5 Questions with Ash Visker

Local actor Ash Visker stormed into my consciousness last year with two vivid, thoroughly committed, galvanizing performances in Will Kempe’s Players The Comedy of Errors and Confetti Stage’s Very Mundane Government Meeting. They riveted your attention with two very different roles and immediately made you very glad you chose to attend theater today. I’m greatly looking forward to their performance in Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters” at Confetti Stage, directed by Sean T. Baldwin, and jumped at the opportunity to learn more about this seemingly fearless theatermaker.

Ash Visker

PW: What’s your background, school, and previous theater experience?

AV: My background and education come with a lot of “Thank Yous.” 

As a teen, I was a part of my High School Shakespeare Club, which led me to leave my lacrosse stick behind to pursue classical theatre (very High-School-Musical-Knock-Off of me, I know). I was lucky to have a family that was so supportive of such a wild new hobby-turned-career-choice. I studied Performance, Dramaturgy, Playwriting, and Medieval History at SUNY Purchase College and attended the Shakespeare Academy @ Stratford in Stratford, Connecticut. I found amazing support in Connecticut and am incredibly grateful to both of the owners, Sue and Chris, as well as my teachers and directors. I had the privilege of playing Leontes in my favorite Shakespeare play, The Winters Tale, Directed by Sara Holdren. I find that play to be all of the best that Shakespeare has to offer: the paranoia that comes with power and the tragedy of fate in Sicilia, the joyful clowns and lively music in Bohemia, under-cover identities, forbidden love, sacrifice, and (above all) Magic & Forgiveness. Not to mention the bear. 

It was in Connecticut that I found a love of stage combat thanks to the director of Coriolanus, Ben Curns. Sue and Chris housed me for a Summer while I took on the role of Mercutio in Stamford. They provided a space for a group of friends and me to begin our own company called Glow Worm. We aim to create innovative and accessible adaptations of classical text and have produced Castaway: Hamlet or, the Life-Rendering Pelican, written by myself with founding member Sean Gordon. It was a real passion project of mine that I hoped could bring the themes of Hamlet (mortality, circumstance, fate, betrayal, love, sacrifice…) to the forefront using only the original text to spin a new tale of stranded survivors, living (and dying) vicariously through characters in their lone copy of Shakespeare’s most famous play. This led me to study with the Prague Shakespeare Company in the Czech Republic, where I had the honor of playing Viola in Twelfth Night (ON actual Twelfth Night!), directed by Guy Roberts and Prince Edward in an adaptation of the histories centered on the rise and fall of Queen Margaret: She-Wolf, written by Dawn Stern and Stefan Wolfert. Studying and working on projects abroad was one of the most amazing things I’ve been able to do in both my career and life. Moving back to the Capital Region, I was excited to audition for the Will Kempe’s Players, where I am a current company member. I worked on Comedy of Errors (playing Angelo the Merchant, directed by Sandra Boynton and Kristoff DiMaria) and Titus Andronicus (playing Lucius, directed by Erin Ouellette). I recently dipped out of Shakespeare for a moment to do The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, written by Kristoff DiMaria and directed by Sandra Boynton. I was the lighting designer for our October shows and performed as Brom van Brunt in an educational show.

 I thought: “Hey, I’ve been doing a lot of classical work– Why not some more modern?”. . . Which is how we got here! I’ve done two shows with Confetti, Very Mundane Government Meeting by Matt Reichel and directed by Laura Darling (so, SO much fun), and now She Kills Monsters! Long Story Short: Most of my training is All Shakespeare All The Time… and I’ve been trying to stretch out of my comfort zone!

Sydney Davis, Ash Visker, and Leah John (pink pants) in cast rehearsal for Confetti Stage’s “She Kills Monsters.” (Photo by Marissa Lounello)

PW: Who do you play in “She Kills Monsters,” and how do they drive the plot and carry the themes of the play?

AV: I am playing Agnes in She Kills Monsters. Agnes has lost her family, and namely her little sister Tilly, very suddenly at the start of the play. Though some time has passed, I believe she has gotten pretty stuck in the cycle of grief without ever reaching acceptance. She isn’t ready to start her new life with Miles, her boyfriend because it requires her to accept the passing of her life with her family. She mourns not just the life of her sister but their future together that she never fathomed losing. She took her time with her loved ones for granted. She banked too much on time to grow with Tilly and lost the ability to know her while she was alive. Unexpectedly, She is given the opportunity to know her sister in death by playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons. To learn about the things she loved and share that love with her even after she is gone. I believe it is how Agnes responds to the opportunity to know her sister that drives the plot of the play. She is determined to make up for the lost time, determined to be a better sister, and determined to know all of the things that she never got to know. Sometimes, too much so. She doesn’t necessarily do it willingly, but the game allows her to process and as she processes, she makes decisions in the game. She gets better at playing. She asks more questions, she gets more answers, and the plot unfolds. While the play itself carries a comedic and goofy tone and follows fantastical adventures (and the use of spray cheese in combat), Agnes carries thematic elements of human response to sudden and profound loss, the heartbreaking failure of memory, the relief of remembrance,  and overall grieving through comedy… by literally grieving through a comedy. 

PW: What do you love about working with Confetti Stage?

AV: My favorite part about working with Confetti is having the ability to create theatre in a unique space with unique individuals. I’ve met a lot of really cool and multi-talented people there with a wide variety of passions and backgrounds in the theatre world. We laugh a lot and find fun throughout our process. The almost indescribable vibes of the space transform into a full-out theatre venue after tech week, and it’s always amazing to watch.

PW: What is a play that changed your life?

AV: I talked a bit in the first question about many different plays that have changed my life. In the name of queer modern fantasy plays– I will highlight one more. Always Plenty of Light at the Starlight All-Night Diner by Darcy Parker Bruce is an all-time favorite. I played Danni in an independent production directed by Alexis Kilburn. There’s not much else to say other than it’s delightful and heartbreaking. It has dinosaurs and a time-traveling diner. It’s amazing and queer and funny. It was worth every tedious hour of painting checkered diner floor tiles onto hardboard in the middle of the night.

PW: What’s on your theater calendar…anything scheduled or what would you like to do?

AV: I’m going to be working with Will Kempe’s Players this Summer! I’ll be taking on the role of Sylvia in Two Gentlemen of Verona and dramaturging the production as well as The Taming of the Shrew. We’re also in the process of selecting our summer show in Connecticut at Glow Worm! Shakespeare has my heart, but I’ve been stepping more and more into the modern comedy world, and I’m loving every second of it.

She Kills Monsters runs 3/24-4/2 at Albany Masonic Lodge (67 Corning Place); tickets at www.confettistage.org

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