Since 2008, Cabaret audiences have fallen in love with Ashley DePascale as a performer. She has proven to be a Cabaret favorite with her wide range of hilarious and colorful characters, stunning singing voice, and unmatched stage presence.
But now for the first time Ashley is taking her seat in the Director’s chair and bringing the story of Rapunzel to life. We got the chance to sit down with Ashley and talk about her Cabaret story and what she hopes to bring to the tale of Rapunzel.
When did you first get involved with DCT?
I first got involved with DCT back in the Spring of 2008. I graduated from Uconn a year before and the cabaret was my first professional gig out of college. A close friend and former teacher (who previously worked as an actor at DCT) recommended me to the artistic director of the kid’s company. At the time, they were looking for an actress to fulfill the princess role in their upcoming production of Aladdin. This led to a private audition at the theater where a school matinee performance of the Ugly Duckling was happening simultaneously. So, I was able to catch a first glimpse of what their shows were like before even auditioning. I was immediately sold when I watched the Ugly Duckling break through an egg onstage and sing “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. Instantly I knew this place offered a style of children’s theater that was very unique. Cue 14 years later and over 40 productions, I still pinch myself to be part of this incredibly special and fun company.
What have been some of your favorite roles over the years?
Oh man! Honestly, it’s difficult to choose a favorite. Each production has had its share of rewarding and memorable moments. However, the roles personally most full-filling and fun to portray were non-traditional in nature and off-the-beaten fairytale path. Roles like playing a “bad” Little Red belting Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” while swinging granny’s bra in the air and jumping on a bed. Or, playing an uncouth, tom-boy biker princess in Princess & the Pea was super fun and unconventional. Sometimes the supporting roles can be even more rewarding since they pack a big comedic punch. Ultimately, each role holds a special place and memory in my heart, and has helped me grow tremendously.
How has it been transitioning into director mode?
To be honest, I was always afraid to pursue directing since I have no prior experience. I never felt quite up to the task. Then the pandemic, like for so many, brought on a lot of personal changes in my own life and pushed me to take a leap of faith. It felt like the right time to finally step out of my comfort zone.
As a stepping stone, I assistant directed alongside Frank Root during A Santa Story. It was a great starter because it gave me the opportunity to learn the ropes of how production runs from the back end, which you don’t get a full glimpse of as a company actor. So, going into Rapunzel I felt more prepared on what to expect. Plus, they felt giving me a show I’ve already worked on in the past would help ease some of my first time nerves. What ultimately helped most with transitioning is working with dear friends and longtime co-workers who are incredibly positive and supportive. It’s a gift and I’m grateful to say I love the people I get to work with. They’ve helped make this transition and process incredibly smooth and enjoyable.
It’s certainly been a crazy time to be thrown into a new leadership position! Can you tell us how you’ve gotten creative to keep the cast fresh when rehearsals are canceled etc.?
Rapunzel has definitely had its share of obstacles with rehearsals. I keep saying, “If I can handle what this process has thrown at me as a first-time director then hopefully any future opportunities will be a piece of cake!“ It was vital to remain calm, positive, hopeful and most importantly organized for myself and the cast. Anytime a pause button was hit, I knew I had to find a way to stay ahead of the game and keep the momentum going. Plus, not being able to rehearse together while still learning a show is not the easiest task.
Theater is not built to be apart, especially in the rehearsal process, so with all the breaks we had to take, it forced me to get creative and think outside the box. At one point, there was quite a bit of staging to teach the cast while rehearsals were shut down. I didn’t want to waste any time. So, I filmed videos using my nephew’s legos and a printout of Phill Hill’s scenic designs to help the actors get an idea what their basic staging would be on our hiatus. It ultimately saved some major learning curve time when we got back together again. And our fabulous choreographer, Carly Jurman, followed suit teaching her choreography via videos from home to the cast. It’s of course not the same as being together, but just like anything in life, you gotta take those lemons and make that lemonade the best way you can. And I’m not gonna lie, my inner child enjoyed playing with Legos again.
What’s something about being a director that has surprised you?
What’s surprised me most about directing is how much I actually enjoyed figuring out staging from the visual perspective of the audience. Phill Hill created these awesome digital scenic designs and being such a visual learner, it helped me better gauge where to put the actors onstage and create different pictures from the audience’s standpoint. I was initially nervous about the staging process but I knew I wanted to make it my own and slightly different from our 2015 version of Rapunzel. So the process of figuring out what worked and didn’t work in 2015 then trying to gear it towards a 2022 audience with Phill’s help ended up being more fun and refreshing then I expected. Phill was also so cool and open to an idea I had of swapping out one song for a new one with a whole digital concept in mind that we haven’t done before. Having that creative collaboration with him has definitely been rewarding as well.
You’ve starred in this version of Rapunzel before, though it’s been updated. What is it you love about this story?
Rapunzel is one of my favorite Phill Hill scripts. The story is not your typical princess tale. He incorporates these subplots into the script that are really fun for both girls and boys. There’s pretty much something for every generation to enjoy. The characters are fully developed and interesting. There’s a lot of slapstick comedy mixed with pop culture nostalgia for the adults, plus a great selection of classic tunes. There’s also a good deal of movement and action within the story, which I always feel helps keep the audience engaged, especially young audiences. I think it’s the perfect show to bring back and revive. And in a way the story of Rapunzel being stuck in a tower speaks volumes to what the world has been through in the past few years. I think we all can relate to her in a way. Even though it’s a revival, Rapunzel definitely has gotten a nice little facelift and totally feels like a brand new show with fresh energy and talent.
Tell us what you love most about working at DCT and why you continue to go back time and time again?
The Downtown Cabaret offers quite a unique experience as both an audience member and performer, separating it from other theaters. In my opinion, DCT is the hidden gem of CT. I continue to come back not only because I feel lucky for all the opportunities they have afforded me over the years, but because of that uniqueness: Cabaret style seating and a theater company for young audiences that’s fun for every age. Shows that take traditional classic tales and spin them on its head with something that’s fresh, fun and relatable to contemporary audiences. DCT is not your average theater and I will forever find their productions refreshing and rewarding to both watch and be a part of.