By Ashlyn Parsons, Band Leader and Pisanio in Cymbeline
Theater has witnessed me in a lot of different places in my life. It’s remained my constant when many things that should have been solid were not. Theater classes and shows were where I made friends in high school, where I found role models and adults to depend on, where I felt like I could find peace, sometimes, despite the craziness and wild energy any show can take on with its creation. I took a yoga class my senior year of high school, and one of our meditation assignments was to imagine a place where we could exist and feel solid and calm. That place settled as the stage I was performing on at that point—the auditorium seats empty, dimly lit by the hot white stage lights above, and the too-loud air conditioner humming in the background, but overall quiet like it would have been ten minutes before class began. That was my happy place for a long time. Though I do not perform on that stage anymore, the importance of the theater programs I was involved with as a young(er) teenager are not lost on me.
The majority of my theatrical experience is in acting, and I don’t actually have any fun stories about falling in love with “getting to be somebody that isn’t me for a while!” or anything. I started doing theater because my older sister was in theater in high school and she really enjoyed it, and as her younger sibling, of course I would enjoy it, right? That was the concept, anyway. My first show was Macbeth, directed by Sweet Tea’s own Medina Demeter. I was too scared to audition and the only reason I was involved was there weren’t enough bodies for one scene. What a start, my friends. But it was a start, indeed. From then on, I would be involved with every high school production I could. The first show of my senior year of high school was also Macbeth (that time at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and that time as a comedy, and if you haven’t ever imagined Macbeth’s potential to be funny, please do yourself a favor and begin). But in that production I actually played Macbeth himself (part of him anyway, in context to the show). Never doubt your ability to grow, is what I’m saying. I’m constantly surprised by my own changes that come with experience and perseverance. I still have a lot of learning to do, as well, and hopefully many, many more experiences alongside that.
Sweet Tea’s Merchant of Venice was my first step into professional theater; it was me dipping a toe to test the water, if you will. I had just finished my freshman year of college and jumped into rehearsal as an assistant stage manager (a week and a half past the start, but exams are exams are exams, I guess), eighteen years old with a shiny new driver’s license and absolutely zero stage management experience. I was fortunate enough to have Medina Demeter as my (amazing, fabulous, who could ask for anything better, honestly?) director and away we went. I was learning about the company and about the actors and about my job as quickly as possible. We were making props and designing the preshow and I hand-painted two and a half boxes with little rainbow diamonds and it was awesome. (I may or may not have gotten that rainbow diamond paint on the backseat of my mom’s car, but it was a w e s o m e.) The end of Merchant was the beginning of Measure for Measure. I was stage managing and also playing the guitar for WoCo, another set of responsibilities to juggle, and while I don’t actually know how to juggle, I did gain a lot. I made friends and, boy, did I learn and experience. (I also got to make a severed head for the first time, so that’s cool.)
Transitioning from high school theater—which, quite frankly, had a heavy hand in making me into the person I am today—to a member of a cast for Sweet Tea was not a particularly difficult thing. We all bring our experiences with us to the next place we arrive, after all, and pushing forward does not have to mean leaving behind. There are things I have found to be similar in my experiences; at Sweet Tea, I have made friends, I am finding role models, and the backyard of the Poe House? That’s a happy place for me, too. This summer, I’m acting for Sweet Tea for the first time. Changing hats is never easy, but I can feel this overall experience turning into an amazingly positive one. This show is full of great people; who better to learn from?