Thursday, August 03, 2017

Annapolis Summer Nights, ‘In the Heights’

Written by  Frankie Kujawa

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre (ASGT) shows no sign of slowing down as In the Heights takes the stage this month. Running from August 3rd to September 3rd, In the Heights is a heartfelt musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway sensation Hamilton. Baltimore OUTloud recently chatted with ASGT’s PR point woman Ashley Gladden, who’s also an ensemble member for the show.

Frankie Kujawa: Could you describe the basic plot of In the Heights for our readers?

Ashley Gladden: The story is centered around the main character, Usnavi, who’s the owner of a corner bodega in New York’s largely Domincan-American neighborhood of Washington Heights. As Usnavi discovers that he sold a winning lottery ticket, everyone on the block fantasizes about what they would do if they were the ones who won that money. Every character is a part of this community that is on the brink of change, and although this was written in the early 2000s, it is still very much relevant to all that we have going on in present day.

What can audiences expect from this performance?

A highly-energetic performance that challenges theatre-goers – just as you’d expect from creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s a celebration of community, filled with passionate characters who are each telling their own story. This show doesn’t stop until it’s over.

What’s your role?

I’m a member of the female ensemble, but it’s unlike any ensemble role I’ve played in my career. Ensemble does not mean “background” or “supporting” in this show necessarily. All of us have a story to tell because we play just as big a role in this community as the main characters. The entire artistic team has also really encouraged the creative development of every character, which has been so awesome!

Why is Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre such a fun place to work and perform?

I always compare Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre to a summer camp. Many of us have professional acting careers, but ASGT is home every summer. You know that when you’re backstage, you’ll always smell the garlic seeping over from Mangia’s pizza, you can expect to be in a show each summer with some of your best friends that you met at that very same theatre, and most importantly, we’re all volunteers – the only payment we receive from this experience is pure joy for this art form, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so special.

Sure, we experience unique challenges as performers because we’re in an outdoor theatre. We perform in extreme heat and occasionally have rainouts, but where else can the audience go grab an ice cream cone at intermission and enjoy it during Act Two?

Since I’m also the PR director, I can speak to the administrative side of things – it’s a fun place to work because of the people we work with. Our community is so supportive – and furthermore, they want to see the arts flourish in Annapolis through our organization. Not to mention, I really believe we are accessible to all audiences.

The theatre celebrated a 50th Anniversary milestone last year.  What do you think is part of the allure that keeps audiences coming back to pack the house year after year?

On the surface, I think our charming outdoor theatre on the water is intriguing to anyone passing by. On a deeper level, I think audiences come back for more because they have a hand in what we create on stage. Our community builds our sets, performs on our stage, turns on our lights and makes our costumes.

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