just thought it represented the ending so, so well. The stuff that Copland writes is so sparse and poignant and really beautiful.
What was the production process like?
Jeffery: It was a great time. We had a lot of fun. (We filmed in) June in Shreveport, Louisiana, so it’s incredibly hot, and there’s a lot of mosquitoes and bugs. A lot of our film takes place outside, but we got really lucky because that whole last scene of the movie takes place underneath the stars at night. The way we wanted to shoot it, we had a 30-minute window where the lighting was correct in order to get those shots.
Each night we’d go out there. It was supposed to rain, and it ended up not raining whenever we needed it not to rain, so we just got super lucky. Overall, it was a great team, and (it was) just an incredible group of people to work with. (It was) one of the best crews that I’ve ever worked with before. I just had an awesome time shooting it.
What do you hope people will take away from watching An Aria For Albrights?
Jeffery: If one young person watches this film and says, “I’m inspired. I want to try (music, theater, the arts, etc.). It’s not easy for anybody, but I think it’s worth taking the risk,” I will be so, so happy.
The trailer for An Aria for Albrights appears, as follows:
The web site for Jeffery’s production company, Bespoke Works, features the full version of An Aria for Albrights: