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Spotlight on SANDRep Artistic Director Ashley Straw

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Ashley Straw is a name that you're going to want to remember. A true renaissance woman, she has accomplished in her early twenties what most strive to accomplish in their whole careers.

Straw began her career as an actress at the Gateway Playhouse and with the Long Island Play Project in Rebecca Gilman’s Boy Meets Girl.  While at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy’s Musical Theatre Conservatory Program, Straw studied under such artists as Philip George, co-creator of Forbidden Broadway. After her graduation from AMDA (she is also a graduate of the Contemporary Drama Programme at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), Straw found herself a part of the national tours of George's musical, Shout! The Mod Musical, as well as the world premiere of the musical Turandot: The Rumble for the Ring, which had its debut at The Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor.

Straw returned to Bay Street to lead the cast of Fate & Furies by Carey Lovelace, and then worked under the direction of Michael Mayer on the workshop of The Flamingo Kid alongside Broadway veterans Marc Kudish, Randy Graff, and John Dosset. After a short break from performing, Straw decided to pick up the pen. Her one-act play Why We Come Back enjoyed its first staged reading in June 2008, and was then featured at The University of Fredonia’s 2009 One Act Festival.

It was while in London that Straw found inspiration, studying closely with playwright/director/teacher Che Walker, the first playwright to have a contemporary piece up at Shakespeare’s Globe since Shakespeare himself. From this inspiration came Onlything East, Straw’s first full-length drama, which debuted at The City in Manhattan to oversold audiences and opened the Friends & Neighbors Festival at The Strand Theater Company in Baltimore, MD.

It was after the success of Onlything East that Straw began to work fervently to develop a small theatre company, which brings us to the birth of SANDRep.  The company is dedicated to satiating the urban American palette with new and raw material. With the company, Straw has developed Spring Juice, a collection of four one-act plays, for which she contributed Otto & Eury. Aside from penning that piece, she served as editor, director, and composer of an original score for it.

For SANDRep, she is currently directing the New York premiere of Timothy Guillot’s Always & Never, which debuted last year in Washington, DC, and eagerly anticipates the world premiere of her latest full-length piece, circus: pas de deux, which debuts on August 19th. Straw herself stars alongside Chris Ferro, under the direction of Ryan Beikert, with original music composed by Matt Smith.

And if you think Ashley Straw is too busy for anything else, she is also a campaign model for t3 and Orlando Pita and a recurring cover model for the national magazine Downwind. Whew! I thought I did a lot. I'm getting exhausted just reading over her credits.

Considering all that Ms. Straw does to keep herself busy, I was quite flattered that she took a few moments to answer a few questions for Blogcritics.

You are the founder and artistic director of SANDRep.  Would you care to tell us about this theatre company and why you founded it?

The idea for SANDRep came about when a production I wrote, Onlything East, debuted in New York with a more successful run than, I think, anyone thought it would have.  It brought me to an interesting crossroads early on in my career where I could have taken one of two roads: be the bubbly blonde comedic ingénue performing in regional theatre, or forcing others to listen to what I felt passionately about saying. Obviously, I took the first (and infinitely less winding) road and just stopped getting cast.  Thankfully, taking the second made me a sexy and incredibly famous international superstar.  
 
Forming a theatre company is quite a difficult venture and there are always complications. What have you found to be the most difficult part?

Conveying to strangers that although what you’re saying is difficult to hear it’s essential to listen.  
 
You have a new play opening on August 19th called circus: pas de deux, which you also wrote. Can you give us a short synopsis of the play?

circus… is about a two quirky characters drowning in a modern-day relationship in New York City.  The audience learns about the couple (Ethan and Ellie) through a series of flashbacks in the first act, but calming revelations present themselves through a drastic turn of events in the second act. Throughout the piece, Ellie forces her audience to find beauty in every situation they encounter.  It proves to be a necessary skill by the end of the piece.      
 
How do you find the process of acting in something that you have also written?

What I will say is that the process of writing for myself and for another actor whose skills I know well was an absolute gift.  The cast of this piece was solidified before the writing was completed and it was awesome to finish it with the actors’ strengths in mind.  Working under the umbrella of my own words has been much more of a challenge.     
 
What does the future hold for you and SANDRep?

The future holds a lot of running uphill for me, personally, but I’ve been working out so I’m eager to try it.  Logistically, there's Our Fantasies are Eating Us Alive by Brett Andres as well as our Launch Party in October and Tuesday Night Poker by Jon McCormick in November.  We're looking into a secret (read: important) English writer/director for February.  Then maybe a nap.

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About Hannah Marie Ellison