With her deep dedication to music and theater, as well as hobbies of photography, composition, and writing, Vera Grace Menafee ’20 truly considers the arts to be an integral part of her identity.
Menafee started singing at a young age, with Alicia Keys as her very first musical idol. Beginning from childhood, both her father’s interest in jazz music as well as various artists, such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Amy Winehouse, played a key role in influencing her personal music style. Her first experience with music composition was in the first grade but began officially writing songs during her 9th-grade year at Deerfield.
Being an auditory learner, Menafee initially taught herself to play the guitar by writing chord progressions and organizing songs by sound. Her guitar accompanied her in a multitude of outstanding performances throughout her Deerfield career, ranging from TedxDeerfield to School Meeting with her band, Antics.
In addition to these performances, Menafee identified KFC as one of the most important events of the year for her. “It is one of the few times when I can really feel connected with music and share it with people in that way.” Each KFC, she works hard to perform a song that is meaningful to her, typically choosing artists who are black women, some of the biggest inspirations in her musical career.
One of these artists in Menafee’s life is Nina Simone. As an aspiring musician, Simone auditioned for the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music; however, she was denied entry due to racial discrimination. “She didn’t let this setback get in the way of her path to becoming one of the most renowned pianists and vocalists ever,” said Menafee. “This has always resonated with me, and I look to her for strength.”
However, aside from the Large Auditorium and Concert Hall stage, you can find Menafee in the Blackbox Theater, acting in plays or working behind the scenes. Menafee began acting in 7th grade, and has appeared in Deerfield shows since her 10th-grade year, such as You Can’t Take It with You, Antigone, and the 2018 Spring Musical Revue.
As Director of Theater Ms. Catriona Hynds said, “Her range is extensive. From the hilarious Duchess Olga and batty Mrs. Peacock, to the swaggering Captain Braidbeard, and finally to the agonizing titular role in Antigone.”
Menafee has brought a warm and inspiring presence to the theater program. “Getting to act with Vera is an experience like no other,” said fellow actress Emma Haddock ‘21 “ It is like working with your best friend, a comedian, a teacher, an artist, and overall a great person. She’s super talented and is always looking to make sure everyone is having a good time at rehearsal. Vera keeps everyone laughing and in awe of her extraordinary performances.”
Hynds added, “Her greatest asset is her fearlessness. Unassuming, and humble in the rehearsal room, Vera digs deep and her performances are fierce and unapologetic.”
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Menafee planned to travel to Scotland this summer with the cast of How I Became a Pirate to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival. She felt crushed by the cancellation of the event. She does, however, feel gratitude for the opportunity to have performed this musical for young kids. “Working with how theater and education can intersect is something that has always interested me.”
Menafee’s true passion lies in being able to share her interests and talents with others. She reminisced on memories such as the Deerfield-chaperoned China trip in 2018, in which she put on an impromptu show for the customers of a music store. Singing her original song Flying Free and playing the guitar, surrounded by awestruck people and encouraged by the drum beats of a stranger, she felt even more rooted in her desire to continue playing music.
Menafee will attend the Oberlin College-Conservatory of Music in the fall. There, she hopes to participate in some sort of theatrical therapy, especially in rehabilitation and incarceration facilities. “It sounds incredible to be able to combine my passions by pursuing social justice using theater as a vehicle,” she said.
To Menafee, art means freedom. She appreciates its role in society not only for its entertainment but also for its ability to make statements and promote expression. “It releases us from our labels and personal boxes, or even encourages us to embrace them. It’s such a place of exploration and I feel most like myself when I am able to create.”
Menafee’s talent and genuine appreciation for her art is one that is rare to find. Ms. Hynds said, “I have loved working with Vera because she is so down to earth, and receptive to direction. Unfailingly kind and supportive to her peers, Vera has represented the very best of Deerfield Academy’s Theater Program and she leaves a gaping hole now that she is headed to college.”
From killer Fleetwood Mac performances to starring in Antigone, composing songs to contributing poetry for Albany Road, Menafee’s artistic legacy is a great one, and she will surely be missed by the Deerfield community