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Omaha Magazine

Stepping Into The Slipper: Zoella Sneed’s Happily Ever After

Nov 01, 2022 09:56AM ● By Natalie McGovern
Zoella with Cinderella Slipper

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

"I happy cried LOTS.” That’s how 23-year-old Zoella Sneed responded when she found out she had nabbed the coveted starring role in the Rose Theater’s production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. 

“I auditioned with many other talented actors and was so honored to be chosen to play such an iconic character,” the young performer said.

As impressive as the star turn is, it’s about far more for Sneed than donning the famed glass slipper. She will be the first BIPOC actress at the Rose to play the beloved fairytale princess. Directed by Sarah Lynn Brown (It’s A Wonderful Life), this Cinderella is a modern spin on the iconic slipper tale. With a wintery theme and a host of memorable numbers such as “In My Own Little Corner, “It’s Possible,” and “Ten Minutes Ago,” the production promises plenty of magic.

An Omaha transplant, Sneed hails from Waukee, Iowa. Growing up, she was influenced by her parents’ love of musicals such as Hair and Phantom of the Opera, and she staged backyard productions with her siblings. She went on to study theater performance and theater for youth at the University of Northern Iowa, where she graduated in 2021. She then became a teaching artist fellow at the Rose, and in little over a year was promoted to a full-time position as both the organization’s school-based programming director and a company actor. She is involved with elementary schools across the Omaha metro, providing field trips and opportunities for students to see shows. 

With her background in social justice activism and hip-hop theater, Sneed also focuses on representation in theater and the arts, harkening back to the educational foundation she received at UNI when studying about diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. As much as she loves performing, working with youth is her ultimate passion. She takes time to cultivate connections with her fellow young artists in order to motivate and inspire them and strives to be the role model that children in marginalized communities need. To this end, Sneed is spearheading a production for BIPOC teens, Livin’ In Color, which will offer a protective and open space for diverse youth to create new works, examine community issues, and explore their voices.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 “Sneed has made an enormous impact on The Rose in a relatively short period of time as part of our team,” said Matt Gutschick, artistic director for the Rose. “She displays professional maturity well beyond her years of experience. Most importantly, she is a transcendent educator, someone who brings a spark to each of her teaching engagements. That spark is something young people are totally drawn to and inspired by.”

This is why the opportunity to represent the character of Cinderella means so much to her. “As a child I was inspired by Brandy who played the first Black Cinderella in 1997, and I looked up to her,” she recounted. “I watched the VHS tape with my siblings so many times that it broke.”
The Rose’s retelling, she said, examines and redefines the fairytale canon of what is considered traditionally beautiful. Alluding to Cinderella’s lack of agency associated with the fairytale, Sneed said, “It’s more ownership over her story.” 

Gutschick has taken notice of her growth and dedication. (Earlier this year, Sneed appeared as the flamboyant and larger-than-life elephant in the musical Giraffes Can’t Dance.)
“As a performer, Sneed has such a remarkable stage presence. Her default is a kind of openness and honesty that really lets her channel deep warmth into her performances,” he said. “That is all channeled through a singing voice that might be among the best I’ve ever heard. Her skill set should thus be absolutely perfect for Cinderella.” 

Sneed is grateful for the opportunity and despite the lead role, remains humble. 

“The cast is full of the most creatively beautiful theater artists, and I know the show is going to be something really special,” she said. “I never thought after graduating college mid-pandemic that I would be in my dream job so soon. I am truly indebted to The Rose for believing in my abilities. They have provided the spaces for me to challenge what theater can be and grow as both an actor and teaching artist.” 

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This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  
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