Ashleigh Gray, a graduate fresh out of drama school, once sat wide eyed in the audience of Wicked, then turned to her friend and said “I have to play that role.” Of course she meant Elphaba. A dream that many budding young starlets undoubtedly share. But for Ashleigh, this dream really did come true.
I saw a quote recently that said “everyone wants to be successful, until they see what it actually takes”, it was superimposed onto a photograph of a ballerina’s battered and blue toes. A sight that is usually hidden by silk ballet shoes.
Wicked’s emerald green Elphaba is one of the West End’s most renowned and coveted roles.
The leading lady Ashleigh now blasts out the famous, unwavering notes from Wicked eight times a week, making each performance seem like the first.
I wondered what a day in her ruby slippers is really like and how she overcame the challenges along the journey to becoming Elphaba.
I caught up with Ashleigh after watching her performance at The Lowry to find out more.
Have you always wanted to become an actress?
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to perform. It started with singing really, I was always found singing around the house or the playground as a child. I guess the natural progression was to get involved with amateur dramatics and then go on to train professionally! I feel very lucky to be an actor. It’s not many people that can say they love their job!
Show business is an industry that many people dream of working in but only a small minority actually reach success. How did you keep yourself inspired and motivated to reach your goals?
I’ve been so lucky that throughout my own personal journey, I’ve had wonderful people around me, spurring me on and encouraging me, especially through the tough times. Be it Music Teachers, Directors or my own family, I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped me get where I am now. I do it for them, just as much as I do it for myself! I’m so passionate about this industry and I think that’s what’s kept me going all these years! I just don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t a part of it!
What is your favourite part of the job?
Meeting audiences who’ve been touched or moved by our performances. There’s nothing better than live theatre! A live audience will have no hesitation in telling you just how much they are enjoying or not enjoying a performance! And as an actor you can absolutely learn from that. I am forever learning and evolving, not only as a performer but also as a person thanks to the nature of my job! Luckily, Wicked seems to reach out to people in such a positive manner that the reaction is always one of love.
Your performance as Elphaba at Wicked was spectacular and incredibly intense. I read that you perform eight times a week when you are on tour which is unbelievable. It must require an immense amount of self-discipline to maintain such high standards. How do you achieve this?
It does take a lot and especially on tour. Being out of your own comfort zone and away from your usual support network of friends and family can be very difficult! I count myself very lucky that I have such an amazing ‘tour family’ around me. We get each other through! But I also have to look after myself. I eat well, sleep a lot and work out everyday to try and keep up the stamina requires, both physically and emotionally, for playing this wonderful gift of a role 8 times a week!
What is your typical day like when you are on tour? Have you managed to see some of the sights of Manchester?
I’m lucky that I’ve toured here several ones before and Manchester is such a great city! With only having Sundays off, time is a bit limited and I spend most of my weekdays either swimming or doing a bit of yoga or just relaxing and recovering ahead of the show. Saying that, I took a trip into town this weekend, did a bit of shopping, had some wonderful food at Artisan and took in the Makers Market at Spinningfields, it was delightful! I look forward to getting in again and seeing more of what the place has to offer.
What is your favourite quote from Wicked?
“Everyone deserves the chance to fly!”
I think it’s so true – and not only in the literal sense we use in the show. I firmly believe that everyone should have a chance to shine in life and never be brought down by anyone else! If your head and your heart are flying high, happiness won’t be far behind! And happiness is the key…..to everything!
From now until the 25th July 2015, you can catch the spellbinding performance at The Lowry for the last leg of its UK tour. Visit The Lowry website to find out more about the show or book tickets.
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