Recording with… Punk Rock Girl! Star Ashley LaLonde
This week, Playbill caught up with Ashley LaLonde, who appeared in The black clown at Lincoln Center, Burn all night and Violet on a moving bus to ART, and Teeth at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center before graduating from Harvard University in 2020. She received the Harvard Musical Theater Achievement Award in 2019 and was the first black woman to perform on 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. Punk rock girl! at the Argyle Theater on Long Island. The new musical, with a book and arrangements by Iconis (be cooler) and arrangements and orchestrations by Rokicki (The Lightning Thief), features songs written and made famous by female artists and girl groups, including Blondie, Pat Benatar, Avril Lavigne, Joan Jett, P!nk and Gwen Stefani. Jennifer Werner directs.
Recording with… house of whispers Star Alex Boniello
What does your typical day look like now?
It totally depends! I pledged to stay off social media until noon with a friend. So instead, I try to start my mornings with some quiet time – prayer, writing, reflection and, of course, coffee. I find that I am much more grounded when I start slowly instead of running into my day or mindlessly scrolling through my bed. Then most days it’s off to rehearsals Punk Rock Daughter! Honestly, I get butterflies for the entire hour before rehearsal starts every day because I’m so excited to be able to do what I love again! After chatting with Avril Lavigne and Blondie for about eight hours, I usually go home to cook a delicious dinner and reset myself for the next day. I also eat a lot of homemade brownie sundaes.
Can you describe what it was like to be back in a rehearsal room the first day you and the cast got together?
A bit surreal. I haven’t done a full production since the summer of 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 connecting and working with other humans. That’s what I’ve missed most about theater in recent years: the raw connection. There is something so electric about harmonizing and spontaneously building another person’s energy! I look forward to continuing to dive into each of our characters and the whole story together. I truly believe that we are 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 lot of joy to the stage – and not just on the surface level, but the real, deep joy. It’s about the power of human connection to change you from within. It’s about finding yourself when the world tells you to hide. It is about radical inclusion, by all and for all, no matter what. Honestly, it’s about embracing and releasing your inner weirdo. I think the last two years have made us all take a long look in the mirror and recognize everything of who we really are – the good, the bad, the ugly. It pushed us to accept, and even learn to love, the parts of ourselves that we kept hidden. I connect with Angela in many 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 that we don’t have to hide because we are loved just as we are, and that’s enough.
What would you say to viewers who might feel uncomfortable about returning to live theater?
I understand you! We live in frightening and unprecedented times. We are not where we want to be, but we are not where we were in March 2020 either. We know a lot more about the virus and how to prevent it. We have vaccines, boosters, large-scale testing and, of course, masks. Theaters are taking the best possible precautions to ensure the safety of everyone, including cast, crew and audience. I truly believe that Argyle Theater protocol keeps us all here safe and healthy! I would also say to remember to nurture your soul as you continue to protect your body. Take care of yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I know live theater feeds my soul and I’m so grateful to do it.
In this time of reflection and re-education on artists and the art of BIPOC, especially in theatre, what do you want people (those in power, other artists, the public) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
The stage performance is important, but that is not the end of our work. Representation is important at all levels of production. It’s not just about having “diverse” actors on stage (although that’s valuable and necessary). It is about having diversity, in all its forms, at all levels, especially in places of power. While we may have more racial diversity and representation on Broadway stages right now, we still have predominantly white and cisgender people in the highest positions of power. We need executive producers, directors, writers and casting directors from BIPOC. We need widespread and systemic change here. It is also important to recognize that BIPOC artists can be “represented” without being respected, included or honored. Our end goal is not diversity, but rather radical inclusion that elevates the voices of those who are historically marginalized and honors their…our stories.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with isolation and/or current unrest?
I am okay. We have been going through a very difficult time for a very long time now. Isolation is not natural for humans. We are common creatures and we need each other. Remember that even when you feel alone, you are not. Connecting is just a phone call away. Reach out to those you love. Let them know how you are really doing and communicate the specific ways you need support. Remember you are not a burden. Send encouragement to the people in your life – you never know how much someone may need it. Make gratitude your worldview. Take note and savor the little pleasures of your life. Celebrate small victories (like getting out of bed or making a great cup of coffee). And remember that this is all temporary and we will get through this together.
What, if any, have you learned about yourself in the past year and a half that you didn’t already know?
The past two years have been a whirlwind. I graduated in the pandemic, hoping to jump straight into my career, but we all know what happened there. I think I used to place a lot of my value in the things I did, but it all fell apart very suddenly. And I had to face myself, in the simplest, most raw form. Who was the person behind the student, the actor, the friend? I pushed a lot in my community of faith and church. 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 transforming myself into something that I am not. I realized that I was loved in all my mess, and it made my relationships much less transactional and much more joyful.
Which organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Broadway for Racial Justice and the Broadway Advocacy Coalition are both doing incredible work in the fight to end systemic racism in the theater community. I recommend you check them out, get involved, and contribute financially if you can. New York’s housing crisis is also in great need of our support at this time, especially after the past two years. Consider donating time or financial resources to an organization that supports our neighbors experiencing homelessness. The Bowery Mission is a large non-profit organization that provides housing, community programs and professional support to homeless people in our city. Trinity Place Shelter is another amazing nonprofit that specifically serves LGBTQ+ youth through free housing and educational programs. We can’t do everything, but we can all do something.
Recording with… Harry Hadden-Paton, star of Flying Over Sunset, My Fair Lady, Downton Abbey, more