This week Playbill catches up with Ashley LaLonde, who appeared in The Black Clown at Lincoln Center, Burn All Night and Violet on a Moving Bus at A.R.T., and Teeth at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center before graduating from Harvard University in 2020. She received Harvard’s 2019 Award for Excellence in Musical Theater and was the first Black woman to star in the university's Hasty Pudding Theatricals Show. The actor recently appeared as Alice in a reading of the new musical Alice’s Wonderland directed by Stephanie Klemons.
LaLonde is currently originating the role of Angela Quivers in the world premiere of Joe Iconis and Rob Rokicki’s Punk Rock Girl! at Long Island's Argyle Theatre. The new musical, with a book and arrangements by Iconis (Be More Chill) and arrangements and orchestrations by Rokicki (The Lightning Thief), features songs written and made famous by female artists and female-fronted bands, including Blondie, Pat Benatar, Avril Lavigne, Joan Jett, P!nk, and Gwen Stefani. Jennifer Werner directs.
What is your typical day like now?
It totally depends! I committed to staying off of social media until 12 PM with a friend. So, instead, I try and start my mornings with some quiet time—prayer, scripture, reflection, and, of course, coffee. I find I’m much more grounded when I start off quiet instead of running right into my day or mindlessly scrolling in bed. Then on most days, it’s off to rehearsal for Punk Rock Girl! I honestly get butterflies for the whole hour before rehearsal starts each day because I’m just so excited to get to do what I love again! After rocking out to some Avril Lavigne and Blondie for eight or so hours, I typically head home to cook some yummy dinner and reset for the next day. I also eat lots of homemade brownie sundaes.
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room on the first day you and the cast assembled?
Kind of surreal. I haven’t done a full-blown production since summer 2019, so it’s been a while to say the least. I think the most exciting part is finally being in a physical room and getting to connect and work with other humans. That’s what I’ve missed most about theatre over the last couple years—the raw connection. There’s something so electric about harmonizing and spontaneously building off another person’s energy! I can’t wait to continue diving into each of our characters and the whole story together. I really believe we’re creating something special.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past 18 months?
Absolutely. This show brings a whole lot of joy to the stage—and not just the surface level kind, but the true, deep kind of joy. It’s about the power of human connection to change you from the inside out. It’s about finding yourself when the world is telling you to hide. It’s about radical inclusion, by everyone and for everyone, no matter what. Honestly, it’s about embracing and freeing your inner weirdo. I think the last couple years have forced all of us to take a long look in the mirror and acknowledge all of who we really are—the good, the bad, the ugly. It’s pushed us to accept, and even learn to love, the parts of ourselves that we kept tucked away. I connect with Angela in a lot of ways. Sometimes I care too much about what people will think, or I want to hide parts of myself to fit in. But the beauty comes when we realize we don’t have to hide because we’re loved as we are, and that’s enough.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
I feel you! We’re living in scary, unprecedented times. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re also not where we were in March 2020. We know a lot more about the virus and how to prevent it. We have vaccines, boosters, widespread testing, and, of course, masks. Theatres are taking the best precautions possible to keep everyone safe—cast, crew, and audience included. I feel really confident that the Argyle Theatre’s protocol is keeping all of us here safe and healthy! I’d also say to remember to feed your soul as you continue to keep your body safe. Take care of yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I know live theatre feeds my soul, and I’m so thankful to be doing it.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Representation on stage is important, but it’s not the end of our work. Representation matters at all levels of production. It’s not just about having “diverse” actors on stage (though that’s valuable and necessary). It’s about having diversity, in every form, at every level—especially in places of power. Though we may have more racial diversity and representation on Broadway stages right now, we still have primarily white, cisgender folks in the highest positions of power. We need BIPOC executive producers, directors, writers, and casting directors. We need widespread and systemic change here. It’s also important to acknowledge that BIPOC artists can be “represented” without being respected, included, or honored. Our end goal is not diversity, but rather a radical inclusion that elevates the voices of those historically marginalized and honors their—our stories.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
I’m with you. We’ve been going through a really hard time for a really long time now. Isolation is not natural for humans. We’re communal creatures, and we need each other. Remember that even when you feel alone, you’re not. Connection is just a phone call away. Reach out to those you love. Let them know how you’re really doing, and communicate the specific ways you need support. Remember that you’re not a burden. Send out encouragement to the folks in your life—you never know how much someone may need it. Make gratitude your worldview. Take note of and savor the little joys in your life. Celebrate small wins (like getting out of bed or making a good cup of coffee). And, remember that this is all temporary, and we’ll get through it together.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
The last couple of years have been a whirlwind. I graduated into the pandemic, hoping to jump right into my career, but we all know what happened there. I think I used to place a lot of my worth in the things I accomplished, but that all fell away very suddenly. And I had to face myself, in the rawest simplest form. Who was the person behind the student, the actor, the friend? I pushed into my faith and church community a lot. It was one of the few spaces that allowed me to ask big questions and not know all the answers. I grew a lot in my relationship with God and with my loved ones because I was no longer striving or morphing myself into something I’m not. I realized I am loved in all my messiness, and that made my relationships a lot less transactional and a lot more joyful.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Broadway for Racial Justice and Broadway Advocacy Coalition are both doing incredible work in the fight to end systemic racism in the theatre community. I’d recommend checking them out, getting involved, and contributing financially if you can. New York’s housing crisis is also in great need of our support right now, especially after the last two years. Consider donating time or financial resources to an organization that supports our neighbors experiencing homelessness. The Bowery Mission is a great nonprofit that provides housing, community programs, and vocational support to those experiencing homelessness in our city. The Trinity Place Shelter is another incredible nonprofit that specifically serves LGBTQ+ youth through free housing and educational programs. We can’t do everything, but we all can do something.