Story By: Xander Havens

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If it is worth having, it is worth waiting for. If it is worth attaining, it is worth fighting for. If it is worth experiencing, it is worth putting aside time for.” 

-Oscar Wilde 

Before discovering the woods, life is simple. It’s softball games, piano lessons, and clogging all while maintaining a little kid schedule, until one day you find yourself auditioning for The Little Mermaid and realize life’s triumphs hold more value when work and time is put in. This is the discovery of the woods: the awakening and realization that not everything in life can be handed to you. That to reach your dreams and desires work will need to be put in and the outcome will be much more appreciable.  

 Neeley Robertson discovered the woods at a young age when she unearthed her passion for musical theater. Growing up involved in various sports and hobbies, she may have already had enough on her plate when she and her father came across a newspaper ad for a community production of The Little Mermaid. Auditioning and gaining the role of Scuttle, theater rehearsals were soon added to her plate as she found another “hobby” that would ignite the beginnings of her career.  

Graduating high school with a class of 17 in Laurel, Mississippi, Neeley was taught the importance of friendship. At the time, she had only a few community theater productions—including a musical she helped put on at her school—under her belt. She recalls her mother advising her to always exude confidence, but to remember the fine line between it and arrogance. “I didn’t know a thing about auditioning for collegiate level theater” she said. “I came to Alabama; it was my one and only live college audition and I got it!” Not sure if it was fate or the product of her hard work, she felt thankful for the inspirational figures that led her to that stage in her life. Ms. Anita Boyd, Neeley’s high school speech and debate coach, always told her to tell the story she wanted to tell. And soon, coming out of the woods, Neeley found herself in a situation where she could do exactly that. 

Four to five hours. Sunday through Friday, February through April was a drastic change in time commitment from what Neeley was used to before. Being the only freshman lead in the cast of Into the Woods, Neeley was deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn from her more experienced peers. “I get to spend a lot of time on stage with these older people who have been poured into with wisdom and I feel like I’m getting double portions of it.” Neeley’s hard work and determination expressed itself through growth in her acting abilities, willingness to tell her story, and discovery of her personal values. When asked how she’ll feel once the production of Into the Woods is all said and done, Neeley responded, “I think I’ll feel more content and prouder than I’ve ever felt before… like once it’s over I’ll remember the moments but keep them in the past and make new ones afterwards. I’m cherishing every moment now.”  

Looking to make moments in Italy this summer, Neeley is hoping to attend the Trentino Music Festival, the premiere young artist training program in Europe. This festival is held annually, welcomes individuals from all around the globe, and is an opportunity of a lifetime. At the same time of Neeley’s attendance, and perhaps as a sign from above, the Trentino Music Festival will present Into the Woods with these aspiring musical theater artists. “Where they’ll place me? I don’t know. I could be a rock and I’d be as happy as a clam!” said Neeley, eager to learn from seasoned professionals.  

For Neeley, any profession in which she’s able to tell stories is a profession much preferred. Whether that be on Broadway, in the film industry, as a college professor, or as a high school drama teacher, Neeley simply wants to connect emotionally and inspire those she comes across. “You have to expect rejection. You have to strive for success. But either way, you deliver excellence.” Having made it out of the woods with her latest production, Neeley is looking to find her place back within them hoping to continue her growth and tell her story