Alumni Profile

Alumna enjoying success in Hollywood

Whitney Avalon '03 appeared in two Cheerios commercials, including one that aired during the Super Bowl.

By Kerri Farrell

While you may not yet know the name “Whitney Avalon,” you probably know her work. The 2003 alumna has sung on Spike TV’s “Video Game Awards” with Jack Black’s musical duo Tenacious D; exercised comedic muscles on CBS’s hit series “Big Bang Theory” and dramatic ones on soap opera classic “Days of Our Lives;” and appeared in more than 50 commercials, including as the mother of a biracial family in two well-known Cheerios spots. A talented actress, singer, writer and comedienne, Whitney is the latest Brandeis alum to attain success in show business.

As the daughter of a software engineer, Whitney planned to double major in computer science and theater arts when she arrived at Brandeis as a freshman. While her early work on the University’s website as a student foreshadowed her longstanding interest in technology and its impact on culture, she soon immersed herself in theater. “I spent the majority of my time on campus in the theater building – and very happily so!” she says. “I did make sure to expand my world a bit with classes in other areas, but the bulk of my time was spent in Spingold.”

Her experience on Brandeis’ various stages helped prepare her for a life of auditions and filming. She found a mentor in Professor Adrianne Krstansky, who Whitney describes as a dynamic performer and educator, “not only a powerful actor in her own right but a warm, generous teacher.” Krstansky directed her in a production of Charles Mee’s “The Trojan Women: A Love Story.” Whitney valued the opportunity to become part of a coterie that understood her desire to create. “After a less-than-stellar experience at a public high school, where grades were no problem but I never felt like I fit in, I was so grateful to be surrounded by others who understood my need to sing and write and make faces every day,” she remembers. “To finally be in a community of storytellers meant so much to me.”

Since her graduation, Whitney has pursued creative opportunities in various media, demonstrating a savvy appreciation of a cultural zeitgeist: our reliance on social media and video-sharing site Youtube to discover and embrace new talent. Her original song “Going Down the Rabbit Hole” taps into the humor of internet addiction, even as spoken-word piece “Why I Love the New Facebook Timeline” questions what’s at stake when we make personal information public. “The internet blows my mind, in both its positive and negative aspects,” Whitney admits. “While I hope having my videos online allows them to reach a wider audience, some of their content does reference my concerns about internet addiction and privacy.” She views the internet and its applications as a double-edged sword, a “tool through which people are granted instant access to almost all the knowledge in human history, but also a platform to lob anonymous insults at each other.”

This same positive and negative potential brought one of Whitney’s roles to the fore in May 2013. Playing the mother of an adorable (and biracial) little girl named Gracie, Whitney’s work in what she believed to be “a commercial like any other” became part of a larger discussion on diversity in the media and the internet as a forum for hate. “Maybe I’m naïve, but it genuinely surprised me that there are still racist troglodytes,” she says. Ultimately, there was a happy ending; negative backlash to the commercial was drowned out by overwhelming support for the Cheerios ad’s inclusiveness. Super Bowl 2014 even featured the sequel to the first spot – as well as the news that Gracie’s family would soon become a bit bigger.

Whitney’s outlook on the experience is decidedly Brandeisian; she emphasizes how almost anyone can make an impact. “We live in an age when it’s probably easier than any other time in human history to reach more people, to make their lives better, with whatever you are passionate about.” In her eyes, everyone has a “tiny part” to play in making the world a better place, no matter what their given field. “Pick your dreams carefully and chase them hard,” she advises those currently attending her alma mater. “Enjoy the sandbox that is Brandeis and use its freedom to explore your life’s options and to get as good as you possibly can at the things you love the most.”

For now, Whitney plans to continue wearing many hats. “I’m so lucky to get to make a living in a variety of creative pursuits; fortunately, no one forces you to choose a label and stick with it!” she says. “If I can continue to make people laugh, smile and think with what I put into the world, I’ll be the happiest camper.”

Date: March 11, 2014