When the jet-lagged, huddled masses yearning for ground transportation and a nap arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport, they are greeted by Paige Spara.
There’s no telling how many people the 23-year-old Spara has greeted since the spring. Thousands, to be sure.
But it’s not the flesh-and-blood Spara who has been telling passengers what papers they need to navigate customs and where they need to go. As international passengers have been shuttling into the airport from points all over the globe, Spara has been 200 miles to the north in New York City, working in the theater and appearing in commercials.
Spara, a 2008 graduate of Washington High School, appears in the airport as a 3-D, surround-sound hologram. It’s the first of its kind in America, though these so-called “virtual assistants” have cropped up at select airports in Europe and Walmart stores in Britain have installed them.
“They wanted to renew the airport and make it a little more new and a little more entertaining,” Spara explained from her apartment on New York’s Upper West Side last week.
Spara won the role as a “virtual assistant” from a field of 30 to 50 women because “when I read off the teleprompter, I just really shared my personality.”
Winning the role is another mountain conquered in an acting career that is showing tremendous promise. Spara also has a national commercial for Forevermark Jewelry on her resume, and variations of it will be airing again in the lead-up to Mother’s Day. She also has appeared in TV ads for Google Maps, Volkswagen Golf, Bose speakers and Sally Hansen Nails.
Her stage credits include “A Christmas Carol” at the Irondale Theatre in New York and “Barefoot in the Park” for Pittsburgh Community Theatre. She attended the Point Park Theatre Conservatory for two years and then switched to Marymount Manhattan College, where she received a degree in theatre performance last spring.
The commercials have provided two key benefits for Spara. First, the pay isn’t terrible, and it has allowed her to be one of those rare young actors who can pay for room and board without having to take on an additional job waiting tables or walking dogs. And the commercial gigs get her closer to her goal of film acting and give her a taste of what film acting is like.
“I like the fast pace of it,” Spara explained. “That’s what my technique is – I love thinking on my feet.”
Spara grew up in Washington and is the daughter of Kim and Kevin Spara. When she was in high school, “she was just a shining star ... spectacular,” said Judith Totty, the now-retired head of the English department and drama teacher at Washington High School. “On camera, she just sings. Her essence is there. People love her. It came through in live theater.”
Totty continued, “She’s going to do wonderfully in New York or Hollywood or wherever she goes.”
Acting was “the one thing I never quit,” Spara pointed out. The first signs that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of Streep and Hepburn emerged when she would run around her house in a bonnet like Laura Ingalls after watching reruns of “Little House on the Prairie.”
“I wanted to be so many different characters,” she said.
And though the odds of success can be long – there’s that line from the song “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” that references all the stars who never were parking cars and pumping gas – Spara approaches her work with optimism.
“I might still be naive, but I’m very much focused in on my world and my goals. There’s never a day where I don’t do something toward my career.”