Back in New York!

“Give me such shows — give me the streets of Manhattan!” Walt Whitman

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Sailing out of Manhattan, October 2013

After another healthy dose of sailing around the world, this chick has decided to put away the luggage [for now] and settle back into New York City living.  I just got back to Astoria early yesterday morning, and after a decent nap, I reentered society via a soft-opening for a friend’s new shuffleboard club in Brooklyn. Seriously, GET THYSELF to this amazing place now. The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club was the ultimate “welcome home to New York City after cruising.” It was a great night catching up with friends, pushing biscuits around (don’t worry, you’ll learn what that means after your first shuffleboard lesson), having some fun cocktails and eating delicious Crif dog. By the way, the cool thing about this venue is they have a garage on the side that connects to the venue, so they will have different food truck providing a multitude of NYC options every single night.  Last night I went for Crif Dog’s famous “Spicy Redneck” – dear lord, so good, and so outside of my January 2014 calorie window.  Screw that.  So worth it.

So yeah, I’m back.  I was laughing as I looked back on my last post, which was soy long ago.  Yes, I’m talking like Ja’ime from Ja’mie: Private School Girl, my newest television obsession. So I tried to write a blog post while at sea, and yeah yeah yeah blah blah blah it’s hard to get internet wah wah wah.  And I never finished that blog post.  I kept putting it off longer and longer, blaming my computer that couldn’t upload my photos, etc etc.  But I thought I might post what I at least started to write, right?  With commentary of 2013 Ashley, by 2014 Ashley.

Have I seriously not updated this blog since August?  Oh that’s embarrassing.  Yes, Ashley, yes it is. One of my fellow singers on the ship reminded me, “You have to update your blog at least every three days or it’s just unprofessional.”  Yikes.  It’s not like I’ve visited a dozen different countries since then or anything. And now that total is up to 27, 20 of which you had never been to before this contract.

I am so blessed to be back at sea on the Silver Whisper.  I embarked the ship on September 2nd in Stockholm, Sweden, nearly missing the ship after an absent captain on Delta Airlines. Thankfully I made it in time and was greeted by a very excited cast of singers eager to bring me on board and show me around the Baltic on their last cruise. How lucky am I that when I wasn’t training to be the company manager I was visiting Estonia, Russia, Finland, Germany and Holland! I had a great time eating out in the restaurants and attending all the shows like a guest as I wasn’t starting my performance contract until September 12th with the rest of the new cast in Southampton, England. It was spectacular to actually watch the shows for the first time and see what all the fuss was about. They were great! Soy true, this company is a talented bunch.

And in terms of travel on this cruise I got to see some great places. My first day we came to Tallinn, Estonia, and myself and two other singers went for an amazing home-style lunch at a restaurant charmingly called “Mama’s Kitchen.” Krystle and Vince, two of my faves in the company. The food was great! Next we were off to St. Petersburg, Russia, where we overnighted and I was able to visit Saint Catherine’s Palace with its famous “Amber Room.” Helsinki, Finland was our next port of call – a gorgeous place with beautiful people and delicious strawberries! Then we went on to mein Heimat, Deutschland! The end.

Oh Ash, if only you could commit to one thing long enough to fini-

Just kidding.

But seriously, folks.  I went on to experience such a great four months of cruising and singing. We had unbelievably rough seas as we crossed the Atlantic to Iceland, saw glorious icebergs and scenery in the fjords of Greenland, sailing through the most spectacular autumn colors in Canada, ate more lobster than you can imagine in New England, sailing in and out of New York City (SOOOO INCREDIBLE), celebrated Halloween with an overnight in Bermuda, swam/snorkeled/tanned/relaxed our way through the Caribbean, and finished with a beautiful Panama Canal transit from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles.  All in all, it was a great experience with talented people. I made so many new friends – cast, crew and guests alike, and can’t wait to reconnect with everyone now that I’m back on terra firma. I also enjoyed pushing myself more creatively by writing new music and even performing a new song with the band during my cabaret show. I actually recorded one of the performances with Vince’s camera and extracted the audio here.  So for all you friends who kept asking me to record it, this is the best I could do for now!

I hope you liked that.  Oy vey I get so nervous about posting things like this!

Anyhoo, it’s great to be back.  I’ve got my wrap dresses and character shoes out.  I’ve renewed my subscription to Backstage and taken the dust cover off the keyboard. I’ve printed out new resumes and ordered new marketing materials from Vista Print.  So yeah, I’m available and I want to WORK. Let’s do this, 2014.

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Happy New York Birthday to me!

Six years later, she’s still Ash in the City.

On this day in 2007, my mother and I meandered through intimidating Upper East Side traffic and managed to find street parking for our packed-to-the-gills rental Suburban. Street parking. And with the help of three best friends, we unloaded all my belongings up six flights of stairs into my first NYC apartment, 316 East 93rd Street.

Those three are still three of my closest buds. Last month Brian celebrated marriage to Nic, this week it’s off to SF for Natalie’s wedding to Nole, and this time next year we’ll be enjoying festivities for Mr. and Mrs. Nathan and Jessica Smith. So yeah, they’re all pretty much winners, and not only in my book.

A lot has happened to me in New York. I’ve seen millions of things, worked some dream jobs, worked hard doing good work in the city, explored most that the city has to offer -though there’s always more to see-, met some incredible people, attended an unmeasurable amount of great (and not so great) theater… I’ve had my heart broken many times, I’ve pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, I’ve met celebrities and been recognized on the street by people I don’t know, I’ve raised the most adorable munchkin ball of fur you could adopt from the ASPCA, and lord, how I’ve performed…. I can’t even really quite put into words all that New York City does to me. When I close my eyes and try to think of it, a sort of Jeunet-esque film drifts across my eyelids with a dramatic score.

And I do live my New York City life as if I’m starring in some film, unseen to any but me. My earbuds provide adequate soundscape as I make use of my unlimited metro card and live these daily adventures, paycheck-to-paycheck. Is there any other satisfying way of life?

Six years ago, when contemplating my future, I couldn’t imagine what was in store. And I guess I still don’t know. I write this from about 38,000 feet, somewhere over Utah. I’m thrilled to spend my New York birthday with my family in California. And this week will be a tremendous celebration of one of my best friends… Did I mention I’m singing and playing ukulele in her wedding ceremony at the film center?

And in less than two weeks, I’ll be back on board the gorgeous Silver Whisper, performing with the Artists of Silversea/Choozi Entertainment for a four month contract, porting in the Baltic, UK, Iceland/Greenland, Eastern Canada, New England/New York, Bermuda/Florida/Caribbean and then through the Panama Canal to my final port, Los Angeles. I feel so lucky to be working in this capacity on something I am truly passionate about, and traveling all over the world! And this opportunity would never had come up had I not been living in NYC and on this current timeline. New York City has truly shaped me into the woman I am today.

So New York City, we have just a few days together next week, and when I return in January, I look forward to…. The amusement of Citibike voyeurism, being asked for directions by everyone, waking up at 5am to blow-out hair and put on a full face for an audition, accepting that my train is delayed and completing another level of Duolingo Italian, crazy kids and their crazier parents at the food co-op, the pride of a gym membership (regardless of whether or not I workout), the joy of my French press in my kitchen or the perfectly tamped espresso at Pepe Giallo, getting tickets to see my friends in successful shows, the pure elation I feel when discussing art/purpose/influence with my acting peers… And the unstoppable and infectious energy of all the incredible people that have blessed me with their friendship.

Like I said, it is impossible for me to put into words what New York does to me. It’s the greatest love story I could ever dream up. So close your eyes.

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Blurring the Line between Audience and Ensemble

As I look back on my artistic resume, my volunteer projects, and the shows and art concepts that have inspired me over the years, I am finding a common thread.  More than just a thread, really.  A big bold huge fatty piece of rope, painted neon pink that is screaming, “HELLO, ASHLEY! LOOK AT ME! DUH!” Okay, okay, I see you now.  I get it.

What I am finding are those theater and art projects that break the fourth wall and include the audience as a participant of the work.  Something that acknowledges a watching and curious audience, inviting them to participate in something bigger than themselves, in the comfort, sanctuary really, of “theater.”

You know those kinds of people, right. The quiet person who sits across the office from you, the cousin who never said much at reunions, the teacher who’s cautious smile never gave a hint of the fire inside. And then that same person, with a sword in the form of a paper ticket to a show, can open up as an unreserved warrior of art. “Pick me!” screams the quiet housewife at a Penn and Teller production.  A conservative finance executive willingly participates in a dark arts ritual during a Punchdrunk production of “Sleep No More.” The elderly grandmother of nine curiously looks for her face on a projection screen during a moving moment number of The Public‘s “Here Lies Love,” which includes her as a sudden character.

All these moments give me so much pleasure, as an artist, and as a audience member. In the last few years, I myself have been involved in immersive theater, such as “The Ride” as “Improv Everywhere.”  I love this!  It’s so wonderful to actively include a person, and often times, and unsuspecting pedestrian, as a part of your art for that moment.  Anything can be art, really.

From “Sleep No More”

And the pieces that are really inpsringing to me right now, “Here Lies Love,” “Sleep No More” and “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” – these are all massively immersive.  They not only  acknowledge the audience, but invite them into their world as a participant. Without the barrier of a physical stage or an disconnect, the players and the watchers become one – and art is more fully realized, in my own opinion.

A shot of my friend, Kelvin Moon Loh, in The Public’s “Here Lies Love” by David Byrne

This morning I happened upon a TED talk, which also touched on the subject, more related to arts festivals and the involvement of site specific communities.  David Binder touches on so many ideas that I closely relate to and can acknowledge with great excitement.

Who says the theater is dead? I challenge you to push yourself and see things in a new way. Go to productions that challenge this relationship between Audience and Ensemble.  I am refreshed with new energy right now, fully aware that this particular type of theater is absolutely my calling.  Now to just find the right project.

Ever Upward!

You know how we artists are always talking about how the pleasures of “making art” outweigh any sort of financial reward? Well, most of the time we think this way… except around the end of the month.

Last night, I was lucky enough to experience one of those true moments of artistic beauty. Art for art’s sake, really.

A few inspirational people from my singing/acting/art/love studio (really one person in particular) have worked to create a group called “B-Sides,” delivering readings of lesser known yet cherished musicals every month. I was fortunate to attend the reading of “The Spitfire Grill” and let’s just say… art for art’s sake completely blew me out of the water.

In one of those classic, mentally-soundtracked epiphanies of joy and love and gratitude and realization, I was proud to be a member of such a creative and talented community. Despite the torrential downpour we all experienced on our way to the studio, despite the glum of the Spring audition season coming to a close, despite my own fears and inhibitions, I felt completely whole and restored after the two hours of art, music, vulnerability and strength demonstrated by my peers. Art for art’s sake! I felt healed and ready for another day.

And thank goodness it’s a lovely 67 degrees outside, low humidity. I think our art fixed everything.

“Ever Upward!” – New York State Motto

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Success and Happiness

“If you couldn’t do what you are doing now, what would you do?” My customers at table four, enjoying their rosé, seemed genuinely interested in how I would answer the question. “I mean, I know you are traveling the world, performing, and auditioning and stuff here, but what if you couldn’t sing or perform at all? What would you be doing instead?”

This is obviously a question I have asked myself before. Not necessarily when I paused to reflect my choice of profession, but also when trying to identify a way I could possibly live closer to my family and still be a happy individual.

“I don’t know…” I didn’t have much time to stand here chatting, table eight was an irritable couple that would certainly want their bill soon, table thirteen had just sat and needed drinks, five needed dessert, two more people just walked in, and I needed water. “I guess I would be an artist, or a writer, or a personal chef, or maybe I would just own a catamaran and sail around the Seychelles taking rich people on private tours. Or a teacher, or an urban garden director. Or a Mom. I don’t know…” I smiled and starting laughing on the inside, realizing how quickly I had blurted it out, and how ridiculous it sounded. Moving on to table eight, and with a genuine and massive smile, “Would you two like anything else tonight?”

It’s hard to live this transient and somewhat unpredictable life. I am an artist, but at what personal cost? There’s no way of predicting the future, knowing where I’ll be in three months, financial stability is a laughable notion, and let’s just say that taking food orders and wiping olive oil off my hands every day isn’t the most satisfying of all situations. But then those moments of artistry still happen and I am completely satiated.

A trip back to Santa Barbara this last weekend for a dear friend’s wedding was another one of those social moments when one is forced to reflect personal “success” and how to even define the idea. Of course I wish I were in a Broadway show, hell, I’d take off off off Broadway right now. I’d do just about anything I was offered if it sounded artistically aligned with who I am. But my idea of a low moment in my career, when I am just working in a restaurant, auditioning my butt off (and getting callbacks with no offers to follow!), and trying to remind myself to eat healthy and go to the gym so my membership is actually being used… Well it’s not perceived the same way by my friends. “I’m so jealous you’re still in New York!” “You’re so lucky you’ve gotten to travel to so many places by singing!” “Ashley, you really should look into modeling as a side job instead of waiting tables.” (I love this last comment from my dear friend Cynthia.)

And it seems that our successes really are relative. And that the grass is always greener. I certainly had so many pangs of jealousy thinking of my friends that are back in California, that are making a difference in the world with ambitious and astounding careers, that are getting married and starting families. But everyone has their own path, I suppose.

And at this point, my path is a little rocky, a little difficult… But it’s still my path. I surely could imagine myself doing any number of other professions and being happy. Being that personal tour guide in the Seychelles actually sounds ridiculously perfect. But being an artist, bringing joy to audiences (even if it’s few and far between these days), creating moments of beauty… This is what really makes me me. And even in the struggle to achieve “success” in this field, whatever that means, I’m sure I will have stops and opportunities along the way to be an artist (see my apartment), to be a writer (this blog), a personal chef (have you ever had dinner here?), a teacher (I’ve done it before and could do it again), a Mom (someday, for sure)… And I’ll settle with being a tour escort on a Silversea cruise in the Seychelles for that last one.

At the top of the mountains in Mahe
At the top of the mountains in Mahe, Seychelles

Callback and Callback and Callback and “The Callback”?

I have to say, it’s been absolutely wonderful to officially be back in New York City in 2013. My taxes today might disagree with that, but it’s truly one of the most fabulous places to live as an artist. It’s not an easy life, by any means, but it’s definitely interesting. Since being back, it’s been my biggest ambition to ‘land’ as a singer/actor… and one of the unforeseen outcomes has become my reality… the trials and tribulations of not actually sticking any ‘landing.’ Despite acting classes, coachings, private lessons, new headshots, new repertoire, auditioning every week – life has not yet yielded the outcome I was necessarily expecting.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not me whining or teetering at the brink of insanity, I’m actually fine with it all because I am learning so much about myself.  But time after time, I am coming within inches of booking something.  How much longer can one accept that before taking matters into their own hands?

So about a month ago, or so, I decided to start routing the cabaret scene in NYC, trying my hand in these venues and hopefully starting to show people who I am.  I decided to channel my thoughts on the difficulty of life as an actor into one character-y piece and, with the help of my dear friend Kelvin, re-wrote the lyrics to a song from Spamalot.  It’s gone well the three times I’ve sang it at various clubs, and now TONIGHT I will be singing it at 54 Below as a part of a new competition called “The Callback,” hosted by Christine Pedi.  I am beyond excited for another chance to sing at 54 Below (twice in one week!) and thrilled at the possible outcome in this equation = my own cabaret show at 54 Below.

So yes, it’s a little difficult to live this life, but it’s beyond rewarding when small victories come along, such as this.  I really hope to move on to the next round of the competition because it is taking place on Monday, May 6th and my parents will be visiting me on that day! So if you have it in you tonight to stay up late and head on down to 54 Below, please come and grab a seat by me!

“The Callback” at 54 Below
254 West 54th Street
Monday, April 15th, 11:30pm, Doors at 11pm
(Show should be about an hour)
$20 food/drink minimum, with happy hour from 11:30-12:30!

Here is me singing at a couple cabarets recently, to give you a sneak peek!