Ashley Prince is a twenty-something, Atlanta-based actor and producer. She’s currently focused on film acting, writing, and producing, but can’t deny her love for musical theatre and new plays.
Ashley. I literally can’t tell you how excited I am for the words that are about to come out of your mouth in this interview. I’ve been starting off with a basic question for everyone and going from there, so why did you decide to be an actor?
I never told anybody I wanted to be an actor until I absolutely had to make a decision. When someone asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I always said, "A supermodel" because I thought THAT was more acceptable than acting.
Hahaha, you could totally be a supermodel. Don’t rule that out as a possibility yet.
I knew I wanted to be an actor when my dad brought home the soundtrack to Starlight Express after a trip to London. That show gets a bad rap, but to a three-year-old, it was MAGIC. I thought they actually turned you into a train and kept you in a closet until showtime when Andrew Lloyd Webber himself powered you on. I was fully prepared to leave my home and family to dedicate myself to giving other three-year-olds that same feeling, even if it meant becoming a genetically modified actor/train.
That’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard. It’s not too late for you to become an genetically modified actor/train hahaha. I would pay so much money to see that. Ok, so you had this magical experience when you were three and then continued acting through college. Can you tell me a bit about your college experience?
I started at Millsaps College where I was a church music major. After a semester and a half, I had to do some soul-searching because they were shutting down the theater department. Do I really want to be an actor? Yep. So I transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design where I majored in Performing Arts.
I had some major life bumps while I was there, including being hospitalized while I was in tech for a show my Junior year. I had a cousin who was more like a brother commit suicide after my first quarter at SCAD and it really set me back. I refused to eat and was drinking maybe 8 ounces of fluid a day. Thank God for my friends and professors who realized I was spiraling out of control and came to my rescue. Without them, I would not have a college degree or any semblance of a life for that matter. My senior year, I came back, and kicked ass. I was like a new person. I had figured it out.
Wow, I didn’t know all of that. It sounds like ultimately you learned a lot from the experience, though.
Being self-aware is one of the most important things I learned at SCAD. Listen to your body. Take care of it because it's the only one we get. I am happy to say that today I am extremely healthy, and I know for a fact that the whole ordeal made me a better person and a better actor.
So, it sounds like the most important thing you learned in college wasn’t even taught in a class. I agree that the college experience is not only about the curriculum, but also learning to get your priorities straight and figure yourself out. Are there ways you think college could have better prepared you for your acting career?
I wish there was a class called "Finding a Day Job 101" or "Intro to Serving" because there are definitely times when I was scared of not being able to pay those bill$.
Seriously, I was just thinking earlier today about how well-prepared I was for the professional world. Some lessons I had to learn on my own after school the hard way, but for the most part, I got a great education.
Well that’s good to hear. Since I went to SCAD as well, I know exactly where you are coming from and agree that it’s a great program. Sometimes we just have to learn things from the school of hard-knocks, too. I guess you figured out how to find a day job, haha. Tell me what your day usually looks like?
I have a dog, so she wakes me up around 8:30-9. I take her out and then do a wussy little workout routine. I'm also producing my own pilot/web-series right now, so the past couple of weeks, I've been working really hard on casting. The amount of submissions we've had is a little overwhelming, but that's a GREAT thing.
I'll work on that until about 1pm, and then I go to my day job. It is the BEST. I teach piano and voice at a private studio in Sandy Springs, GA, and I have approximately 40 students who take one-on-one lessons. This allows me to pay those bill$ I was talking about earlier and gives me enough free time to produce a show, which is a full-time job in itself. My boss is also amazing and understands that his employees do other things and is very flexible when I'm doing a show. I really appreciate him.
As soon as I get home, there is no relaxing to be had. My boyfriend and I cook dinner together, which is a welcome break from all the work. After dinner, I'm either writing, meeting with my co-producer, or making plans for our shoot that's coming up in the next couple of months.
I am a firm believer in doing something EVERYDAY FOR YOUR GOALS! Whatever they may be! Every single day! If you do one thing a day, it makes you feel great, so then you do TWO things a day and so on and so forth until you are a BOSS. I don't CARE if your day job is hard. I don't CARE if you're tired. Fight the urge to lay in bed and watch Netflix all day and DO SOMETHING!
Preach! I feel like I should quit interviewing you and go do jumping jacks or something. You are so motivational! Do you sleep?
Once I feel like I've gotten to a stopping point, I go to bed and repeat. Sometimes I find time to bathe and things like that.
Can you say some other motivational things to all the other struggling actors out there trying to make it happen?
DO IT! You can do it, but learn how to do something else as well that is related to the field. I did an internship at Actor's Express in Atlanta after college and I learned how to do EVERYTHING. Wigs, makeup, set construction, lighting, assistant stage managing--all of it, on top of being in shows all year long.
Also, please don't ever give up. I know I can still use that advice from other people sometimes. When they say "you're gonna hear more no's than yes" THEY WEREN'T KIDDING. Lisa Loeb said it best in her song, "Stay": NO NO NOOOO YESSSSSS. Just hang on for the yes!
This is amazing. Don’t stop, keep going.
One of my best friends taught me to keep things in perspective by pretending to talk to my 40-year-old self. When I want to scrap my show and cry forever, I think about her saying, "Remember that time you wanted to scrap your show and cry forever? Glad you didn't!"
I feel like I should clap. I love the trick about talking to your older self. Like what if Helen Mirren had just quit when it got hard? She would have deprived the world of some INCREDIBLE work. I’m going to think of my older self as Helen Mirren from now on. But back to you; you stay motivated, but what are your current goals?
This year is all about my show, "Gerty and Friends". If I can get the whole pilot filmed and pitched to every outlet I possibly can, I will be pleased.
I would also love to start taking some sketch writing classes.
Both lovely goals! I will look forward to reading your sketches someday, and seeing “Gerty and Friends.” Can you talk a bit about collaborating with others? It’s such an unavoidable part of our industry. I mean, it’s pretty hard to make a film alone.
I'm actually collaborating with 389173208157 people for my show right now. It's a scary thing to write something, toil over it and then give parts of it to other people to interpret their way, but when you assemble the right team it's like an endless trust fall. You know it's gonna take a while to get on the ground, but when you get there, you're safe in the arms of these amazing teammates, who have had their strong, capable arms out the entire time just waiting for you.
I have to give a shout-out to my muse and co-producer, Randi Garza. She is a fellow actress in Atlanta, and we bonded while doing The Rocky Horror Show. When you find that person that you LOVE CREATING WITH, hold onto them, and have fun! We have an equal partnership that lends itself to our own strengths which makes producing with her a pleasure.
You guys sound like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I agree that it’s so important to find other people that will say ‘yes, and’ to your ideas and keep you going. I also take a lot of inspiration from books, are there any books that you recommend, or that you’ve really enjoyed?
I have read YES, PLEASE by Amy Poehler like three times now. I'm also currently reading the UCB handbook for fun, and that's really informing my writing.
The book that changed the game for me was Backwards and Forwards. I read it for a directing class in college, but good Lord. It's all about knowing a text backwards, forwards, sideways, diagonally--all over, so you fully understand it. I think this principle applies to everything. You have to know a piece of music backwards, forwards blah blah blah until you know it so well that it's impossible to stumble.
Haha, I love in YES, PLEASE how Amy Poehler is constantly saying how hard it is to write a book and how she’s up at 3am trying to write while the kids are asleep. She’s so transparent about life. Obviously you like her, are there other actors that you particularly love to watch?
Cate Blanchett forever. I saw her in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2009 and it changed my life. Blue Jasmine reminded me of Blanche, so I got a lesson in acting from basically the same characters in two different mediums. Let's be real. I only saw that Cinderella reboot for the Evil Stepmother.
Hahaha. Have you seen Carol?
I haven't seen Carol yet because I'm so dang busy, but I'm sure I'll love it.
I think I already know the answer to this, but do you have a favorite play or musical?
Musical theater as a whole inspires me. When something is affecting a character so much that they have to sing about it, it warms my heart. My favorite musical of all time? You guessed it. Starlight Express.
I'm also really inspired by anything Tina Fey touches. I love the format and tempo of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock, and it's something I aspire to in my own show.
Also, Mean Girls was incredible. Tina Fey is a boss. A lot of powerful women in the industry have been speaking out about unequal pay, lack of roles, racial issues, etc. Do you have any frustrations like that?
More POC (people of color) please! Viola Davis hit the nail on the head when she said, "We need to create our own opportunities.” That goes for white writers as well!
I love that the Academy took the boycott seriously this year and made changes to help diversify their membership. It’s a small step, but at least it’s in the right direction. Ok, so to wrap up, tell me more about Gerty and what your role is.
I am currently producing a web-series/pilot called Gerty and Friends. It's about this goofy, backwards lady who gets her own reality show and in the process becomes a more cultured, well-rounded, and free-thinking individual.
I wrote a part for myself because I was tired of being told "no", or even worse, "you almost got it, but...". Her name is William Bradford Byrd, or Willy B for short, and she hasn't left the house for almost seven years. She only wears sweatsuits, no makeup, and doesn't shave her body hair because I was also tired of being told, "well at least you looked good" by the people in the lobby after an audition or a show. I want my audience to focus on her character rather than what she looks like.
I can’t wait to see it. That sounds incredible and I know you will be wonderful. You are a voice to be reckoned with, and I know you will stop at nothing until your voice is heard. Keep up the excellent work!
The Indiegogo for Gerty and Friends is launching at the end of February, and Ashley’s team has some shorts coming out as well. Check out their website www.gertyandfriends.com and like them on Facebook for more updates.