Founder, The College Audition Coach

Mary Anna Dennard

We always draw such inspiration from our Mujeres and their life lessons, but it is especially exciting to interview someone who has known Cristina since she was a little girl. Meet Mary Anna Dennard, founder of College Audition Coach, author, and acting coach for adults and teens. As part teacher part entrepreneur, Mary Anna has a long view of the world and a lot of wisdom about seizing opportunities as they come. Notably, she focuses on positivity and gratitude as pillars in her everyday life and work. We’re truly honored to feature Mary Anna as this month’s Mujer.

Tell us a bit about your early life (where you grew up, what you liked to do as a child)? 

I grew up in Highland Park and was always a theatre nerd and I lived pretty much at the Dallas Theatre Center from the time I was 12 years old and know every square inch of that Frank Lloyd Wright building. And sang in the St Michaels church choir my entire adolescence. 

When was it that you got into acting and teaching acting? 

Well, as I say, I was always in love with the theatre. The great Broadway star, Mary Martin, was my mother’s best friend and that, no doubt, had an influence on me. And all my family members are very artistic. I was first a performer, then a casting director, then a talent development agent at the Kim Dawson agency, and then an acting coach. It was a gradual and very natural progression. Those of us who love performing arts must be very resourceful in order to stay employed.

How did College Audition Coach start? What was your inspiration? 

I was an independent private acting coach for adults and teens, when one of my students asked if I would help her with her college auditions. And that’s when it all started. I formed my company in 2000. And launched the first-ever online prep for college performing arts applicants in 2011. I wrote my first book, I GOT IN! The Ultimate College Audition Guide For Acting and Musical Theatre in 2010. Cristina is on the cover wearing her NYU t-shirt! The book was featured on the front page of the New York Times Theatre section and that pretty much put me on the national map.

What has changed since you started your business in 2000? Now that so much is digital, do you think people have access to more resources worldwide? How do you stay relevant? 

My business has never been more relevant due to Covid. Online learning? What a concept! Little did I know back in 2011 how ahead of my time I would be. But truth be told, I can’t take all the credit…it was our older daughter who urged me to take my college audition coaching business to an online learning format, and she helped lead the way. And I never looked back. Note to all mujeres entrepreneurs: listen to your children. They will lead you down extraordinary paths. 

If you could go back in time, what is one thing you’d go back and tell yourself when you were first starting out in this business? 

Always be learning, always studying, always reading. Find the inspiration to grown your business through studying the business models of others in seemingly unrelated fields; finance, technology, science, religion, politics. I have learned so much from observing others who are not in the arts. 

Ma Alt 1
​Nothing is hard when you love what you do. And this is my bliss: helping young artists achieve their dreams. What’s not to love? And I’m a slut for talent.​​​

How did you balance being a mother and an entrepreneur?

Yeah, it’s hard. And honestly I don’t think I am always very successful at doing it well. But Kim Dawson once told me to listen to my heart and lead with it. I have heeded her advice.  P.S. My husband and children are very forgiving!

What was Cristina like in high school? 

Cristy has gracefully grown into her ambition. It has truly been the most beautiful thing to watch. And she takes her time. And she is such a LOVER of things and people and cultures. She has always had optimism and a heart as big as Texas. I think some of that Kim Dawson “lead with your heart” philosophy comes quite naturally to Cristina, and it serves her well.

Cristina as a child? 

OMG. The most adorable and sweetest child ever. So thoughtful of others. And still is. I’ll tell you a funny thing that impressed me most about her was that she was totally bilingual from the time she was in, like, 3rd grade. That blew me away.

What is the hardest part about what you do? How do you tackle this challenge? 

Nothing is hard when you love what you do. And this is my bliss: helping young artists achieve their dreams. What’s not to love? And I’m a slut for talent.

Describe a typical day (what time do you get up, morning routines, day-time meals, etc.) 

I get up early and have coffee with my husband. CNN, and CNBC are always on (my bad) and then we workout. Then we might walk the Katy Trail and listen to music. I take a nap every afternoon, and I have been meditating more lately because the world turmoil can be very stressful. We like to cook together in the evenings or go to Park House.  All this in between running my business from home, and I work 12-13 hour days. But if I’m REALLY lucky, I get to spend time with our granddaughter. She is the gift that keeps on giving.