As a huge Hamilton fan, I was so excited to hear from an actor who had starred in the Broadway Tour, no less, of the hit musical. The fact that Hamilton was just mentioned a handful of times in this episode may leave some disappointed; it left me enraptured. There’s a life beyond Hamilton?!
What it tells us is that Ashley De La Rosa is so much more than a stage actor; behind the proverbial (and in COVID, actual) mask is a real human, and Ashley gives us a real humanisation of a ‘life in the limelight’. Open, jovial and candid, this was a refreshing listen.
Student hosts Michael and Emma are both budding performers at Windermere Preparatory School in Florida, where Ashley herself attended and nurtured her performing arts skills. She reflects fondly on her time there:
“At Windermere Prep, they really encourage their students to pursue anything and everything that they want to do, whether it’s sports or arts or science…I was really fortunate to have teachers who supported me, and…really cared about me.”
She dwells on this point and its significance for her future success in not just Hamilton, but also Mean Girls, Rent, Dear Evan Hanson and Beautiful. Noting that she “never really thought” she could make it as a professional actor or singer, she highlights the importance of “finding someone, maybe it doesn’t have to be a teacher but just someone in your life who really looks out for you and supports you, because it’s definitely a difficult journey and there are so many people trying to do the same thing.”
For Ashley, resilience is as much about external support as it is about individual endurance, later commenting on how her agent and manager are both important influences on how she handles being turned down for roles (“another day, another no!”): “misery loves company…but it’s all in good fun,” enabling her to quickly move on to the next opportunity.
Like other A Little Bit Of Genius guests, hard work is a key component of Ashley’s success – from learning entire roles in just 48 hours, to adapting her warm-up approach to suit the demands of a role,, to meeting the requests of different directors. But the hard work does not stop after the curtain falls; Ashley is a conscious and proactive social justice activist. Working with multiple organisations, from Broadway for Racial Justice to Swing from Home, She even established her own voter ballot collection initiative to ensure that those who had accessibility issues to voting in the recent US Election were able to safely and securely cast their ballot.
Despite her off-stage activism, Ashley is cognizant of issues that have existed in the entertainment industry (including TV and film). Critically, Ashley believes that theatre is embarking on wholesale changes: conversations are starting, more people in positions of power and privilege are taking time to understand nuances of issues, such as recognising and calling out microaggressions; “When they don’t look like us, or they don’t understand our stories, sometimes that ignorance just permeates the entire industry.” One remark in particular is very poignant and wonderfully put: “there’s space for everyone, there’s space for more than one type of story to be told,” which coincidentally resonates well with a theme prevalent throughout Hamilton (I had to mention this) – which might explain why it is her favourite musical that she been a part of.
Ashley is honest about the difficulties that the pandemic has caused for her, for her industry and for the future of young performers.. She avoided Twitter as it was overwhelming in the height of COVID. Her main recommendation to aspiring actors like Michael and Emma are to not be too hard on themselves and to practice when they want to, as not to lose their passion. She also believes that theatre is changing in so many ways, but that it’s hard to predict exactly what that will look like. Nonetheless, she is confident there is a bright future ahead: “and it’s something that the world needs…we’re going to need some joy in our lives [post-COVID].”
There is so much to this episode to fit into one review – we move swiftly and comfortably from COVID, to behind-the-scenes bloopers, to stage fright…the list goes on. All in all, though, we are invited to see that – whilst extraordinarily talented – our stage heroes are indeed human, leaving us with a sense of hope and optimism: any of us, with hard work, resilience and a good support network, can achieve our dreams. Ashley herself is working towards her own dreams: to eventually transition her career into TV and film, and to help build a more equitable society for all.