Ashley D. Kelley plays Dorothy in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “The Wiz” opening June 18 in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. The daughter of a Baptist minister, Kelley developed her musical abilities singing in the choir. She graduated from Temple University with a major in theater and has been working ever since. In the last eight years she played upwards of 30 roles in regional theaters. We met at Mix Bakeshop in Ashland.
EH: When did you know that you wanted to act?
AK: Since I was able to talk — ever since I was a little kid, I was always performing in front of people. My parents would have friends over, and I would always be the center of attention.
EH: Tell me about your lifestyle as a performer.
AK: A lot of traveling, a lot of new places, a lot of new faces, which is awesome. You’re always meeting new people, working with new directors, new choreographers. So there’s that bit of excitement. It can be a little tiring, picking up your life and moving from place to place. I love it; I’m always hungry for more.
EH: Do you have routines or rituals to keep yourself together?
AK: Not really, I kind of go with the flow. I’m very open. I think it’s important to be an open person as a performer, because things change constantly, and you always have to be on your toes and think quickly. My ritual is to remain open.
EH: How is the world of “The Wiz” at OSF different from other versions?
AK: It’s the same story that you’ve seen. It’s a little more modern because Dorothy is a 16-year-old girl in today’s world. She’s obsessed with fashion, the big city and Shakespeare. She wants more in her life. She goes to Oz, an Elizabethan world mixed with ’70s soul and funk music.
EH: How is it playing a teenager?
AK: I think I’m embracing more of my youth. I started out playing older roles when I was young. And now that I’m older, my roles have been getting younger and younger. They teach you that there are only certain types that you can play in your life. You get sucked into the thought that these are the only roles you can play, the mother roles, auntie, sister or the funny person. Until you get out of thinking in that small box, you won’t be able to grow. Just from experience, and working with new people, and traveling, and certain directors believing in me, I was able to get out of that box and say, “You know what? I can play a 16-year-old girl. I just have to believe in it.” From there, I started going out for roles that I wouldn’t normally get cast as.
EH: What makes theater so compelling to us?
AK: I think theater is a great avenue to talk about the real issues, to discuss worldly issues and politics. It’s a representation of real life. Theater is a way to escape; it’s a different world. You get to feel emotions that you aren’t able to express in everyday life. It’s incredible to me that you can learn about other people and try to feel what they feel, and then share what you’ve found with other people. Theater is absolutely therapy. It’s a way to touch people, encourage people, and support people.
EH: What is the universal message of “The Wiz”?
AK: Believe in yourself. That lesson is taught throughout. Have the courage to go on adventures, believe in yourself, and have the courage to love.