'Work begets work' Thrones! The Musical Parody actress/director Ashley Ward on Edinburgh Festival
Ashley Ward is a comedian, actress and singer known for appearing in TV shows Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell as well being a key part of critically-acclaimed musical comedy ensemble Baby Wants Candy. Originally from Conyers in Georgia, US, Ashley is now set to take "darkly humorous and beautifully vulgar" show Thrones! The Musical Parody to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here she tells Mandy News how she started her career, what putting a show on at Edinburgh is like and what actors can do to succeed.
Ashley, please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got involved in the world of theatre.
I technically started theatre in church by doing church plays and then eventually in school. I then went on to get a BFA in Theatre from Webster University, before I moved to New York. That’s the basics of it.
How did you first fall in love with acting and performing on stage?
When I was in fourth grade, in my hometown of Conyers, Georgia, they had auditions for a children’s theatre show. I auditioned for it, got in and spent that summer doing that – that was when I really fell in love with acting. We did the play in an old train depot and every time the train came by, we would have all to freeze until the train had passed because it was so loud!
How did you get involved with Thrones! The Musical?
I’m in a group called Baby Wants Candy and the show was written by members of that group. I was doing improv in NYC at the time and BWC had some auditions in around 2009-10. I auditioned for them and got in. I then went to the Edinburgh Fringe with them. I helped them write and actually co-wrote a show called Fifty Shades! The Musical Parody.
A couple of years later, some other members of BWC wrote Thrones! The Musical and it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015. I went to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 and played the part of Cersei in Thrones!
What’s your process of getting into character especially when you have to do the entire history of something so quickly? The show is all seven seasons in just under two hours, is that correct?
It’s actually about an hour, maybe just a little over. I’m a fan of the show, so I knew the source material pretty well. The premise of our show is a group of fans getting together to watch it and there is a character who is, unbeknownst to everyone else, not a fan of the show.
So we are about to watch the finale of some season, depending on what year we did it, and they decide to catch her up on every season so far so she can watch the finale and be on-board. It’s a mater of loving the show and as far as Cersei goes, I rarely get to play mean characters because I don’t look mean – so it was super fun to get to play the most powerful, evil woman on TV.
What was the biggest thing you brought to the character?
On the TV show, Cersei makes a lot of specific faces so that’s where I started. A lot of them are thinking and plotting faces so I just tried to emulate that – that’s probably the biggest thing I brought to the role . Otherwise, I tried to embody the quiet relishing of evil as much as possible.
The Edinburgh Fringe can be a difficult place to become a success and get a show to return every year, what do you think makes Thrones! so successful?
One part of it is we’re just so fortunate to have so many incredible fans of the TV show and book series who are hungry for anything Thrones-related between seasons. The other part is that the guys who wrote it, and the majority of the people in the cast, are just fans of the show. When a person loves something, they’re the best people to send it up. If you hate it and you send it up, then fans aren’t going to enjoy that as much.
As I said before, I co-wrote Fifty Shades! The Musical and I didn’t love that book but I loved what it was doing in the world for people and I loved seeing old ladies on the subway in NYC reading it. We love GOT, so being able to combine it with our comedic sensibilities is what makes the show appealing.
We also update it every year with new songs and new scenes to reflect what has happened in the previous season – I think that is another part of it too. We speculate on what’s to come as well, so there’s a lot of stuff in there.
You’re also taking another show to Edinburgh Fringe, Baby Wants Candy, what can you tell us about that? What is the relationship between Thrones! and Baby Wants Candy?
Baby Wants Candy is the musical improv group that brought all the people who are involved in Thrones! together – particularly the writers but also a good chunk of the cast. This will be my sixth Fringe with BWC and it’s just the absolute most fun you can have as a performer. We create a musical in a hour, we have a band, we get a title from the audience and we spend the next hour completely improvising every piece of that musical.
Again, we’re all people who love musical theatre and we love comedy, so we’re very fortunate to get to do these things that we love and send them up and play around with them in front of audiences who seem to love watching us do it – it’s a good situation for everybody! It’s a natural progression in that BWC has now birthed two scripted parody musicals and it’s makes perfect sense considering what we do. They take a little more time and it’s slightly more frustrating having to write.
Both Fifty Shades! and Thrones! have been super collaborative with five or six writers on both of those projects. So there are lot more people involved than there are normally on one of our musicals but that makes sense as the usual number of people in our cast is only six or seven.
When you’re running two shows at the Fringe, how do you prepare for a workload like that and switch the styles as you do?
The thing with BWC, and with musical improv in general, is everyone involved in that show is a veteran in improv. When you get to a certain stage of doing improv, you develop a certain kind of confidence and ability to roll with the winds and the losses. You’re not celebrating too hard if your joke lands great and you’re not completely out of it if you flop. It’s part and parcel and you keep moving, no matter what. That confidence and that ability to roll with the punches is what makes you able to go back.
Doing the Fringe is specifically odd in that there is no other time you do 26 shows in a row, without a day off, with essentially the same cast and making up a different musical every night – that is it’s own challenge. Once you’ve come out of it you feel like Neo from The Matrix of improv! Making the switch from BWC to Thrones! or a scripted show, you’ve got to put your theatre actor hat on a little bit more and not your improv actor hat.
In a way, the scripted musical is harder as the prep is a little more intense and you have to make sure you’re really on top of your lines. Whereas in the the BWC show, you’ve got to make sure your brain is alright.
You mentioned you’ve written things as a group but you also wrote Fifty Shades! as well, was that something you’ve always done or did it come about from working with BWC?
It’s a little more something that came about from working with the group. I’ve been in sketch groups before and I’ve written musical bits and pieces but I’d never been part of writing a full musical before. Fifty Shades! was an hour and a half long with an intermission, it played in NYC, and toured the US and has also been translated into 10 languages. I’ve never had an experience like that and I got all of that from BWC. It was just a natural progression of things that we should start writing something else and Thrones!, I wasn’t part of the writing team for that, is the second iteration of diving into written, scripted musicals.
After Edinburgh, what’s next for BWC, Thrones! and you?
I’m actually directing Thrones! and I’m really excited about that. I directed Fifty Shades! the first time it played in Edinburgh and I’ve directed lots of sketch shows, one-woman shows and am currently directing a small musical out here in LA. For me, this will decide if I want to continue to pursue directing, depending on how it goes. I do like it but this will be bigger in terms of scale than anything I’ve done since Fifty Shades!
After the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I’m going to go to Berlin because I’m already in Europe and have a friend who lives there. Then I’ll come back to LA and keep plugging away doing shows, write and auditioning. I’m not sure what will happen to Thrones! as they had a run in Chicago, it ran in LA for a year, it ran in Las Vegas and the Adelaide Fringe so they’re always looking for new opportunities to put the show up.
Also, the new season of GOT will be out before we know it and they’ll have to add some information to the show. By the time the show is over, it’ll be almost as long as a season of GOT!
Finally, what advice can you give actors trying to get involved in the industry?
The best advice I ever got was "work begets work". So don’t turn something down because you’re too good for it or wait for something better. Take every opportunity you can to work. It’s all about the people you meet and a huge part of it is, as a billion people have said before, be someone people want to work with and be lovely person.
Beyond that, make your own work and don’t wait for someone to cast you because you can make your own opportunities. Especially now, with the way the industry is changing because there are so many platforms for performers, be it live-stage performers, on the internet or even on the varying streaming platforms.
Now, more than ever, it feels like a great time to be a young performer with limitless opportunities and fewer and fewer gatekeepers on all the different platforms. Certainly, there are always the old-guard gatekeepers but with YouTube and other internet platforms, you can make your own stuff, put it out there and let the public decide if they want to see more or not.
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Thrones! The Musical Parody! is at Assembly George Square Gardens throughout August at 10:30pm.
Baby Wants Candy: The Completely Improvised Full Band Musical is on at Assembly George Square Gardens throughout August at 8pmTags: