NY Innovative Theater Award Nominee, Ashley Griffin, is a rising performer and writer who has already worked in theatre, film, television, and publishing! Ashley recently made her Broadway debut as "Elphaba" in the "For Good, Wicked" special event concert at the Gershwin Theater. Some of her New York credits include: "Twilight: The Musical" (Original Bella), "Changed For Good" (with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, www.changedforgoodmusical.com) (Ellie), "Twelfth Night" (Viola), and "The Five Borough Plays" - for which she received a NY Innovative Theater Award nomination for her performance as "Jayne." Ashley has performed on the National, International, and Regional productions of "Mary-Mary" (Mary-Mary), "Dreamward" (Mary), "Damn Yankees" (Lola), "Romeo and Juliet" (Juliet), "Chicago" (Velma). Her film, TV, and web series work include performing with Jason Alexander in "A Capital Fourth Live" from The Kennedy Center at Capital Hill (PBS), "American Dreams," "Alias," "Ecstasy" (Dreamworks), and "Blank Paige."
As a writer, Ashley’s plays have been produced off-Broadway in New York, as well as in Los Angeles, and Chicago: Theater: "Changed For Good" (for which she also wrote the book, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz) which had its premier in 2006, and is currently in development at the York Theater Company, "The Death of Emily Webster," "Fairy Tales," "Subtext," "Trial," and "Lily: A dark faerie tale." Her film/web writing credits include: "The 8th Square" (currently in preproduction: Doug Jones and Pat Carroll attached) and "Blank Paige." Ashley is the artist in residence at Dreamcatcher Entertainment, and was the recipient of 2007 Outstanding Playwriting Commendation from the NY International Fringe Festival, and a Grand Prize winner in the Los Angeles Shakespeare Festivals Literary Competition.
Ashley has taught Musical Theater History at NYU (Tisch), assisted on the book “Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz,” and serves as the associate producer of the Library of Congress Songwriters Series.
Currently, Ashley is presenting "Twilight The Musical" as a concert reading/presentation on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8pm at New World Stages in NYC to benefit Blessings in a Backpack. Created by Ashley, with music and lyrics by Ashley, Jeremy Ezell, Sean Mahoney, David Mallamud, and Michael Sutherland and presented by Ulmer Theatricals, Moxyrah Productions, and Dreamcatcher Entertainment, this incarnation is directed by Gabriel Barre (Andrew Lippa’s "The Wild Party," "Pippin" at Goodspeed). "Twilight The Musical"is a parody of the Twilight book and movie saga, with a twist of the Potter, the show examines our culture of obsession through the story of teenage outsider "Bella Swan" who risks everything when she embarks on a star-crossed romance with "Vampire Edward Cullen." The concert reading/presentation will feature The show will feature Meghann Fahy (Next To Normal) as Bella Swan, Jenna Leigh Green (Wicked), as Rosalie, Hermione (et al.), Lauren Lopez (A Very Potter Musical) as Alice (et all), Jason Michael Snow (The Book of Mormon) as Harry Potter (et al.), Olli Haaskivi (Jurassic Parq: The Musical) as Jasper (et all), Eddie Gutierrez (Miss Abigail’s Guide…), Lindsay Dunn (West Side Story), Michael McArthur (Newsies), Kaitlin Mesh (West Side Story) and Cliff Samuels (Follies).
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer/writer? I basically came out of the womb performing. I was always wrangling people into being in shows in my living room (and I’m still at it!) My mom finally put me in kids acting classes cause she needed a break! But my mom was always incredibly supportive – she always took me to plays, started exposing me to Shakespeare, and other great artists at a very early age, and finding classes for me. I performed in my first play at five, and wrote my first musical at age eight. When you’re eight, three years is a long time, so I always used to say that "I came to writing late in life."
When I was about nine, my mom got me a video of old musical theater performances on "The Ed Sullivan Show." I fell in love with Anthony Newley. I found out that he’s the only person to win/be nominated for Tony’s for Best Actor, Book of a Musical, and Score for the same show in the same year. My dream from then on was to be the female Anthony Newley. My dream still is one day to be on Broadway in something that I wrote.
Gwen Verdon also had a huge influence on me. I used to think that when I got older I was going to have to choose between being a singer, actor, and dancer. One day I announced to my mom that when I grew up I wasn’t going to choose, I was going to create a new kind of theater – "like Peter Pan but for adults." My mom then told me such a thing already existed – and there was even a whole street in New York dedicated to it. I then got to see my first "adult" musical – the film of "Damn Yankees" with Gwen Verdon – I fell in love. I think she’s brilliant.
Stephen Schwartz, and Bob Fosse were big influences as well.
I remember growing up that often it was only through the stories, and plays that I loved so dearly that I found a voice for my thoughts, fears, and deepest, most secret feelings. I believe in the ability of a story to galvanize, and, in essence the gift I was given through the artistic works, and performers I grew up with made me want to do the same for others.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Bill Irwin! I’ve been dying to work with him for forever! I think he’s a genius – and combines so many types of artistry in thrilling and original ways. "Regard of Flight" had a huge influence on me.
This is a long story, but Patrick Stewart has had a huge influence on me, and I’m dying to work with him on…well…anything.
I would love to collaborate on a project with Stephen Schwartz someday. I would also love to do a film with Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro.
And I have to throw in – it’s been a dream of mine to work with Gabriel Barre literally since I was in high school and I first discovered Andrew Lippa’s "The Wild Party." This is a pretty huge dream come true for me right now.
3. What made you want to create "Twilight The Musical"? What is it about the "Twilight" books and movie that made you see it as a musical? I was a latecomer to Twilight. I read the first book under duress the summer of 2009 – I believe the last book had just come out, and there was a lot of press hype about the series, so I was reading it against the backdrop of seeing very passionate fans on T.V. every night. For some reason, as I read it I kept picturing the kids from "Spring Awakening" pulling out their mics, but instead of singing about really serious issues, singing about vampires. If there’s one-thing rock musicals and "Twilight" share – it’s angst.
Around the same time I read a wonderful book by Timothy Keller called "Counterfeit Gods" about our culture of obsession. I saw the obsession of, not only "Twilight" fans, but fans of so many things in our pop culture – from rock musicals to "Harry Potter." "Twilight" itself is a story of obsession. About a girl who gives up everything to be with this boy she’s in love with. I suddenly thought that it would be really cool to do a loving parody musical with a heart, and a message – to use it as a commentary on our culture of obsession, but in a really fun way. From there, images just started to fall into place – and I outlined the show in about a day. (There’s a song in the show called "I Imprinted on an Infant" that still cracks me up – and there are some other awesome pop culture references that I’ll keep secret…)
4. What excites you most about having this concert reading/presentation of "Twilight The Musical" actually come to fruition? So much. You have to understand – this began as a labor of love – just a bunch of talented young artists getting together, literally in my living room to work on a fun project. Now Perez Hilton is blogging about us! What???!!!
Besides the obvious of just being so thrilled to get this show out there, and really done well with amazing artists, I’m so excited that this can be a testament to what can happen when passionate, hard working artists get together and do something for the love of what we do. Not for money, or success, but for pure joy. That this is a project that has come to fruition through the passion, and integrity of everyone involved.
It’s also just exciting to see hard work paying off. In addition to usual artistic “day jobs” – I’m working on this, and other projects every day, going to class, auditioning, the works! It’s hard, discouraging, and often heartbreaking. I hope this can be a testament to the idea that hard work really does pay off. My show is now going up in the same theater where I’ve worked as a merchandise seller. Some of the performers in "Twilight" I’ve watched perform hundreds of times working as a merch seller at their shows. Have faith!
5. How did you decide to make it a benefit for Blessings in a Backpack? A friend of mine is closely involved with Blessings, and I originally learned about the organization from her. My mom works for the public school system (among other awesome ventures), and so I’ve gotten to see first hand the need for an organization like Blessings. I loved the idea of using what might seem on the surface to be just a fun commercial venture to really benefit those in need. It’s important to me that everything I do, including every artistic venture, no matter how silly, or fun, have a heart underneath it. I don’t think people are expecting this show to have a really powerful message to it, nor would they expect a fun commercial venture to be making their primary aim giving back to a great charity. I was very blessed to have the idea for "Twilight: the Musical," and to be given the resources to bring it to fruition – and I want to use that for the most good it possibly can be.
6. What is your favorite part of the creative process in putting a show together? It’s a little bit different as a writer and a performer. The cross over for both is the rehearsal process. I’m someone who really loves rehearsal – especially if you’re fortunate enough to have really smart, generous collaborators in the room. I really love the process of creation. As a writer – that extends to the initial process of writing. Though it’s very solitary, and, depending on your material can either be a very fun, or very painful process. As a performer I adore being onstage, getting to create a performance every night. That may be my favorite. I don’t think it gets any better than that.
7. What have you learned about yourself from being a writer/performer? Wow – that is a fantastic, but difficult question. For me, being a performer and a writer comes from the deepest, truest place in me, so in a way who I am has taught me about being a performer and a writer. About expressing who I am. Something that I’ve learned recently that’s been very powerful for me – actually Stephen Schwartz said this to me several years ago, but it really locked in for me just a few months ago: the closer you get to your own truth, the more universal it becomes. Being an artist, you learn about human psychology pretty quickly, and I’ve learned that I’m not alone in a lot of the things that I think and feel. I’ve learned that I’m really brave, and that a lot of things that often make me feel like an outsider are actually a tremendous gift.
8. How did you get involved with writing "Changed For Good" musical and the book "Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz? What is it about Stephen Schwartz's career and "Wicked" that draws you in? Stephen Schwartz has had a huge impact on me. "Pippin" and "Wicked" are two of my favorite artistic works. I think he’s one of the few artists who can seamlessly combine "commercialism" and "high artistry." He’s gotten a lot of criticism, and a lot of people will strongly disagree with me, but all I know is I’ve seen myself onstage in some of his shows, and have been deeply moved, and yes, changed, through the messages of his work. I know I totally feel like "the green girl."
"Changed for Good" originally came about as my senior thesis at NYU. While still in school, I assisted Carol de Giere on "Defying Gravity" and got to read every review of his work, and practically every fan letter he’s received. He’s basically never gotten a good review. His shows have, but not him. And yet, these fan letters, weren’t just about people liking his music, but about lives being changed. I know I personally couldn’t say "I loved 'Wicked'" anywhere at NYU without ten people jumping down my throat. So I did an independent study my senior year about his work, specifically looking at the dichotomy between critical and audience response in contemporary musical theater, and how much validity we could place in being moved and touched by an artistic work in our society. Since I’m a writer/performer – part of my thesis was creating an original musical using Stephen’s music (some of which hadn’t been heard before). It went up at the Playwright’s Horizon’s 440 black box, and shortly after graduation went into development at the York Theater Company. That’s how I first started working with Gabriel Barre – he’s attached to direct the show ("Twilight The Musical"). But one of the best things that came out of it was getting to be mentored by Stephen. We stay in touch, and he’s been a tremendous inspiration for me. And possibly the kindest man you’ll ever meet. I’m actually around the same age he was when he started having success in the New York theater scene – and he’s given me some great advice.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received?
Artistically: From Stephen Schwartz: Trust yourself. Please yourself, but be hard on yourself.
Personally: When you have faith, everything is possible.
10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Spending time with people I love who are no longer with me. I’d also love to have tea with C.S Lewis. In Narnia. That would be an awesome dream! (I’m such a nerd – you were probably looking for Robert Pattinson, right? Lol)
11. Favorite way to spend your day off? In nature, ideally doing some crazy athletic activity. I’m from L.A originally, and I love surfing. Yeah, a great day of surfing with friends, sushi for dinner, then seeing a great show at night.
12. Favorite skin care product? My mom actually always finds really great things and sends them my way. I’m a big Origin’s fan. And Philosophy.
13. Favorite website? Youtube. My nickname in college was Hermione Granger. Youtube is like the best visual/audio library ever! But I tend to watch random things – like looking up vintage performances of Gwen Verdon, and bootleg film scoring classes from UCLA film school. I swear, if you use it right, you could practically get an M.A from the school of youtube.
14. "Glinda" or "Elphaba"? Elphaba all the way!