Collegiate Theatrics: USC's ASHLEY ESKEW
Theater's next generation of actors will come from all over the globe, to be certain - and they are now likely honing their craft, polishing their skills, and burnishing their timing on stages and in academic settings - but somehow there's an astonishing concentration of impressive actors to be found on the campus of the University of Southern California, where the list of candidates for the Master of Fine Arts in acting rivals any group to be found anywhere.
Ashley Eskew - a native of Irvine, California, who did her undergraduate work at Northwestern University, where she earned a BS in Theater, with a certificate in Music Theater - is one such member of the rather rarefied group of aspiring actors earning advanced degrees from USC this year.
Through this weekend, March 6 to be precise, Eskew and her classmates, her friends, her comrades - her very theatrical family, to be sure - take the stage during the 2016 MFA Acting Repertory at the Scene Dock Theatre, bringing to new life onstage productions of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera (adapted by Marc Blitzstein), and Anna Deveare Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, and The Oresteia Project, inspired by Aeschyus' Oresteia, written and directed by David Bridel in collaboration with the MFA Acting Class of 2016.
Here is your opportunity to get to know USC's Ashley Eskew in this week's edition of Collegiate Theatrics. Despite a typically busy and overscheduled life (could anyone but an aspiring actor survive such a round of fevered activity?), she found time to thoughtfully consider our questions - and to offer some informative and illuminating answers - about her time at USC and how her experiences there have prepared her for the future...
What's been your favorite part of studying at USC? The Diversity. I am a huge fan of where I got my undergraduate degree (Go Wildcats!) but in the music theater world a majority of us were lucky enough to have parents who supported us financially and emotionally growing up in our journey as artists. It manifests in voice lessons, dance class, expensive private university application fees, etc. But USC took a class of 14 people who had nothing in common but the need to share themselves fearlessly. That's not as idyllic as it sounds. So I struggled for a while. But the struggle is what makes life interesting and in turn me and my work. Yes, my craft has grown immeasurably but what I value more is how I have grown as a person as a result of the continual challenge and support of the cohort around me.
Has graduate school at USC lived up to its advance hype? No. It exceeded it. In my personal view, a lot of the current graduate programs are thriving based on the reputation they acquired years before. But here at USC, the type of work you dream of doing is happening daily. It is the result of Andy Robinson, David Bridel, Natsuko Ohama and David Warshofsky. They aren't people that words can do justice. They are all such 3-Dimensional leaders that they need to be experienced not read about. I am just lucky enough to have experienced all of them over the past three years.
What's your best/favorite/most impactful experience in grad school (I hate the word "impactful," but it works best for me here...) I had some medical problems years ago that resulted in me being told I'd never sing again. To say I had a sensitivity towards my singing voice is an understatement. Imagine the thing that had defined you for years was taking away and you no longer knew who you could be without it? So, of course, in our first MainStage show I was cast as the lead in Arthur Miller's The American Clock. Rose Baum not only had to play piano and provide the emotional heartbeat of the show, she also had to sing throughout. So I did. Long story short, it took me losing my voice to really find it.
What's been the biggest difference of studying theater in grad school as opposed to undergrad? In undergrad, I constantly was trying to transform into other people and hide who I uniquely was. In graduate school I gained the confidence to share the parts of me that inevitably exist in all the roles I play because I am larger than character, not the other way around.
Have your dreams and aspirations changed over the course of your time at USC? No, but they have grown because I am capable of so much more. My heart is in New York and the work that happens on Broadway but I am in Los Angeles in the Golden Age of Television. It got me writing and self-producing much more then I had in the past.
Where do you hope to find yourself in five years? Either New York on a Broadway contract or a regular on a cable television series. Writing in between shows and singing constantly on various cabaret stages.
If anyone could play you in a stage or film version of your life story, who would you choose? And what would be the title of the script? Oh, you know, if Kathryn Hahn, Lauren Graham, Connie Britton and Kate Baldwin had a talent baby I'd give them serious consideration. Elaine Stritch would need to be involved somehow. Olivia Newton-John or Suzanne Somers would definitely need to play the role of my mother, Gail. I guess we'd find a contract for Stephen Sondheim as well. I hear he's almost as good as that Lin-Manuel Miranda guy.
I haven't lived enough to title it. I'll get back to you.
In addition to the MFA Acting Repertory from February 6 to March 6, at the Scene Dock Theater, USC's MFA Class of 2016 will be featured in a pair of showcases in New York and Los Angeles in April:
- NEW YORK: Wednesday, April 20, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at The Ailey Citigroup Theatre at The Ailey Studios, 405 West 55th Street
- LOS ANGELES: Tuesday, April 26, at 7 p.m. and Wednesday, April 27, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard
For more information about USC's Class of 2016 MFA Actors, who will be featured in Collegiate Theatrics for the next few weeks, go to www.dramaticarts.usc.edu/showcase 2016/mfashowcase/