Once Jamie Benson left for NYC and Nameless Actor dropped out, I was temporarily without a choreographer AND a lead actor to workshop the climatic scene from ‘Inside-Out, Outside-In.’ Things quickly changed when charming Greek actor Christos Vass stepped in to play the lead role and choreographer/coach Ashley Osler answered her phone and promptly said, “Of course I’ll help you with that!” Ashley, an alum of Larry Moss and frequent previous collaborator (she did the choreography for The Sermons of John Bradley and helped me develop a striptease-type movement for Fate of the Monarchs), is an unheralded gem in terms of understanding how the expression of the body relates to the needs, desires and psychology of a character. We chatted a bit about what it’s like to choreograph movement and help in the development of a project from the ground up.
Hunter: By the time we linked up on this project, Jamie (our original choreographer) had moved to NYC and the first actor had dropped out of the workshopping of the climatic scene, leaving us in a position to bring on a new actor without the benefit of a choreographer. So that’s where you came in! After Ivana put Christos and I together on the scene, I originally brought you in to consult on the movement that we were doing, but it sort of organically grew into more than that. After that first rehearsal, what did you feel about the piece and its potential? And how did that relate to the movement aspect of things?
Ashley: I got so excited about the scene and the characters’ needs. It was so compelling to see it on its feet. I was trying to understand what you had written by exploring some different ways of moving to express the subtext. I left feeling that there was more to find but that a few layers had been peeled by infusing the movement with deeper script analysis. Because the movement/physicality can be so telling….letting the audience know maybe more than the characters do at that point, I felt there was potential for a very dynamic scene.
As we spoke about the scene in the days following I realized that the physical connection had to be so intense…electric…..and that was one of he conflicts both characters. Then on top of it they have to rehearse a hot dance number while trying to be nonchalant because they both needed something so badly. Good scene!!!
Hunter: Sometimes I feel a little nuts workshopping individual scenes from a screenplay – it’s not necessarily the traditional approach for sure. Do you think there’s value in these type of workshops? What can be gained from workshopping scenes? What, if anything, did you think we learned during this experience?
Ashley: I didn’t get to see the scene workshopped yet but wish I could have! All together I think workshoppig is very important for perspective….getting it into your body with the juice of an audience is an important part of the process of understanding what you have written. Even though it’s on the page already it’s still writing itself in this part of the process.
Hunter: The story deals, in part, with characters facing tough decisions about how to navigate the “Hollywood” and “independent film” environments here in Los Angeles. I love the story you told about not feeling right about going to commercial auditions, if you feel like telling that one! But seriously, have you seen any friends lose themselves in a struggle to manifest their creative work here? How do you stay true to yourself as an artist while pursuing filmmaking or acting?
Ashley: Oh my goodness I’m having a brain fart…probably an audition where it was like a conceptual art exhibit – one side of the room all blonds and the other all brunette clearly divided and I was lost in the sea of blonds and said, “Yuck!” I just figured I’d rather take the time it took to run to those auditions to read plays or prepare a scene for class….I was lucky to be in a great scene study class back then and I knew that teacher wouldn’t be there forever so that’s were I put my energy. You can die with some money in the bank from an Arby’s commercial, which is selling poison to people…or you can feed your soul with literature and take it with you……easier to audition in NYC. All the driving in LA is monstrous and made it even more absurd. Commercials – Humf!
Anyway auditions can eat you alive unless you make them auditions for life experience. It’s not about getting chosen and you can’t wait to get chosen. When I first started going out I was not prepared at all for the language of the casting process – it was so foreign to the creative process of acting. I learned we can’t audition without being crystal clear on script analysis so the choices are supported and powerful and you can feel your teeth in it.
Stella Adler said something like you have to have the soul of a rose and the hide of an rhinoceros to be in the buisness…well I didn’t know how tough the skin of a rhino was and I just went out with my fragrant rose and got a big surprise.
Hunter: Another big part of the story is reincarnation and karma. Do you believe in reincarnation yourself? One of my struggles is how to delve into a subject like reincarnation without staying on the surface or relying on cliches. Any advice?
Ashley: Yes I do. I have done some past life regression sessions which were amazing. Also had some interesting experiences living on Kauai which took me to a past life there. Karma is created in every thought we have. Most think that it’s only our actions. We are more powerful than we know. Each and every thought is creating Karma. It is great you are writing on this subject. We are very immature in the West about this. I believe until we can teach death as beautiful part of life there will be no peace. I say keep experinecing and studying….read more plays and stories about death to feel the emotions…..check out, “Tibetan Book of the Dead.” (Author’s note: Actually I did – it’s on my reading list here).
Hunter: So for our readers out there who don’t know Christos or myself, how would you describe us as actors or as people? Did you feel there was an interesting dynamic there? Why or why not?
Ashley: Well, you both are so smart and willing and courageous. I would love to spend hours with you two playing. I think you are fine actors!!! Yes, I do think there is a very interesting dynamic……What translates from you both being open and curious and wanting to know could be naturally adopted into your characters. Watching you two as actors was just as interesting as watching the characters.
Hunter: You are big on textual analysis and allowing that to impact the movement. Can you tell me a little about your process here?
Ashley: Oops didn’t know you were going to ask this…well I kind of hit that above. One thing I would add is that for you as the writer/actor it’s a trip because you have to live this parallel universe sort of existence…writing it…thinking you know what it is and then growing in it as the actor writer and watching it change and grow…..what a special experience.
Hunter: Finally, you’ve gotten out of town recently (I have this effect on choreographers….) and moved to Ojai. How’s it going up there and what’s it like?
Ashley: That is so funny. Well at least the first guy is in NYC waiting to embarce you and show you around when you get there!! Not much happening in Ojai as a career move for you as an actor. As a writer, it’s just what I wanted. I really had a hard time focusing in the city. I am sensitive to all that energy. I can write in NYC but not so much in LA. Up here the land feels supportive and we’re in a quiet part of town Private so I can go into my imagination and feel I won’t be disturbed by black hawk hellicopters or the children thay have as slaves nowadays ringing doorbells with magazie subsrcitions etc etc bless their little souls…God and those lousy leaf-blowers…Don’t get me started…needless to say I think Ojai is going to be “berry berry good for me,” as Garrett Morse used to say on SNL.
To contact choreographer and acting coach Ashley Osler, you can reach her at email@example.com.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink, an open source production company. Our filmmaking blog charts the progress of each of our projects. If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).