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BWW Blog: Sharing Their Stories - Interview with Olivia Reed

Olivia Reed has been able to embrace it all, growing as a person and as an actor every day.

BWW Blog: Sharing Their Stories - Interview with Olivia Reed

Hello Broadway lovers, creators, and theatre students around the world! Welcome back to the blog, and to my new segment: Sharing Their Stories. For the next few weeks, I'll be sharing the journeys and artistic discoveries of notable artists in my DC area, and around the world. Every person I've had the honor to speak with, carries unique experiences and perspectives about the constantly changing world of the arts. I hope their stories serve as inspiration, demystification of the road to artistic success, and as fuel to keep creating.

As college students, we are constantly reminded that pursuing a theatrical career means we need to HUSTLE to find work and artistic success. Acting is not just about reading lines in rehearsal, but about constantly putting yourself out there, networking, and creating opportunities for yourself to succeed. While this constant go-go-go can really help propel us in our careers, it can also lead to what actress Olivia Ashley Reed calls the "I can do better" mindset. Booked a job? Cool. Mark it in the calendar, move on to the next thing. I can do better. Found a new monologue? Fine. Print it out, move on to the next thing. I can do better. When this mindset occurs, it becomes difficult to continue working to your fullest potential, as nothing you accomplish is ever "enough."

Meeting with Olivia taught me that in order to pursue a successful theatrical career, you have to make space to appreciate yourself and your accomplishments. Constantly diminishing your roles and achievements gets you nowhere. Instead, it's about taking care of yourself from all angles, embracing and celebrating your path and career choices. In Olivia's words, "as we share our stories, I think it's always important to be proud of the work you do, while you're doing it and after you've done it. And that's been a significant part of my journey." It's a good thing she has this mindset, because as a successful musical theatre actress, Olivia Ashley Reed certainly has a lot to be proud of.

Olivia took her first dance class at age 3, followed by voice class at age 7. Growing up in New York, a Broadway career always remained at the forefront of her mind. As she got older, the "Broadway or Bust" mentality transformed into a desire to simply perform as a working actor, a vital mindset shift for a fulfilling theatrical career. When preparing for college, Olivia decided between vocal performance and musical theatre, with an emphasis on dance. "It was a defining moment for me, asking what do I want to narrow in on? I feel like that question comes up a lot as an artist, because different seasons of your life require you to focus on different aspects of your training." Olivia decided to pursue a BM in musical theatre at Catholic University, and she was working professionally at Toby's Dinner Theatre (DC)- before she even graduated! This experience was invaluable, as it helped her figure out different aspects of the outside theatre world that she liked vs disliked.

After graduation, Olivia worked at another dinner theatre in Virginia, before embarking on her first National Tour (Mamma Mia) for a year. "I was doing what needed to be done for myself. And I say for myself because my journey does NOT have to be someone else's journey, and vice versa." In addition to taking time to celebrate your accomplishments, Olivia emphasizes that your accomplishments are just that- YOURS. She reminded me to not compare my journey to others or set artificial timelines for myself, a lesson beyond important for us theatre students just starting out.

Post tour, Olivia headed back to Virginia to explore the regional world of theatre, performing in a Signature Theatre production that she credited as one of the best of her career. She summed up the experience saying, "if you can get butterflies doing what you do, then keep doing it." A quick moment of motivation- if the world of theatre fills you with purpose (or butterflies), you're on the right track! After Signature, Olivia's career took her up and down the East Coast before quickly settling in Maine for a summertime run of Evita at Main State Music Theatre. The entire process finished in a matter of weeks, and Olivia learned how to adapt to new situations extremely quickly, a valuable lesson for her next project. Originally cast as a member of Freaky Friday- The Musical, she was re-assigned as a swing for ensemble and understudy for supporting characters. Here, Olivia again reminds us the importance of not diminishing our accomplishments. "I thought that being assigned as a swing meant that I dropped in my rank. But I didn't know just how valuable swings are." These vital mindset shifts Olivia describes help us to be flexible actors and appreciative humans in general! We cannot move forward if we don't embrace the growth that can come from new opportunities, even if it's not what we originally expected. In her own words, "you just really have to own what you're bringing to the table." Coming into her new role, Olivia embraced the personal growth swinging offered her and successfully learned all the different lines and choreography, something that involved "a LOT of writing and then a LOT of erasing in my script."

After her run in Freaky Friday, Olivia embarked on her greatest adventure yet- an international tour of Dreamgirls to South Korea, where she lived for four months. An adventurous spirit and actress, Olivia loved getting to explore the new culture, trying new foods, and exploring her overseas home. Most importantly, she loved working as a lead alongside an A-List team, full of Broadway rising stars, veteran actors, and highly acclaimed directors. It was the experience of a lifetime, and when she came home, she felt in her gut this year she would reach Broadway. "I had just come off Dreamgirls, and I thought...I'm there. It's time. And then I got pregnant. And I got a baby. Totally different "B-word."

Motherhood introduced a vital new role into Olivia's repertoire, and caused another valuable mindset shift in terms of balancing theatre and personal life. "I had to learn that theatre wasn't going anywhere, and it's okay to further develop your personal life outside of theatre. That's something that you don't learn in college. I think a lot of performers, we don't really get to learn how to integrate our personal and professional lives." This was a lesson learned over trial and error. Olivia at first tried to secure work before she had her baby, so she had a job to return to after maternity leave...but that wasn't working out like she planned. "Then, I had my kid, and really focused on motherhood. I had a whole child to nurture! And that was a really big mind game for me, to learn how to let go of what you thought what was going to be and acknowledge what is, learning how to shift your perspective so you can find success in your new skills." While this can look like allowing yourself time to focus on parenthood, it can also look like allowing yourself to explore new aspects of a theatre career- like pursuing a new voiceover class or day job. Olivia reminds us, "You've got to learn to shift, and that can be tough. Especially when all you know is constantly working, working, working, and auditioning."

After maternity leave, Olivia took her son with her to New York so she could return to her previous auditioning schedule while she and her parents continued to raise her baby boy. Trying out for every part that could be right for her, it became easier to pursue the journey as an equity member than a non-equity. That's right. Up until this point, Olivia had worked professionally, nationally, and internationally all from a non-union standpoint. Incredible. After joining AEA, she booked Singin' In The Rain and later joined the cast of Miss You Like Hell at Olney Theatre Center. "And again, I was diminishing my accomplishments. Thinking about how I got hired late, so they didn't really want me there. But it doesn't matter when you got cast, you got cast! And you never know what blessings will come from any experience. So, keep an open mind. Walk into the room with confidence, knowing that you belong." And here she is today. With a successful career, an adorable son (who popped in the Zoom cam to say hi), and the confidence that she belongs. It wasn't easy getting out there and finding work for herself (Olivia had an agent before South Korea, but she booked the majority of regional jobs based on her DC college connections). It took a lot of valuable mindset shifting, and adjusting to motherhood in a career that often shuns aspects of personal life other than getting theatre auditions. She currently freelances with a commercial agent, performs on online theatre platforms, and works to raise her family. She does it all with professionalism, grace, and the ever-evolving ability to take pride in her own accomplishments.

Theatre is not all about the audition room. It's also about how to take care of yourself outside the audition room- celebrating your accomplishments, shifting your mindset, and feeling free to develop your own personal life. Olivia Ashley Reed has been able to embrace it all, growing as a person and as an actor every day. If we can all work and exist like her, we can create an increasingly supportive and bright artistic tomorrow.

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