BWW Interviews: Ashley Edler of ANNIE National Tour

BWW Interviews: Ashley Edler of ANNIE National Tour

BroadwayWorld San Francisco spoke with the confident, outgoing Ashley Edler, who plays Grace Farrell in a new non-equity, touring production of Annie, coming to San Francisco June 3-14 (tickets and info at shnsf.com). On the phone, Ashley displayed contagious excitement about the show. Read our interview below to see how that translates on stage, learn how Ashley enjoyed working with director Martin Charnin and get a few sneak peaks behind the curtain with the kids and Sandy. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Ashley, thank you for taking the time to speak with BroadwayWorld San Francisco. I'm excited to see you in Annie.

I know. We're so excited about San Fran.

Big cities are always exciting because there's a lot to see and do, and San Francisco is in for a treat with this new production of Annie, directed by original lyricist and director Martin Charnin. The buzz is that audiences can expect a ride back in time, not only with the plot, but also to the original Broadway production in style and script. What can our readers expect? And what has it been like to work with Martin?

It was wonderful to work with Martin. It's great to work with the originator of any piece, but the fact that this is his baby, and he has seen so many versions of this show, and he's done it a million times - wrong ways and right ways. So, it's to a point where he can perfect it. He knows what works. He's so smart when he comes to this show and the way that it's written. He knows exactly what works for the audience. He knows exactly what's going to get a laugh. And it's true, he did take it back to the original, and even some of our reviews have said it's very similar to the original Broadway production. I think he was just trying to get it back to its roots, back to what made the production beautiful in the first place. The original show is what has lasted through all of these decades, and that's what has drawn so many people to it. And I think all these other versions have been wonderful, but he really wanted to take it back to what he had originally created, because I think that's what's kept it alive, truthfully.

You play Grace Farrell, Warbucks' secretary. The character isn't all that multi-faceted, but she is instantly likeable, sort of the best friend every kid or even adult might like to have, and she definitely understands and sympathizes with Annie, as well as Warbucks. What is your approach to the character, especially in light of Martin's direction?

I wanted to find a balance for her. I think often times when you see productions of Annie, Grace tends to mimic Daddy Warbucks in terms of mentality and personality. I approached it from the point of balancing him and basically being the complete opposite of him. She's very well put together. She's a strong woman for that time period, who has a job and is in a position where most women at that time in history wouldn't have had. She needs to be a graceful, just like her name, maternal woman who has to be the warmest, most maternal person, to bring a child into Warbucks' house, and for him to fall in love with that child, and for her to be the nudge, the one that pushes and instigates the whole thing.

Between the recent Broadway revival and the three film versions, Annie has left quite a legacy, especially for young viewers. When were you first introduced to little orphan Annie? Did you ever picture yourself in her shoes?

I loved the film when I was younger, and it was the first show that I ever auditioned for. There was a community theatre doing it and I auditioned. There were probably 150 kids, and I made it all the way through to the very, very end, and it was my first time ever performing. All the parents could sit in the audience and watch the kids at the final callback. I got up there, and you could barely hear me sing, I was so scared. That was my first experience of severe stage fright. I didn't get cast in the show. I remember going and seeing it because one of my best friends growing up actually got cast as Annie. I still loved it. But it's funny, it kind of came full circle. I fell in love with musical theatre and moved to New York and have been working professionally, and when I saw Annie come around, I honestly went thinking there was a shot, but I didn't necessarily expect to get cast.

Do you relate to Annie's can-do optimism? Grace certainly seems like she could be an adult version of Annie.

Absolutely. I love that about the character of Annie. Her mentality is a positive approach that she takes to any situation, especially the hardships that she's faced. That spunky kind of toughness, where she's still sweet and kind. I think that's an incredible quality to the character and to any kid. On stage and off stage, not just as characters, but even just as an actor or a person, it's interesting to see this character and watch it all unfold, and really to reflect on it and take that into consideration. She's spunky and she's tough, but she's loveable and does have this positive outlook and this positive approach, and I think it's beautiful.

Since Annie is about a young girl and her dreams, why don't you tell us about your dreams growing up.

When I was younger I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to do. I didn't know even when I was in high school. I either wanted to travel the world or go to school for musical theatre. So I auditioned for one school and I got in. I guess I always had big dreams in terms of getting out of the tiny town I grew up in and exploring the world in front of me and really seeing what else is out there. I didn't necessarily know that this was the path it was going to take me. But it did, and I'm very fortunate that I've been so lucky and successful in it because I don't think this is an opportunity that everybody gets, and especially someone like me who didn't realize that this was what I wanted until later in life. I think a lot of kids work from a tiny age and then not always are so fortunate to get cast in something like this that does get to take them around the world to see all these beautiful cities. That was a dream of mine. I just didn't know that musical theatre was going to be the route that took me there.

I imagine kids today enjoy seeing children their own age on stage. How many children are in the cast? What is it like to work with them?

There are seven kids in the cast and it is actually my favorite part of the show, working with the kids. They bring a lightness to the show that I think is necessary, especially in a show like this. Oftentimes you have an entire adult cast and you're living together and working together so closely and do the same show over and over again. It can be beautiful, all so amazing. It's also a job, and it's wonderful to see kids take it so lighthearted. They come to work and they just play. The show is the last thing they think about. They perform well. They do their jobs. But they're always creating something else. It's really fun to see the kids act that way. It's a reminder not to take things so seriously. You go, you do your job and you work hard, but also you just enjoy it. And they're great kids. They're wonderful kids. All of the kids have been so much fun to work with. They're my favorite part of the show. During our intermission, usually there's a couple of us that just go hang in the green room because that's where the kids hang out and it's nice and refreshing to get away from the adults for a little while and just be reminded what it's like to be a kid.

How would you describe Issie Swickle, who plays Annie?

Issie is in a lot of ways a very spunky and forward and outgoing kid. Her parents are wonderful. They've taught her how to be strong and independent, but she's still very sweet. She is very much like Annie. She has this calm temperament that is necessary when you're performing a role like this. That's a lot of pressure for a kid to perform eight or six shows a week for a run that goes on on road, on tour, away from family. It can be an unstable setting sometimes. And she handles it so well. Even getting direction, I remember in our rehearsal process, having the director, Martin, knows exactly what he wants, working with this nine year old, just to watch her take direction and take notes, sometimes harsh notes, and she handles it so well. She says yes and thank you and it just rolls off her shoulders. But soon as you get her off stage, she'll always be a kid, and it's fun to see the difference, to see this performer, this kid who's so grown up and so professional, but then you get to see her be a kid off stage.

And what about the famous dog Sandy? Between Sandy and the kids, you must have a lot of fun stories to tell.

The dogs are incredible. We don't get to spend a lot of time with the dogs because the dogs have to work with certain people on stage, so the rest of the cast doesn't get to intermingle with them as much because they want to maintain a relationship with the people the dogs have to be on stage with, so that way the dogs don't get distracted. The dog gets the most applause. It's hilarious. The dog goes on stage for ten seconds and steals the show. And it's always an adventure. You never know. They are animals and sometimes they don't do what they're trained to do. Nothing too crazy, though.

Is there any advice you would like to give aspiring young performers out there?

I think that the most important thing I could say is to work as hard as you can, start training as early as you can. I didn't get to do most of my training until later in life, but I think that the younger you are, take as many dance and acting classes as you can. Start exposing yourself to all kinds of music, instruments, everything. Start exposing yourself to the world of performing in any capacity. Dancing. Visual Arts. Just give yourself a platform, and then never give up. It can be really easy and scary to take this business and let it consume you and let it overwhelm you and be afraid of not being successful. As long as you work hard and you constantly are putting yourself into positions where opportunities are presented to you and taking those opportunities and facing your fears and constantly overcoming the voices inside your head that say you can't do it, as long as you strive to work past those things you'll be successful. There's always going to be an opportunity. There's a place for everyone in this business as long as you're willing to work hard to get there. It's not an easy life, but it's definitely the most rewarding.

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