Ashley Dawn Mortensen is another one of our next generation performers who's on the rise! As a recent graduate of NYU's CAP21, Ashley has already performed in several concerts by award winning composer/lyricist Bobby Cronin and was just cast in the first National Tour of "Wicked" as the "Elphaba" understudy and in the Ensemble.
This is only the beginning for Ashley. With her beautifully powerful vocals, Ashley will be filling out theatres for many years to come!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? For me it would be what. My mom always said I came out of the womb singing. And when I see the home movies of me belting my face off with a 5 minute song I’m making up on the spot, in my angel costume, on the coffee table I guess I believe her. The creativity and ease of it all appealed to me. It’s something you have to have passion for and work at for sure, but then God kinda blesses you with the rest. Music and performance is an outlet for me unlike any other. When I first walked onto a stage it didn’t take me long to realize it’s where I belonged. When I’m up there everything else falls away. So I guess, the what would be, that performing just feels like home.
2. If you could perform alongside anyone, who would you choose? My gut reaction would be Judy Garland. I didn’t grow up knowing every composer, lyricist, playwright, musical, or play ever written. In fact, until I hit college I barely knew who Sondheim was (sorry); but, I could watch "The Wizard of OZ" on repeat all day long (and we’re talking VHS, rewinding every time). I think I’ve seen and heard every, movie, talk show, performance, and recording she’s ever done. Her voice was a melting of heartbreak, passion, fight, and beauty you don’t find too often. She worked from a place in her soul few people know how to access. Her story, may be seen as tragic to some, but like most things in life I try to look at the good. Judy Garland was a force, and to share the stage with her would be completely humbling and awe inspiring.
3. What's the highest and lowest note you can sing? How do you protect your beautifully strong voice? I have no idea what my highest and lowest note is to be honest. I know I can belt really high and sing pretty low. My music theory teachers from high school and college would hate this, but I don’t read music that well, I hear it once or twice and I know it. That’s how I’ve always absorbed it. You inhale the notes and exhale the music. As for protecting these vocal cords of mine, it wasn’t until this last year that I really had to make a conscious effort to “warm up.” I was one of those people who could just wake up and sing like mad, but now at my ripe old age of 23 it takes a few more steps. I live for my humidifier during the winter and as long as I do some lip trills and my own made up warm ups (which includes the Beatle’s “Hey Jude” slowly going up the scale) I’m usually good to go.
4. You just joined the first national tour of "Wicked" as the "Elphaba" understudy and in the Ensemble. What excites you most about this? What will you bring to the role of "Elphaba" that someone else hasn't? I am excited about being a part of something I’ve never experienced before, making new friends, exploring new places and playing such a strong character. Bringing life to a character on a page is what actors do, but I think the most important part of being an actor is bringing heart. Whether you’re in the ensemble or a principle, it’s so important to find those moments when the audience can relate to you and feel like they are a part of what is happening. In that vein I think the only thing I can bring that’s new to the role is myself. “Wicked” is so relevant today and I think will continue to be always, and in both my ensemble and "Elphaba" track I want to be honest and relatable even in heightened circumstances.
5. What do you identify with "Elphaba" the most? I love "Elphaba’s" strength. She never feels sorry for herself and she is such a powerful independent woman. Throughout the show you see these moments of vulnerability, which I think just makes her stronger. She isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in and her passion makes her beautiful. For her it’s about doing what’s just and true, which is something we forget when the easy way is so accessible.
6. What is your favorite part of the preview/rehearsal period in a show? Where is your favorite place to practice on your own? Being put into a show that is already been running for quit sometime is unlike anything I’ve experienced. You’re rehearsing all on your own, with the dance captain acting as the rest of the cast (most of whom you still don’t know there names). So as things begin to slowly click it’s incredibly helpful to watch the show from backstage, the audience, from Stage Management, to see not only the logistics (spacing, traffic, etc) but also to see how what you’ve been working on becomes this wonderful stage filled with body’s intricately telling a story. When I rehearse on my own, I usually just stay in my room. I move from working things on my feet, to sitting on my bed going over things in my head, and listening to the music.
7. You've performed in several of award winning composer/lyricist's Bobby Cronin's concerts. What attracts you to his music? What have you learned from working with Bobby? Bobby Cronin is a passionate, driven, caring, brutally honest and eager teacher, friend, composer and writer. His music reflects that. Not to mention, he really knows how to write for the singer to truly shine both vocally and through intriguing story telling. His music is intricate and often unpredictable, and I LOVE that. The most valuable thing I’ve taken from Bobby is to know who are and stay true to that. It’s something I think he truly lives by in life and through his passion for his work and it’s something I deeply admire.
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? It is so important to have a life once you leave the theatre. Have a hobby, exercise, hang out friends, try new foods and listen to all different kinds of music. We are lucky enough to do what we love as our profession, but like most jobs, it’s important to not bring your work home and let it consume all of who you are. I never want to be just one note. In the same vein, I am a perfectionist and can easily get caught up in working myself till my head pops off, but then when i do my daily workouts, read, watch “24” and just let things gel, I find I am more relaxed as a person and a performer.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? I had some inspiring acting teachers in college, and coming in as a ripe Freshman from the backwoods of Rescue, CA (population my family), never haven taken an acting class in my life, headed to the Big Apple, I was open to everything I could learn. My freshman acting teacher was Larry Arancio and I he gave me invaluable advice; but, one piece stands out above all the rest. Just Breathe. It applies onstage and off. You can’t let tension creep in because that’s when you second guess yourself and words stop flowing naturally. When you breathe and let go, something beautiful happens....You allow yourself to shine.
10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? My husband. (I know it sounds cliche) But, now that I’m on tour, especially, I couldn’t mean it more. He is my best friend and the love of my life. If it weren’t for him I would certainly not be where or who I am today. I could spend every second with him and my dreams are no exception. Loving him is like breathing or singing. I have to. I want to. I need to. It would be pretty great if while I was out on tour, after a long day, when I closed my eyes at night, it was like Davin was right there with me.
11. Favorite way to stay in shape? I am a health nut (although for those that really know me, know I love my jelly beans and red vines as well) so I lead a very active lifestyle. P90X and Insanity are my workouts of choice. They are incredible programs that incorporate muscle confusion and circuit training so your body can rebuilt and sculpt itself into what you never thought possible. You burn calories at a higher rate even when you’re not doing the workouts. Not to mention it’s pretty fantastic that you can roll out of bed, pop in a dvd and go to town.
12. Favorite skin care product? I fluctuate. But lately I’ve been on a YON-KA kick. Yon-ka draws from essential oils, fruit, and plant extracts and targets the specific needs of individuals to restore the skin’s vitality. Plus it smells AMAZING.
13. Favorite website? Etsy. I found so many things for my wedding on this site! Now I just like to explore. You can get virtually anything and the products are so creative and fun that they make great gift ideas. Not to mention you can support local businesses.
14. Superman or Wonder Woman? Superman. He wears his underwear over his clothes. That takes some serious cajones of steel.