Every interview is inspiring in it’s own light yet there have been a handful of deeply honest and impactful features that have brought me to tears and reinforced in such a huge way the entire mission of Fit for Broadway. Ashley’s journey is one of them and to say I am honored to be sharing it on the blog feels understated. I am INSPIRED by this beaming ray of sunshine and happy to call her a new friend. The golden nuggets of enlightenment are endless and her wisdom hits straight to the heart. Ashley is FIT FOR BROADWAY.
“My Body is my Instrument” from Fit for Broadway Apparel
(click HERE or click the picture!)
NOTE FROM ASHLEY: Hi ya’ll! I’m Ashley Park and I’m so honored to be here with Fit For Broadway!! I’m a California-born Michigander with recent roots in NYC. I love making people laugh, pranking cast-mates (enough to want to start a #BroadwayScares), meeting people, and the “rehearsal process”. I enjoy witty banter, color-coding, Central Park, playing piano, stage combat, cooking shows, and hot toddies with an extra shot (or two) of whiskey. I’m scared of the dark, sudden noises, hangovers, and pretty much everything (ask anybody who knows me). My guilty pleasures are Seamless, the Bachelor(ette), kids with lisps, amongst other things that are too embarrassing to share on the internet. I’m a cancer survivor. I appreciate different cultures and really want to travel more (need a travel buddy? I’m game!).
You can currently find me 8 times a week at the Lincoln Center kissing in shadows, singing high notes, frolicking with royal children, and yelling at kings as “Tuptim” in the Tony-Winning Broadway Revival of THE KING AND I.
Q: Ashley! 🙂 This has been in the works for awhile and it’s so exciting to finally have you on FFB! I can’t wait to come see you in The King and I (my mom’s favorite musical!) Where did this journey start for you? What led you to Broadway?
A: Jane! I think all our rain-checking made me even MORE excited to meet you 🙂 Aw, I can’t wait for you and your mom to join us in “Siam” when you come watch the show (be sure to bring hankies/tissues – tehehe).
Let’s see…I’ve danced since I was a toddler, played piano since I was five, became a full-fledged choir/a cappella nerd, and have always loved performing in any and every way. It wasn’t until middle school that I realized I could “combine all the elements” and discovered musical theatre. Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I participated in community kids’ theatre and attended a public high school that had an incredible Theatre program (Pioneer Theatre Guild). It was later in high school, after my cancer experience, that my journey with this career started (but I’ll talk more about that later ;).
With my hometown also being the University of Michigan campus, the supervisor of my high school theatre program brought in Musical Theatre majors from UMich’s department to direct our shows. It was these folks who really mentored me and encouraged me to pursue this career, and some of them are still my dearest friends. I attended the University of Michigan, got my Equity card doing Summerstock at Pittsburgh CLO while on summer breaks from school, graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre in 2013, and moved to New York City!
I made my Broadway debut in MAMMA MIA! a few months after graduation and, for lack of better words, I “had the time of my life” singing and dancing to ABBA every night!!! I left “the island” and my Broadway Mia family to originate the role of sweet and quirky stepsister “Gabrielle” on the First National Tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. I spent a few months on the road with my “forest” family, and then came back to NYC to start rehearsals in “Siam” at the Lincoln Center in January 2015 – where I began this leg of my journey as “Tuptim” in the Broadway Revival of THE KING AND I…. and here I am :). It’s been a whirlwind and there hasn’t been a second that I haven’t been grateful!
Q: How has fitness and health been a part of your performance journey?
A: As a performer, my body is my instrument in every sense of the word. It’s my vessel through which I story-tell, the foundation for my self-expression, and the one tool needed for work. Maintaining health and fitness is the key to keeping my instrument fueled and able to perform at its best. The healthier I am, the better I perform, simple as that 🙂
I’d have to say health became the forefront of my life through my battle with cancer in high school. I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia right before Christmas during my sophomore year of high school. Eight months alone in a hospital room and six rounds of chemotherapy later, I found myself finally in remission and since have stayed cancer-free (8 years now – woohoo!). So for me, I’ve developed a personal understanding with myself that I’d do everything I could to be good to my body (I mean… it’d had its fill of disease and chemical toxins!). Our bodies are so amazing and highly responsive to everything. From the energy we surround ourselves with, to the food we eat, to the love we have for our work, to the air we breathe. I found that when I was released from the hospital, the theater became the place that made me feel most fulfilled.
Firstly, I think I just missed being around people so much after being sick… and in the theater, you’re constantly surrounded by people. Collaborating, creating, performing with and for people. Also I didn’t want to be the “sick girl” or the “friend who had cancer”, I never wanted cancer or any illness to define me. And in the theater, I could put on any hat (or in my case, wig) and explore different people and stories. Not as a way to escape myself or my life, but to discover parts of myself through each story and skin I took on. I think the way my journey with health threaded into my performance journey is why the beauty of this craft keeps my blood (both literally and metaphorically) so happy and healthy 🙂
Q: If you could tell Pre-Broadway Ashley one thing, what would it be?
A: Pre-Broadway Ashley and Current-Broadway Ashley are one in the same, because my job as an artist didn’t change based on whether I was on a Broadway stage or not. I would tell myself what I tell myself now: Make it about the work. Always. Be nice. Always. If it’s meant to be, it will happen. If not, let it go. Know your limits, but never limit yourself. Be a catalyst for generosity and compassion, surround yourself with good people.
Q: I love approaching health holistically- mind, body & spirit! What are some ways you stay healthy in mind and spirit?
A: Great question! I completely agree with your holistic approach. Mind, body, and spirit are all interdependent and the more we nurture one, the more all three benefit and flourish. Sunshine, music, and laughter make all the difference for me…but I think that’s pretty universal, eh? 🙂
At the theatre, one way that I stay healthy in mind and spirit is through my pre-show Angel Card ritual. At half-hour before our show, I visit all the dressing rooms and offices backstage to deliver “Angel Cards,” which have words of inspiration for the day and to keep each show we do fresh. I love getting to chat and check in with each cast member, dresser, stage manager, and whoever else is around as they pick their “Angel” for the day out of my little bag (ie. “integrity,” “light” “synthesis,” “risk”, etc.). It brings me peace to share a moment with each person and know where they’re coming from that day before we all share the common ground and space onstage. It opens me up into my show too.
During college, my passion for outreach through the arts came to the forefront of my life. My work with the Prison Creative Arts Project, teaching music abroad, and a student organization I co-founded called MPOW (Michigan Performance Outreach Workshop) became essential and what kept my mind and spirit healthy. Witnessing the universal power of the arts and storytelling to rehabilitate, empower, and connect people is something that inspires me!
Also, I’ve realized that my body does not know the difference between fiction and reality. What I mean is that when I embody a character like Tuptim who lives in a physical state of fear, tension, agony, and solitude 8 times a week, my body doesn’t know that what it’s experiencing is not “real.” When I cry and get thrown around onstage, my body reacts to trauma by defending itself accordingly. My mind was in a weird state of fogginess and my entire back and neck fell into a bad state. I didn’t understand what was happening initially, but I got some great advice from my amazing ENT doctor a few months back. If I could quiet my mind and spirit each time the curtain went down and take a few still minutes to release my body of the character I was playing, and return to “Ashley”…my body could recalibrate. And that I did, and that it does. It’s crazy what little tricks like that, journaling first thing in the morning, and even setting aside time to clean and organize my apartment can do to give my body, mind, and spirit a chance to refresh – to process all that it’s experienced and then open up again to what is next.
Q: What does a typical week of workouts look like for you?
A: This changes for me based on:
1. What the rest of my schedule looks like at the time
2. Which season it is
3. What my current job requires of my body
I’ve always been a cardio girl. You can most often find me on an elliptical or treadmill watching an episode of “Chopped.” I love to sweat and get a full body workout. In the spring/summer/fall, I love running outside. With my roots in California and Michigan, I enjoy living right by Central Park where I can go for morning runs amongst some greenery. If my current job requires intense singing, I opt for swimming to exercise my lung capacity and respiratory strength, so you might find me in the pool at the Columbus Circle Equinox. And I’m a huge fan of cycling. I’ve tried everything from flywheel to soul cycle to Equinox classes and I love them all! In the summer and when I’m doing a lot of movement/dancing in a show, I go to Bikram yoga pretty religiously. I’ve found that Bikram is not an ideal workout for me when I’m needing to sing a lot because it dries out my voice, but there is nothing that feels better than laying on that hot mat after 90 minutes of focus, pushing myself, and sweating.
To be completely candid, during my run of KING AND I for the past several months, I’ve mostly used my gym membership for the steam room. I’ve found that getting used to 8 shows in this role was pretty winding at first and I needed a specific physical and mental stamina, and so keeping my mind/body relaxed and detoxified has been most important for me…or maybe I was just lazy 😉
A couple weeks ago, a special fitness friend introduced me Pilates…YOU! And I have quickly become obsessed with the deep and intense workout that Pilates provided for my core and full body. It was the perfect combination of cardio, restoration, and flexibility training and I plan to integrate it into my weekly workouts!
Q: #FoodisFuel 🙂 What are your favorite meals and snacks to boost energy and feel your best?
A: Recently, a cast-mate in a workshop I was doing said to me, “I love the way you eat.” And I looked down and saw that I was double-fisting a cold-pressed green juice and an Apple-Cider donut. HA! I’ve never been one to deprive myself…or my sweet tooth. Food truly is “Fuel”…fuel for your mind and heart as well as your body. So why not nourish yourself things that will make every ounce of you happy? I feel my best when I listen to what my body wants as long as I “Prioritize Quality”… when I want a cupcake, I want the BEST darn tasting cupcake around (I live on the same block as Magnolia Bakery…YUP). When I want a green juice, I want the greenest freshest liquid I can find.
On that note. Juice Press. Juice Press. JUICE PRESS. I start every morning with their Hot Tea (pure Ginger extract, fresh lemon juice, raw honey), their Mother Earth (cold-pressed, all greens, ginger, no fruit), and a few cups of French Press black coffee I make at home or grab from Sensuous Bean in my neighborhood. I always feel ready to start my day with a burst of energy after these each morning.
And I am a regular visitor of the Whole Foods cold/hot bar. Most days before a show or between shows, I will find my way there and fill (and by fill, I mean FILL) – one of their cardboard to-go containers with two bites of everything from their hot bar and salad bar. It actually looks kind of unappetizing, but I love having tastes of everything, and my castmates have gotten used to seeing “Ashley’s hodge-podge” container of dinner.
Also MEAT. Meat goooood. Me like meat. Seriously my voice and body feel stronger and more energized with protein. I’ll always be a carnivore.
Q: Your Top 3 Tips for Vocal Health?
A: During the time that I’ve been singing “Tuptim” in THE KING AND I, I’ve had to make quite an adjustment to my lifestyle. Simply because it is my job and responsibility to my show, my company, myself, and to Tuptim to be in the vocal health required for the demands of the role 8 times a week. I love my job, and finding joy and fun within the realm of storytelling, performing, and exploring on that stage…but I can only do that when I am physically able to do the most basic requirement of singing every note and speaking every word. It’s as simple as that. No voice, no way to do the job. So the three things that have become top priority in my life in order to preserve Vocal Health and Stamina every week are what I call “The 3 S’s”:
- SLEEP – 9 or more hours is golden for me… (cc: blackout curtain). I also find that I get better sleep when I fall asleep happy and smiling. So I usually watch a light/funny episode on Netflix to unwind after a show. Friends, New Girl, Modern Family, Mindy Project, etc.
- STEAM – I use the MyPurmist steamers and have one at my apartment as well as at the theatre. I steam as soon as I wake up, before every show, and when I get home from the show. It’s just the best way to hydrate the vocal cords which is the best thing for my cords when they are tired, swollen, dry, or flemmy.
- SILENCE – This is a personal challenge for me because I love being around people so much… and when I’m around people, I am constantly laughing and chatting. I learned quickly though, that our vocal cords are truly muscles that can only take so much. If I stay out late, or talk all throughout the day, or don’t pace myself vocally onstage…overtime, I won’t be able to get through the entirety of the week. I think it’s still important to still have a social life: relax, have fun, do other projects, get brunch with friends, go to that birthday shindig, have that Sunday night martini, etc., but I’ve also learned there’s nothing wrong with the “hermit” lifestyle. And I may or may not be a proud homebody 🙂 these days.
A: The best part about being on Broadway is…the people. The people you perform and create FOR, the people you perform and create WITH. The theatre is still one of the sacred places where hundreds of strangers come into a place and enter a world to share a story together. Where a collective group of peoples can put their individual lives aside for a couple hours and participate in a dialogue and specific world together. Everyone is a participant and it’s a BEAUTIFUL thing. It’s an honor and a responsibility to know this while performing on a Broadway stage.
The most challenging part of being on Broadway is… the same answer to the Best part of being on Broadway. That responsibility to others never really subsides. But that’s why it’s the coolest kind of work 😉
And also there’s the schedule. As a morning person who is living the life of a night owl – it’s good to acknowledge that 8 shows a week is not something to take lightly.
Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: My mom is my champion. She teaches me by example to be smart, strong, humble, resilient, and above all else – to be kind.
Kids inspire me (And I’m lucky to be surrounded by 13 amazing gems in our cast at THE KING AND I). Their genuine hearts, budding curiosity, and infectious smiles.
Strong women who have a solid sense of self and who work to spread light and goodness through their platforms. The three who come to mind right now are Malala Yousafzai, Audrey Hepburn, Ellen DeGeneres. (Jane Jourdan, I’d say you fall into this category of women ;). Also as I’ve breathed the journey of Tuptim each night, I realize how much I am inspired by her and the other strong female characters in the show (Anna and Thiang). Tuptim’s hunger for education, her fight for love, her will to find strength in submission as well as standing up for what she believes in – all inspire me.
My personal vocal inspirations: Joni Mitchell. Her songs have a way of moving my heart from one direction to another. Barbara Cook, Celine Dion, Julie Andrews, Sara Bareilles. And I currently get to cry in the arms of one of my inspirations eight times a week: gracious Kelli O’Hara.
Q: What’s your advice for aspiring performers who are working towards a career on Broadway?
A: “You can’t move forward if you’re looking side to side.” – Brent Wagner (Chair of the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre Department). Your path is unique, have faith. Be supportive and kind to others, cherish every learning experience, and trust in yourself and your journey.