By Morgan Politzer
Ashley Edler plays the role of Mary Barrie and is in the ensemble in the national tour of “Finding Neverland.” Based on the 2004 movie of the same name, the musical follows the life of playwright J.M. Barrie as he looks for inspiration for his next play. With the help of the windowed Sylvia and her four young sons, Peter, Jack, George and Michael, Barrie rediscovers his inner child and finds the magic he needs to create the beloved story of Peter Pan and the boy who never grew up.
Morgan: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Ashley: I was originally from Ohio, born and raised. I went to school, I graduated high school and then I went to a university also in Ohio — it’s called Bowling Green State University — and then I majored in musical theater and then right after that, I did like an educational children’s theater tour for a year right out of college. Then I moved to New York City, and I guess it would be almost eight years ago, which is crazy, and I’ve been there ever since!
M: How did you get involved in Finding Neverland?
A: I actually had been hearing a lot about the show, and I listened to some music from the show, and I knew that it was something that I loved. I had just completed a tour, and I came back to the city and I took some classes with some of the casting directors just to basically put myself in front of them because I was very intrigued by the show. They mentioned to me that they were going to be holding auditions soon, so I did even more research and basically dove into the show and really got to know the score and the script and the characters and fell in love with it.
I auditioned, and it was a pretty lengthy audition process, but it was fun the whole time. The casting directors were amazing and the creative team has been amazing, so it was a fun process all along the way, which was really lovely.
M: What kind of classes did you take with the casting director?
A: I often take classes in New York City with a studio called The Growing Studio, and they are basically workshop classes where you get to go in and work with a casting director or a resident director and perform your audition material. They’ll give you feedback — it’s a semi-mock audition, but with less stress. It’s more about growing and learning together and exploring new material. It’s a safe place to try really difficult things and be brave, try things you’ve never done before.
M: How long ago did you get involved with the show?
A: I started auditions for it in March or April of 2018, and then we started rehearsing in August. We hit the road in September, and we’ve been on the road ever since.
M: Can you talk about the cast dynamic, both on tour and in rehearsal?
A: This is one of the strongest groups of people I have ever worked with, not just talent, but the camaraderie. I think that, we work together, we live together, we play together, so it can be difficult at times in most touring situations. But with this group of people, I think we’ve been really lucky. Everyone has been very supportive. We’ve had several instances where maybe someone wasn’t feeling well and had to call out, which is pretty typical on tour, but everyone is so supportive when those situations come about, and I think that is often times a rarity in this business, and this group of people are just especially lovely. We get to spend a lot of time together, so you kind of have make it work, but it doesn’t feel like that with this group. With this group, everyone is just truly lovely people.
M: What’s it like having so many kids on set every day?
A: I love it. I’ve worked in several shows that have lots of kids in them. I did the national tour of “Annie” and I had tons of kids in it, and I honestly think they’re one of the greatest parts of the show. I think having kids in a cast makes you appreciate what you do more. I think it can be easy, and that’s kind of the whole point of the show too, it’s easy to be a grown-up and lose sight of things or lose track of things or get frustrated by the small things. I think the kids just keep it easy, they keep the dynamic interesting, and they remind you to just enjoy it and have fun. It’s a great group of boys. They’re all very sweet, very hardworking and very talented.
M: Are there any challenges that arise when you work with so many kids?
A: So far, I haven’t really personally experienced any. I know that it’s harder for them than it is for everyone else because they have to balance school and they have to balance the show and also just being kids and the work laws and everything else. So I haven’t firsthand experienced any difficulties, but I know that they have a tutor, who has to work really hard to balance their show schedule and their schooling. The kids work so hard — they work harder than anybody else. They get up, they do school during the day and sometimes on the bus, and then they have to jump into shows. So really, they’re the ones that get affected by it the most, and I think that’s probably the most challenging part for them — being in school on a bus and then having to dive into a show and then the next day, do the whole thing over again.
M: What was it like learning both the Mary and the ensemble roles?
A: It was awesome. Actually, it’s funny, because this track wasn’t always set up that way, as far as I know. Originally, Mary Barrie just did Mary Barrie and didn’t do any of the ensemble stuff as well. I could be wrong about that, but I’m pretty sure that’s how the original dynamic was. And they did a bunch of rewriting and took it out on the road. When you’re on the road, you have to change tracking and stuff like that, and it was amazing, because I think the role is featured enough that I feel like when I have people come, when I have family come, when I have friends come, I really get to show them something that’s unique and individual.
I get just enough of a taste of that and then I get to dive into these incredible ensemble tracks and play several different characters, which are completely different from the Mary Barrie that I play. It just shows my family and everyone this complete broad range of things that I am capable of, but also that I get to do. More than anything, I get to do that because, I mean, the Mary Barrie track would be incredible on its own, but the fact that I get to do that and then dive into ensemble stuff as well. It’s so incredible that I get to be so many people in this show, and honestly, I think being a part of the ensemble, for me personally, I find that the dynamic you have with your cast is a little different.
You get to really develop a strength and sense of community in the ensemble, and I think that often times, being a lead can be somewhat isolating. I’ve been in a situation like that on tour, where you don’t get to play with the ensemble as much onstage, and it’s the best of both worlds for me. I get to be a secondary lead in the first half of the show, and then I get to dive into these amazing ensemble tracks and just play with all of my amazing castmates.
M: How do you switch your mindset between Mary and the ensemble, because Mary is so different from the other character?
A: So different! It’s funny, because I do switch in the beginning one time. I go from Mary to Miriam, this ensemble track, and she is this kooky little wardrobe lady with glasses and it’s so much fun. But honestly, it keeps the show going. It keeps it fast, it keeps it interesting, and I get to play. I get to play all kinds of things, and it’s so much fun! I’d much rather do that honestly. I was like “I’m so glad that I get to do all these other things too!”
M: There’s such a difference in even the energy of the show between Act I and Act II. How does that affect your acting?
A: I think in Act I, there’s so many different storylines, and we’re really setting up a lot of information and establishing a lot of characters in that first chunk of the show. And then in the second act, everything just sort of comes together. You do the work, and then you get to release and enjoy all the work you just did in the first act. It’s great the whole time — you’re setting up the plot, you’re setting up the storyline, you’re establishing characters — and then you get to just let loose in the second act.
M: Can you talk about working with Jeff Sullivan (J.M. Barrie) and your rehearsal process with him?
A: The rehearsal process was fast and furious. We only had 12 days to put the show together. We did it really quickly, and then we teched after that, but it was long hours and lots of hard work. But we were lucky. Like I said, this is just the sweetest group of people and everyone was really supportive of each other. Jeff is very disciplined. He works hard and this means a lot to him, and he’s worked really hard for this and it shows when he’s onstage, it shows when he’s backstage. He’s sweet, he’s fun, he’s supportive. He finds moments in the show, onstage and offstage, where he can just be Jeff. But he’s very disciplined and very hardworking, and he’s great to play across from.
M: You said you put this show together in 12 days?
A: I think it was 12 days. It might have been a little longer, but I think that was it.
M: How do they do that, between learning the blocking and lines and choreography?
A: It was a lot, but we just worked hard and we worked fast. And that was the great thing about this group of people. We were able to come together and put this process put this show together. We teched after that, but it was a very fast and furious process for us. Everyone just worked hard all day, and basically you just focus and work hard when you’re there. It was just long hours of focusing and getting it done, and it’s a great group of people because everyone worked hard and picked up everything really quickly. We’re willing to do the work and just dive in.
M: How many hours a day were you working?
A: I can’t quite remember- I think we were either working from 9 or 10 am until usually around 7 or 8, and then sometimes we’d hold over. And then obviously tech rehearsals are different. Tech rehearsals are 12 out of 12. So you work 11 or 12 hours a day for techs.
M: Where were the rehearsals? New York?
A: Yes. We did the rehearsals in New York at Chelsea Studios, and then we teched in upstate New York.
M: Can you discuss your different costumes?
A: Mary’s costumes are beautiful! They’re my favorite things I’ve ever worn! It’s great. And everyone is always like “I love that dress!” and I’m like “Thanks!” They’re very intricate, they’re very detailed, they’re very stylized, and they’re beautiful. They’re heavy! Sometimes hard to walk in, but they’re beautiful pieces. They’re maintained well, and in the opening, I get to wear lots of layers with this beautiful gown and a coat and this big feather hat with a bird on it and all this jewelry. And then I get to wear this beautiful ball gown, and that dress is my favorite dress. I love it so much, with the beautiful jewelry and the long gloves. It’s so elegant and lovely, and then I literally run off stage and I jump into a pirate costume and wipe dirt on my face. It’s so great.
M: I was going to ask how long you have to transition between each costume!
A: It’s fast! It’s only a couple minutes where we get to switch over from that scene to the pirate scene, but it’s great. I run backstage in a ballgown and a blonde wig, and then it all comes off and I’ve got this crazy hair, dirt all over my face, ripped up clothes like two seconds later.
M: What’s it like being on tour for so long?
A: It has its pros and cons. I have toured several, several times, and it’s incredible that you get to do what you love everyday and see the country. You can’t put a price on that. It’s such a blessed opportunity. There are struggles with being able to see or talk to family members, and the lifestyle is challenging in that sleep isn’t always easy to get. You work long hours, and you ride into different venues all the time, so there’s very little consistency in a life like this, but there’s so much reward at the same time.
M: Do you have a favorite city or venue that you’ve been to? And not just on this tour, but on any of the other tours that you’ve done?
A: I get to perform in the theater that is where my alma mater is — it’s right next door. It’s where I went to see shows as a kid with my family, and that’s in Toledo, Ohio. It’s at the Stranahan, so I’m pretty sure that’s going to be my favorite. I have like a hundred people coming, and I get to see my family, and that’s where I saw my first show, so it’s full circle!
M: Do you have a favorite number or scene in the show?
A: Honestly, it’s a mix between “Circus” and “Stronger.” I love “Circus” because I just feel incredible in that. It’s just such a beautiful number, and then you see these incredible dancers. It’s such a potent number, and then you have these insane dancers with this choreography that just blows your mind, and they do it so well. So that’s visually one of my favorites to watch, even aside from me getting to be in it. I like watching the dancers in that one.
But my favorite number, honestly, to do, is “Stronger” because I get to be a pirate and the choreography is so fun, and it’s this heightened peak of the first act. So I would probably say “Stronger” in the first act, but in the second act, just the end. We charge towards the front of the stage and we sing “Something About This Night” and what this means to us, and then at the very end, we get to do this slow-mo battle. There’s something really beautiful about that. With all these people on stage, you’re living out basically everyone’s childhood fantasy. You’re like, this is ridiculous. What I’m doing right now is ridiculous in the best possible way. I’m fighting with my friends on stage and I’m telling the story of Peter Pan and it’s so freaking cool. So that moment is when I always have the realization of what I’m doing and how lucky I am. So that one has to be a favorite for me, just for that reason alone.
M: Is there any song in the show you find particularly challenging to sing/perform?
A: I think the hardest one to sing is “Stronger” because we’re kicking and yelling and jumping and dancing and singing very high. It’s one of the hardest, vocally, things to do in the show.
M: Would you say that this number is the most difficult part of the show overall? Not just performance-wise, but in general? Or has there been something else that has been particularly challenging?
A: That’s such a difficult question. I think that the challenge, honestly, is throughout the show, is to keep these fun, quirky, unique characters truthful and honest. I think there are several traps in this show where that’s a possibility for actors to indulge in the sort of goofiness and silliness of that character or the quirkiness of that person and leave the truth of that person behind and the truth of what the story they’re telling behind. I think especially when you’re doing a show eight times a week, it can be easy to get on an autopilot sort of situation. So the challenge I think for us, it’s not really a number, it’s in the show as a whole.
M: Since the story of Peter Pan is such a well-known and well-loved classic, how does the show keep what people love about the iconic story while still adding something new and exciting?
A: It’s the story that’s never been told, so that’s what’s so exciting about it. Who doesn’t know and love Peter Pan? You’re getting to see how it was created, and that’s exciting. Getting to see who these people are, what their lives are that inspired this iconic story and this iconic character. I think that’s the exciting part, and I think the thing they keep with it is the truth of what Peter Pan is, the truth about the beauty of using your imagination and never wanting to grow up and maintaining that youthful inspiration throughout your adulthood if you can. That’s the beautiful thing about Peter Pan, and I think that this show emulates that perfectly.
M: Is there anything else you want audiences to know before they see the show?
A: Brace yourself for a good time, and let your inner kid out. It’s such a fantastic show to just to go back to “before,” go back to “then.” Go back to what it used to be, and let yourself go there and remember what it’s like to be inspired by the youthful imagination of a kid.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel.
Morgan Politzer is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.