Alyson Stoner has accumulated more film and television credits by the age of twenty-three than most actors amass in a lifetime. A triple threat — actress, singer, and choreographer — Alyson is best known for her work in the Step Up film series and Cheaper by the Dozen, along with appearances in music videos for popular artists like Missy Elliot, Will Smith, and Outkast.
“Entertainment is equally technical and creative,” Alyson shared in a recent interview with IVY Magazine. “It demands rigorous daily training and self-development, followed by repeated surrender and surprise. Essentially, we are aspiring experts of people and ourselves — researching, analyzing, empathizing, portraying, and storytelling through infinite media.”
Alyson is also known for her role in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, as the host for Disney Channel’s Mike’s Super Short Show, and for voicing Isabella Garcia-Shapiro in Phineas and Ferb. She sat down with IVY Magazine to discuss her rollercoaster journey to fame, describe how she maintains her tireless motivation, and provide five concrete tips for those juggling multiple talents at the same time.
When did you fall in love with entertaining? What was your first joy — acting, singing, or dancing?
I didn’t know I loved entertainment until 10 years in when I contemplated quitting. My health was failing from pressures to stay size 000 — yes, three zeroes; the constant rejection of auditioning had ruined my identity and self-worth; and I wondered if it’d be wiser and more meaningful to pursue other careers. I then filled in all the blank space beyond the typical job description and felt my true passion for the first time. I saw how art was not only a life instructor, but also perhaps what rescued me from a lot of other painful circumstances. However, I don’t feel married to it: I’m dedicated, yes, but I’m also willing and interested in possibly forging a completely new path in the future.
How did you get so good at dancing so young? Did you fall in love with hip-hop (as a dance style) first? Was it all hard work or do you have some crazy natural rhythm?
Thanks. Well, we’re a culmination of our DNA, households, the million moments and interactions with strangers and teachers and peers, right? So… I guess I have my parents, everyone in the world, and a good work ethic to thank for learning how to dance so young. I didn’t know anything about hip-hop when I booked Missy Elliott. I’d like to think all humans have their own rhythm (heartbeats, hello!), and my deliberate training across cultures and styles has made me the mover I am today. I’m not the most talented: I’m laser-focused and work smarter and harder.
What was it like being involved with the Disney Channel during what many millennials probably view as its golden age?
…scary question. Let’s just say I voluntarily asked to start therapy at 13 to cope with the “wonderful world of Disney” and that’s probably why I’m more stable than many of my peers. It was very fun, yes. I have many scars to prove it. Haha.
You hear horror stories all the time about growing up working in the entertainment industry; how have you kept so levelheaded?
See above. Contrary to what it may look like, my career has been 98% Almosts, Failures, Losses, and Heartbreaks. It’s not hard to stay “grounded” if you’re literally knocked down there. It’s more of a victory, in my opinion, to be whole-hearted and optimistic despite the rejection, ridicule, and fear-based rat race.
Over the years, what has been your favorite or most memorable on-set experience and why?
Cheaper By The Dozen 2 — 20 kids, three months in Canada, water sports, ping pong tournaments. A huge crush on Sharkboy. And bonus: Carmen Electra took me as her guest to the Much Music Awards. What?!
What has been the most entertaining character to play? What has been the most challenging?
I played Bug, a homeless drug addict, on Major Crimes. Entering that headspace and manifesting the addiction and behaviors was very scary and exhausting. I actually got kicked off set by a security guard who thought I was a drug addict roaming the lot. That was kind of cool and flattering.
Some people find it hard to maintain consistent opportunities when business is booming, and others find it hard to stay motivated to hunt down opportunities when business is slow. How do you keep the hustle going during both busy and slow times?
Vision. The vision keeps you specific about today’s and tomorrow’s goals, inspired by the future, and committed to being your own solution when challenges arise. The ebb and flow are to be expected, and both are important. See every season as an opportunity to maximize.
And dear workaholics: sometimes that means refocusing on holistic balance and not being controlled by the obsession of having a successful business.
Who are you favorite performers, and why?
Underground dancers and singers and theater actors. No glory, no ego. Just love, art, and authenticity.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Know thyself” so you can be freed from being a victim of your circumstance and instead the writer of your own story and future.
Five tips for developing multiple talents (or skill sets) at the same time:
1. Break down your day or week into sustainable windows and continually revise/execute action plans for specific goals in each. For example: Acting (Mon/Wed/Fri), Dance (Tues/Thurs). Or, AM = Acting, Noon = Singing, PM = Dance.
2. Be your own solution and ally: eliminate your own self-made obstacles, whether it be procrastination or negative thinking. You can’t afford to not be an efficient, high-functioning, problem-solving chameleon.
3. Master the art of being present. You’ll go nowhere by running around to fifty different rehearsals completely scatterbrained and invulnerable. Deliberate, concentrated effort for shorter periods can be just as productive as the countless hours your single-trade peers have the privilege of spending on one skill.
4. Live the rest of your life. Don’t be a machine. Do other things. Visit other places. Meet other people. It adds nuance and character, breaks up the monotony. You don’t have time? Read 4-Hour Work Week and get back to me.
5. Be led by joy. Packed schedules can lead to burnout and mechanical living. Remind yourself daily to pursue the vitality, light, and purpose associated with each skill set. How can you serve others and contribute to the human narrative with each skill?
Bonus Tip: don’t do it all alone! Find your perfect balance of training with a community and training alone for optimal growth and enrichment.