Thursday, August 20, 2015
Spotlight On...Ashley Gunsteens
Hometown: Born Chicago, Illinois. Grew up in Germantown, Maryland (outside of DC)
Education: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – double majors in Dramatic Art and Journalism and Mass Communication
Favorite Credits: All time favorite directing projects are How I Learned to Drive and What Every Girl Should Know (Fringe 2013), and, honestly, EverScape.
Why theater?: Weirdly similar experience to Phil (I cheated and saw his answers). I spent most of my teen years thinking that I wanted to be the president. When I got to college and took POLI100, I had the realization, “I don’t actually like politics. I just like being in charge.” Which sounds terrible, and certainly made my parents laugh, but was a really important realization for me. Like many theater artists, I was hooked ever since landing a role in the community theater production of Annie at the ripe age of eight. But as much as I love acting, directing feels like something I was meant to do. I love the challenge of finding the best way to communicate with each actor (each one is always different) to draw out their best performance. I like being responsible for both the big picture and the small details in each production. I like getting my hands dirty and wearing a lot of different hats (to use a few cliches). I like striving for perfection, for that moment when everything clicks into place, even in something as fleeting as live theater.
Tell us about EverScape: Oh man, I love this show. The elevator pitch for the play is: “An online world of epic fantasy battles helps four gamers escape their bleak realities. But when EverScape offers them a chance to win jobs as game developers, lines get crossed between what's more real: the game, or their lives? Epic fight scenes ensue, love blossoms among strangers, avatars start to influence day-to-day behavior and winning quickly becomes the only solution.” The show is partially so great because it deals with such a relevant issue in our technology-crazed age, but does so using classic theatrical mediums: a greek chorus, a black box stage, and actors exploring the limits of the human body. No technology needed. It deals with tough issues like escapism and addiction, but the show as a whole is so. funny. So so funny. These characters are caricatures of people you absolutely know in real life. Plus, we may be hitting this over the head but, STAGE COMBAT.
What inspired you to direct EverScape: When Allan's script first landed on my (metaphorical) director's desk, I was truly skeptical. Would a play about an online, role-playing video game speak to all audiences? But what I read was a play that is somehow both funny and poignant, fantastical and grounded. It deals with the realities of addiction and escapism, very real issues within my generation today, but is filled with so many action-packed fight scenes and hilarious(ly real) characters that speak to you whether you are an avid WoW player or have never even touched an Xbox. One of the first comments after the New York reading of the show was from an actor who said, "he didn't think he'd ever laughed so hard at just a reading of a play." The show is fun. It is exciting and funny and troubling and redeeming. How often do you find new work that is all of those things?
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: There are three things that speak to me when determining what work to direct: something ensemble based, with devised movement, that explored the "gray" area in commonly black and white subject matter.
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Vivian Benesch, Anne Bogart, Wes Anderson, John Travolta, Dick Van Dyke, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Stone, Amy Poehler.
What show have you recommended to your friends?: I’ve been recommending that along with EverScape, friends make sure to see July House and Jericho – both plays were written by friends from UNC and are part of the Fringe Festival as well! (#chapelhillmafia) I actually was the one who submitted July House in addition to EverScape to the festival this year – the playwright is someone I strongly believe deserves to be produced.
Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: "Ladybug". I'd be played by Emily Blunt. (answer helpfully provided by my boyfriend, who was extremely confident in his answer)
If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Ack. The NY revival of How I Learned to Drive in 2012 with Norbert Leo Butz. I was directing that show in NC at the time and some of my cast happened to take a long weekend to NYC for some auditions and got to see the show. I've never felt so jealous.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Teen Wolf on MTV. Ugh I’m embarrassed just writing it. But also. Teens that are wolves. Dream big.
If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Less stressed. Lol, I would be working in fashion or be the director of the National Zoo.
What’s up next?: After EverScape, I jump back into my ongoing producing endeavor, the Salon Bklyn series, with my co-producer Jordi Coats. We’re in our second year of the series, which are evenings of site-specific visual and performance art that happen four times a year in Park Slope. Our next salon is October 24th, under the theme “All Hallows Salon”. (There’s more info on the series and past performances on our website: salonbklyn.com)
For more on EverScape, visit EverScapeThePlay.com. For more on Ashley, visit ashleygunsteens.com