Walnut Hill School for the Arts

Q & A with Ashley Blanchet '05

August 9, 2021

Ashley Blanchet '05

What brought you to Walnut Hill originally, and what was your experience like as a Theater student here? Do you have a favorite memory from those years?  

I came to Walnut Hill by way of the Summer Theater Program. A few weeks before my junior year was supposed to start, my parents allowed me to make the switch from the prep school I was attending to board at Walnut Hill. I can’t say enough about this decision. Not only did it alter the course of my life, but it also was a lifesaver at the time. Suddenly, all that teen angst had a productive focus!

It’s hard to narrow Walnut Hill down to one particular favorite memory. There was such liberation in getting to be surrounded by (literally live in a dorm, brush your teeth, and do your laundry with) other weirdo teenagers who also wanted to dedicate themselves so completely to their art. My work ethic comes from my training at Walnut Hill. So many life lessons. So much passion and exuberance. Lifelong friendships—people I fully consider family members.

Catch us up on the years since you graduated: What did you do after Walnut Hill, and how did that lead you to the career you have now?

After graduating from Walnut Hill, I earned a B.F.A. in musical theater at the University of Michigan. Both the training and the connections I received there helped me to get representation in New York, which was instrumental in starting up a career.

You have worked both on Broadway and in regional venues across the country, in addition to performing in concerts, readings, and workshops. What are some of your favorite roles that you have played, or favorite productions that you have been a part of?

It’s hard to pick favorites. I remember reading that Bernadette Peters always feels it’s the project she’s currently doing. I like that. My first Broadway show, Memphis, was an unforgettable experience because the show was just a blast to perform. It was like a rock concert, and of course it was a lifelong dream being realized. Being the Star-To-Be in the Annie revival holds a special place in my heart because I was very proud to be a part of the history of it. And I think Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was also very special for a similar reason, getting to create something and say, Ooh, what if I sing it like this? and then that goes in the cast album and that’s how people assume it’s supposed to go—you know, getting to be a part of the history of something. In the end, I guess the fun of going from contract to contract, as you do in this business, is that you find a little something special to take with you, from ALL of it. Probably Bernadette Peters was right: the greatest joy is in whatever it is you’re currently getting a chance to do.

Tell us what it has been like to be a working artist over the past year. How did you approach the obstacles caused by the pandemic and subsequent shutdown of arts venues? Have you participated in any virtual performances?

It’s been difficult. I live in Times Square because I thrive off the energy and the possibility, and suddenly every day was like life after the apocalypse—tumbleweeds instead of tourists. The only way I could overcome it was to reframe it. My focus on Broadway started at a very young age, so I never really got a chance to do much exploration. I deliberately tried to take the time to ask myself, "What else sparks joy?" I got to spend a little more time with the people I love. I moved to California for a while because I love sunshine. I worked in a bakery and got sworn in as a volunteer for CASA, a foster care program I’ve wanted to be a part of for a long time. I ended up expanding my theatrical world as well. I voiced a short animated film and discovered I would love to do more voiceover work. At the end of the month, I’m shooting a feature film for Disney+, and I'm so excited about the world of TV/film. Growth is really important to me, even if it’s small or private.

I believe that, as artists, many of us are hoping that this time off has been a moment for growth and for reflection. WHY do we do what we do?  How can we be more ESSENTIAL to the world? I think a renaissance is coming.

Now that the theater industry is slowly beginning to return in person, do you have any projects coming up that you can share?

Yes! Sarah Silverman is writing a musical about her childhood based on her book, The Bedwetter. Music is by the late Adam Schlesinger and David Yazbeck. It’s hysterical and poignant. I get to play Miss New Hampshire! Coming to the Atlantic Theater soon, and it will be live and in person (woo!!)—please look out for it!

Do you have any lessons or advice for our recently graduated Walnuts, the Class of 2021, who are entering the world?

When I was at school, one of my mentors, Leslie Woodies, wrote me a letter in which she said, “Dive, full force, into the water. You will always find a way to swim to the top.” Overall, I just think that mostly in life, you should just go for it. 

There are a lot of different ways to define “success.” Sometimes it comes in ways you wouldn’t have foreseen. Oftentimes, it’s better.

So, if you . . .

  • Give it your absolute all (because why NOT)
  • Don’t judge yourself based on what you think you can tell about others: you don’t really know what they’re going through (trust me), and anyway you’re supposed to live your OWN story, your OWN path, not theirs
  • Don’t take things personally because nothing anyone says or does is about you, it’s about them—even when they don’t cast you, or when they misunderstand you, it’s about THEM, not you
  • Be unnecessarily kind, ESPECIALLY in your thoughts to yourself 
  • Listen to your gut

. . . then I think you will always be “successful."

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